Firstly, I’m neither defending or opposing refrigeration but, looking back at the options and lifestyles, modern refrigeration certainly did improve efficiency, quality of life, and life expectancy.
Again, when making comparisons on a website it’s important to realise there are people from different climates, so these comments are related to the Sub Tropics/Tropics.
My Grandparents were a good example because over time they had pretty much all the historical options – it reflected the times, from tank water to reticulated town water connection, and, from candles/kerosene lamps to mains electricity:
1. ‘Meat Safe’ – a perforated metal box with a door and shelves. It hung in a shaded spot - under a verandah or inside a well ventilated kitchen. Fresh or cooked meat was placed inside and the cooling effect of a breeze kept it from spoiling for a short time. Some were modified with a hessian cloth and water reservoir – the evaporative effect increased chilling and food longevity. This meant that the need to butcher animals for food was reduced to, say, once a week for fresh meat or longer if it was preserved via smoking, pickling, etc. Things like poultry, fish, shell fish and crustaceans were NEVER kept – they were killed and eaten on the same day.
2. ‘Ice Box’ – a cabinet with a tray that held a block of ice, which was delivered routinely depending on seasonal needs. The cooling effect of the ice and robust nature of the cabinet extended food preservation to about a week.
3. ‘Kerosene Fridge’ – a BIG breakthrough, very similar to a modern electric fridge. A pilot light fuelled by kerosene heated ammonia which chilled the insulated, heavy steel container. Food preservation for more than a week.
4. Modern fridge and upright/chest freezers – a combination of short term and long term preservation. Could now eat things that were out of season without the need for added sugar/salt/smoke.
So, rather than living hand to mouth, with every day dedicated to food collection, cooking and preserving, a huge amount of time could be set aside for betterment of ones lot in life – civilisation. Besides better nutrition, I imagine the reduction in continuous strenuous work and the toll it took on people, improvements like refrigeration also increased life expectancy.
Although the Royal Flying Doctor aerial service, and outback Veterinarians, routinely visit remote Stations and Missions, refrigeration also means inoculants can be kept viable for longer periods – for both animals and humans.
In our climate butter will definitely go rancid. Mould on butter is usually an indication of incorrect churning – too much moisture residue. On the farm each kid had one specific job in addition to normal work, my Dad’s was to hand milk the cows twice a day, and operate and maintain the milk separator. So, there was always a shitload of milk and cream being produced from the 100-150 cows. Most of the cream would be transported (horse/cart or boat) to a Butter Factory for processing and on-selling. Some was obviously kept aside for home use where my Grandmother would make butter or use the cream for cakes and desserts. Buttermilk was fed to the pigs and ducks = extremely big meaty critters.
Excess butter was always made into Ghee, which lasted much longer and was more useful for cooking – olive and other such oils weren’t readily available until the influx of Europeans after WW2 drove importation and local production. In fact, olive oil was sold in tiny bottles in the chemist (pharmacy/drug store) much like other medicines!
So, without modern refrigeration, the household depended on the traditional breakdown of duties – the wife/mother kept the household, children and budget running, the husband/father did all the food production, construction and farm maintenance; and once the kids were mobile enough, had duties to assist – care for smaller animals, cleaning inside the house, picking/preparing vegetables, etc. Once teenagers, they were expected to assist their Mum and Dad in whatever way needed – killing livestock, working for other farmers, in addition to being schooled and passing exams.
There’s no way I could be functional without a fridge or freezer – it would only be survival. (It also helps that my next door neighbour is a refrigeration technician!)
A simple thing like refrigeration frees p a lot of time, whether that time is put to constructive use is another thing!