We have an upright freezer, passed on to us by DH's sis and her hubby, that must be about 25 years old. It has lived in our wash house for the past four years, with a bungie cord keeping it closed since the keys to lock it didn't come along with it and the door doesn't stay all the way closed. Now, I will be the first to admit that running a freezer is probably one of the biggest uses of household electricity... right up there with the fridg or central heat/air! However, as those of you who have been following me for any length of time already know, I am a confirmed foodie, who also preserves a lot of local produce seasonally to get us through the lean winter seasons here in the Sierra foothills.
Several times, we have completely filled up either this freezer or its predecessor with a side of beef or half a lamb, grown by people we knew and trusted, along with grain and veggie storage and the results of exuberant cooking on my part.
The current freezer has also wasted a lot of energy growing ice, and I even lost a whole turkey to the extensive amount of build up two summers ago; it was still good bar-be-qued when we discovered it during periodic defrosting, but we were embarrassed to admit that we had forgotten it from the previous winter and couldn't see it in there either! The turkey made a great summer-time meal for DD's birthday that year, and a funny story to share in our family.
This summer, as we began gearing up for fruit and veggie storage, we started discussing whether to replace or repair. Something had to be done... we needed a place to store food abundance, but needed to be frugal and sensible and energy efficient about it. DH started researching on the Internet, and discovered that an Energy Star-rated appliance only needs to be 10% more efficient than its regular counterparts to merit that special designation... NOT very impressive if you ask me! He also read that we couldn't expect a new freezer to last more than 20 years, and that the parts that made up an old freezer, such as the more extensive use of metal v. plastic, made them hardier and more durable, even if not necessarily as energy-efficient. The dilemma deepened...
We looked at what was a realistic need for us, and then discussed further whether we could manage to repair the existing freezer... would we really recover our savings from the electric bill if we bought a new freezer? What about disposing of the old one properly?
as well as a visit to one of the local hardware stores to try and find latches to keep it closed more tightly. I didn't succeed in the latch department; the clerk suggested we install a new lock.
I am suggesting to DH that we visit the local Re-Store, in search of some spare parts from something else that can be pressed into service. That freezer is really cold! There's a LOT of ice, and quite a bit of froze-solid food, which indicates that it is still capable of doing its job.
There is a limit to what a freezer can preserve, and for how long. My rule of thumb, both for food safety and good eating, is to use up the fruits and veggies in 6 months and the denser cuts of meat or tubs of frozen soups, etc., in one year.
All of the critters here at Slate Range Camp are benefiting from this massive defrosting project... there's something for chickens, donkeys, dogs, and cat that shouldn't be stored any longer, as well as some broth, tomato sauce, and frozen beans from last season that are simmering on the stove as I type and a few small fillets, the last of the meats from my cousin's ranch, that are gently braising in this stew for us to eat tonight.
Maybe not the seasonal gourmet cooking that I have been practicing all summer, as inspired by Provencal Cooking: Savoring the Simple Life in France (Mary Ann Caws) and French Women for All Seasons (Mireille Guiliano), but definitely a tasty and simple meal. By the way, both of those books were amongst some great library finds this season, along with Confessions of a French Baker (Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet), which I reluctantly returned to the library, only to pick up a copy for $2 while out thrifting last week!
So, since I know you are wondering... how does this tie into sustainability? Well, we are constantly being pressured to buy new things, especially now. Good for the economy, and all that... but maybe what we have is perfectly good. Or maybe, with a little repair, it can carry on a good while longer rather than being abandoned in the junk pile. Or, maybe.... with a little creativity, it can be re-purposed into something new, useful and beautiful, still reducing the amount of refuse we are generating. I have been greatly enjoying Amanda Soule's new book, Handmade Home, and suggest it for creative souls wanting to play with re-purposing.
My purpose in telling you the ups and downs of our decision-making process and the woes of defrosting, is to illustrate that making choices about what to purchase, what is need v. what is want, are subtle, and not always straight-forward, or all that they seem. There are often other alternatives than the obvious choices. In fact, if I lived in a more urbanized area, I might be looking at a food locker in a large commercial freezer... a choice that was available in the Sacramento I grew up in, several decades ago. Buying something new should not be our first choice, in spite of the pressures all around us to do so. Now, if any of you have any good ideas, other than a locksmith and a new lock, to help us latch down this old freezer door, I would greatly appreciate hearing them!