Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life
Chapter 12: The refrigerator
Refrigerators keep our drinks cool and our meat, fruit and vegetables ‘fresh’. They extend the length of time that perishable food items like meat and dairy products can be stored by holding off the constant decay of the world. Mechanical domestic refrigeration has transformed routine food preservation, shopping, cooking and eating. Fridges allow us to bulk-buy, organize food in shelves and bins, prepare meals in advance, serve chilled desserts and perfect the art of serving up left-over meals. Alongside artificial cooling to preserve food, the thing that enabled the entry of the refrigerator into the kitchen was its labour-saving potential, performing the work of organizing food. In countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States the ordinariness of the refrigerator in domestic kitchens has only become so since the 1960s. The first mechanical refrigerators for domestic rather than industrial use, like those manufactured by Kelvinator and its rival Frigidaire, were manufactured in the United States during the early 1900s. Cowan (1985) outlines the rise of the electric-powered compression refriger- ator, over gas refrigeration during the 1920s in the North American market. Whereas there was only one gas refrigerator company in the United States at this time (Servel), there were several highly capitalized corporations seeking market and profit through the design and manufacture of the electric-powered compression refrigerator, including Westinghouse, General Electric and General Motors. Fridges as we know them today originated in this first great period of the electrification of the home, when an entirely new suite of domes- tic technologies, including home electrical cabling itself, patterned the econ- omy (Mitchell 2008). Nevertheless, as Nye (1990) observed, for some time the refrigerator was considered a luxury and novelty item. Today’s ubiquity only arose in the post-war boom.
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