Disclaimer: This isn’t going to be one of those food appreciation posts – I’m just going to use food to discuss McLuhan’s claim that the medium is the message. If you would like to read a post about food appreciation you are more than welcome to check out my #thisisclaire about me page, which (if my memory does not deceive me) has a strong basis on chicken nuggets.
Marshall McLuhan defines a medium as any extension of ourselves, which (as my lecturer Ted Mitew informs me) may include food.
The physical shape and size of rice makes it easiest to be consumed in a small bowl, generally in small portions, with chopsticks. The chopsticks allow for fast and (if you’re practiced) mess-free dining. If you visit Asia or walk
into an Eastern restaurant, you will notice small bowls and chopsticks; rice is a given on the menu. Rice is also relatively tedious to manufacture; it takes a great deal of labour and time in tough conditions to grow (see image on the right).
Bread (which I’ll widely define to include burger bread, pizza bases etc.) tends to be served in a larger portion than the former; picture a slice of bread against a bowl of rice. This requires a plate of sorts, and often a knife and fork. This is evident in local RSL’s and European restaurants, as well as in Western nations. The more widely used way to eat bread, the sandwich, is portable and (usually) not messy to consume, which makes it a staple for Western picnics and schoolyards. It’s easier to make bread, as most starch and yeast is farmed by machinery before being baked and sold.
In this sense, you can summate that what we (as a culture) put on our plates (or bowls) actually tells us something about our behaviour, which is what McLuhan is essentially saying with regards to the medium is the message. Even looking at one example of a food carbohydrate (medium) that differs between counties, we can reveal a significant amount about the different paradigms and ways of life in those places. In 1000 000 years when our remains are dug up and archaeologists try to piece together our society, our food sources and the subsequent shapes of our pottery could very well lead them to out dietary habits and general behaviours.
So it turns out food really does speak to us! Or about us, anyway. Who’d have thought it? 😉