Laws of Media: Refrigerator

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

– John Culkin

Unbeknownst to many, McLuhan does tackle food topics—albeit sparingly—across his diverse body of work. When food issues are explored, the underlying rubric tends to fall into one of three categories:

  • food-gathering vis-a-vis civilization (primarily surrounding tools & technology)
  • the relation / replacement of the senses (primarily visual – touch)
  • food & energy (primarily physiology & economic exchange)

The above categories tend to place food (in its various forms) as an incidental player (often an object) within/against human or technology-centred landscapes.

A lesser-known—but more fascinating—application of McLuhanesque thinking appears in his late work Laws of Media. In one of the appendices of the book, he touches briefly on the relationship between food tools & food practices.

This McLuhanesque take on the matter traces the media laws of the refrigerator. McLuhan elucidates this in one of his tetrads—essentially figure-ground charts of how humans shape tools and thereafter tools shape humans.

This example gets at the very heart of the various layers of interplay between food, media, and technology. And by proxy, those of food culture.

Behold the tetrad for the refrigerator.



availability of wider range of foods homogeneity of flavour and texture
leisure of cook and provider dried food; salted, spiced




McLuhan, Marshall and Eric McLuhan. (1988). Laws of Media. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.



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