My dearest wish is to one day have the pleasure of living in a small cabin in the frigid wilderness. There I will spend my nights covered in heavy wool blankets, eating smoked fish and dried fruit. Over time, my beard will grow to the point where I’ll be indistinguishable from a medium-sized woodland creature. The villagers I’ll come to know during my rare visits to town will call me “the wolfman,” not least because I will communicate solely by howling and scratching out messages with my clawlike fingernails. For now, I live in a big city, where such unconventional grooming habits are frowned upon, but I make a point of using very little heat.
I’ve suffered for living the no-heat lifestyle. Friends will come to my apartment from time to time and ostentatiously shiver, as if to tell me that I am somehow letting them down by not swaddling them like newborns in a pillowy bosom of artificial heat. There are times when I’ve been tempted to fill my bathtub with molten lava. If you like artificial heat so much, I say to them in my imagination, why not soak in this magma bath?
Though it is not my job to tell you how to live—I respect you too much for that—I urge you to at least consider turning down your thermostat too. I ask you not because of the devastating environmental consequences that flow from your heat addiction. I know you well enough to know that you don’t give a damn about this planet we call home, which you routinely defile with your candy bar wrappers and the greenhouse gases that belch from the airplanes you love to fly. Instead, I will appeal to your selfishness, you heat-loving scalawags. All of that heating oil, natural gas, and firewood you’re burning up is sapping you of your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.
To my lasting dismay, Americans routinely heat their living rooms to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and their bedrooms to a balmy 68 degrees. That anyone can sleep in such temperatures boggles the mind. It is a minor miracle that U.S. homes aren’t being overrun by lush tropical plants, even in the dead of winter. What is it that you people are doing at these temperatures? Are you stripping down to your underpants and performing ritual dances in worship of Ra, the sun god of ancient Egypt, even as snow falls outside? That I can understand, and indeed I’ve been known to indulge in a bit of Ra worship myself every now and again. But surely this is not an every-night activity. Are you grilling Italian sausages on top of your radiators? As delicious as this sounds, it is generally best to grill such protein-rich delights in the device George Foreman builds expressly for this purpose. Are you slow-roasting yourselves for the benefit of the wandering ogres who will one day devour you? Fair enough. Yet you should know that your average ogre prefers to eat his humans al dente.
Granted, there are some for whom lower temperatures are simply intolerable. My parents, for example, were born and raised in a semitropical part of the world, and they find the cold hard to bear. Having been raised by heat-lovers, it took me a while to fully adapt to the no-heat lifestyle. At first I’d turn down the thermostat and bundle up. When I’d lounge around my apartment, I’d wrap myself in multiple layers of high-tech synthetic fabrics. I’d cover my body so thoroughly that I’d look much like a bulky snow ninja, complete with balaclava. While wearing this getup, I’d alternate between doing jumping jacks and karate-chopping the cold. Truth be told, I felt rather proud of myself. But that’s before I realized that I was cheating myself of the full benefits of going without heat. No, if you’re going to really embrace the no-heat lifestyle, you can’t wear 12 sweaters and a knit cap (a look I like to call “freezecore”) to bed. Instead, you have to turn down the thermostat … and then get naked.
There is growing evidence that shivering can transform white fat into brown fat, a transformation that appears to protect animals from diabetes and obesity. I won’t pretend to understand this strange alchemy. This “science” of yours frightens and confuses me. My crude understanding is that while white fat simply stores energy, brown fat burns energy to keep us from turning into popsicles. The more time we spend in artificially hot environments, the more our brown fat deposits just wither away. One result is that we grow plumper, and more vulnerable to all manner of maladies. You don’t have to shiver to activate your brown fat deposits. Simply lowering the thermostat to, say, 60 degrees will keep your brown fat active. So no, I’m not telling you to let indoor temperatures fall below zero, or to allow your pipes to freeze and burst. That would be foolish. Rather, I am urging you to endure uncomfortably low temperatures.
Potential health benefits aside, the no-heat lifestyle will put you in touch with the rhythms of the natural world. Winter is with us for a few months at most. Why not lower your defenses and savor it? Instead of turning up the heat, you ought to eat more soup. Let the brown fat deposits build. Invite the snowperson you’ve built in your backyard to move in, and to pay her share of the rent. Let the cold chisel away your weakness, leaving behind a lean, wolflike creature ready to take a bite out of life. You will thank me later.