The Narrative Structure of My Year of Meats

Deconstructing the binary oppositions of fiction and documentary, Ruth Ozeki’s metanarrative My Year of Meats attempts to alter reality through storytelling. The documentary-with-in-a-story of My Year of Meats alters power structures and relationships, as the metanarrative My Year of Meats attempts to raise awareness of the reader about the bloody truths of the beef industry. In order to understand the narrative structure of My Year of Meats, the power structure of beef consumption and how the narratives of My Year of Meats contribute to alter both material and ideal aspects of the power structure must be analyzed. Analysis on the narrative structure will deepen the understanding of how metanarratives such as My Year of Meats and their narrative structures influence reality.

In My Year of Meats, power structure of beef consumption consists of two different aspects: the material power structure and the ideal power structure. At first, the two power structures seem to generate from two different entities, the material from the feedlot farmers, and the ideal from BEEF-EX. It is revealed later in the novel that BEEF-EX actually consists of “cowboys pretending to be international traders” (194). After Europe banned the import of U.S. meat because of the use of the hormone in production such as DES, BEEF-EX targeted Japan as their next market. BEEF-EX is shown as an entity consisting of cowboys that promotes the profit of feedlot farmers. Both power structures material and ideal finally leads to the Japanese family which contributes to flow capital back to BEEF-EX and feedlot farmers.

power structure in beef consumption

power structure in beef consumption

The left-half of the power structure chart shows how the feedlot framers influence the Japanese families materially. The feedlot farmers abuses illegal drugs such as DES to enhance the growth of the cattle. The DES contaminated cattle is processed and its beef is consumed by Japanese families. By consuming beef from feedlot cattle, the Japanese households contribute to the benefit of the feedlot farmers.

The right-half of the power structure chart shows how BEEF-EX influences the Japanese families ideally. Beef-Ex sponsors the production of My American Wife!, which teaches the Japanese housewives traditional American “wholesome” family values and exemplary meat cookery. The Japanese housewives learn family values and meat recipes and influence her households by materially and metaphorically serving American beef. By introducing American values and diet, BEEF-EX benefits from selling more American beef in Japan.

By showing the shadow of beef industry and alternative family styles, the narratives of My Year of Meats respectively contribute to change the material and ideal power structure of beef consumption.

The alteration of the material power structure can be recognized in the relationship between Gale Dunn and his cattle. When Jane and her TV crew visit the Dunn family’s feedlot, Gale Dunn is using DES to his cattle. After Jane’s documentary becomes public, Gale’s abuse of DES comes to light and stops his illegal usage of DES.

The alteration of ideal power structure can be recognized in the relationships between Akiko and John Wayno, and BEEF-EX and the Japanese families. In the beginning of the novel, Akiko suffers from an abusive relationship with her husband John Wayno. She is completely dependent on him and submits to John’s unreasonable attitude. Jane’s narrative of My American Wife! which features alternative family styles changes Akiko’s ideas towards meat eating and family, and inspires her to liberate herself from John’s oppression. Meanwhile, the documentary-within-a-story My Year of Meats informs the Japanese families the reality of feedlot farming which makes the Japanese household question BEEF-EX and the American “wholesome” values and recipes it sponsors.

Through Jane’s documentary narrative, the metanarrative My Years of Meats informs the reader about the reality of feedlot farming and the beef industry. Just like Jane influenced her audience with her documentary, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats attempts to influence the reader. The narrative structure of the novel contributes to provide a sense of reality to the novel, attempting to alter reality through storytelling.

The Cove and its Implications as a Documentary

           In “Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking,” Bill Nichols writes that every film is a documentary; each film is either a documentary of wish-fulfillment (fiction) or a documentary of social representation (non-fiction) (Nichols).   Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove (2009) embodies the latter category of what can simply be called a documentary film as it follows Ric O’Barry’s struggles to expose the slaughtering of dolphins in the waters of a remote lagoon located in Taiji, Japan.

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            The Cove establishes Ric O’Barry as its main protagonist, and the documentary details not only his role in dolphin activism today but also his history with commercial dolphin captivity (Psihoyos).  The film first depicts Ric O’Barry’s earlier works with dolphins.  He once worked as a dolphin trainer for the 1960s TV series Flipper – a show that propelled dolphins into the mainstream (Psihoyos).  O’Barry’s past as a trainer for the popular Flipper series helped commercialize the capturing of dolphins (Psihoyos).  However, after production of the series ended, O’Barry adopted the life of an activist.  He believes that Kathy, the main dolphin that acted as “Flipper,” committed suicide by suffocating herself when she purposefully did not open her blowhole to take another breath (Psihoyos), and since that incident, he has worked to release captive dolphins back into the wild (Psihoyos).  The film almost appears to document O’Barry’s effort to rectify his past and what happened to Kathy.  By illustrating to the audience O’Barry’s past and current actions, the documentary personalizes Ric O’Barry’s life.   It becomes an appeal to the emotions of the viewer and an attempt to win the audience to O’Barry’s side. 

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The documentary even depicts the commitment of Ric O’Barry.  He says, “I never planned on being an activist. One thing leads to another, and now if there’s a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world, my phone will ring” (Psihoyos).  The statement by O’Barry demands the viewer to acknowledge the dedication he has to his cause; it is another passionate ploy to gain the viewer to the side of “the speaker” (Nichols).

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            With O’Barry established as Nichols’ “speaker,” the documentary then portrays Taiji and its lagoon as the “them” that is spoken about – or against (Nichols).  Ric O’Barry is the speaker (the activist) who tries to convey to the viewer that Taiji is a “little town with a really big secret” (Psihoyos) – that is, dolphin slaughter by local fisherman and townsfolk occurs in an isolated cove in Taiji.

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From the “helicopters” to the “drones” to the “thermal cameras” (Psihoyos), the documentary takes on a tone of espionage and covert operations under Ric O’Barry and his crew.  In what appears to be an attempt to place the viewer on the actual team, the documentary even displays to the viewer a map that details all the locations where the crew should not trespass.  This aspect in the film essentially translates into another (fun) appeal to the viewer to gain him or her onto the Ric O’Barry effort against dolphin slaughter.

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Ethical issues also remain apparent in The Cove. Food becomes pertinent when the film attempts to document Japan’s “covering up” of the sale of dolphin meat in its markets (Psihoyos).  In the documentary, Scott Baker claims, “Dolphin meat is generally considered to be a less desirable commodity, and it would sell for far, far less, if it was properly labeled.  So the meat is distributed much more widely than…recognized” (Psihoyos).  The film portrays Japan’s government to be in cahoots with the slaughtering of dolphins in order to help the fishing industry, which sees dolphins and other whales as “pests” that hinder the size of the catch (Psihoyos).  But this is also where the film fails to depict to the viewer the other side; actual Japanese activists never make appearances in the film.  The viewer instead is shown obliviousness in the Japanese population when various native citizens display ignorance on the subject in front of the camera.  By dehumanizing the Japanese people into one group that seems to be either for dolphin slaughter or ignorant of it, The Cove makes yet another effort to win the viewer onto the side of the speaker.

            However, with all its endeavors to create a one-sided story of Ric O’Barry against the slaughtering of dolphins aside, the documentary still questions real ethical issues.  The documentary rightfully portrays dolphins as creative creatures with the ability to recognize self and capacity to learn and display intelligence at the level of humans (Psihoyos).  The main issue becomes not that of government corruption but that of the brutal slaughter of intelligent beings.  As humans, the ability to be conscious of being conscious remains remarkable – and this level of consciousness has been documented in dolphins (Psihoyos).  The documentary humanizes the dolphins in an effort to put the main issue at the forefront.  It allows the viewer to place him or herself into the dolphin’s flippers; it becomes an issue of right and wrong, a moral dilemma.  Separate species and mercury health side effects aside, humans and dolphins belong in the same category with regards to the ability to recognize oneself in the world.

Works Cited

Nichols, Bill. “Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking,” from Introduction to Documentary(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010), 42-66.

Psihoyos, Louie. The Cove. Lionsgate, 2009. Film.

Red Meat: The Bond of the Typical American Family

Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats follows unemployed documentarian Jane Takagi-Little on her experience working as a producer for a Japanese TV show called My American Wife, which is sponsored by a Texas-based meat industry lobby organization called Beef-Ex. To continue the pattern of westernization in Japan, My American Wife features American wives demonstrating the steps to simple American recipes that contain red meat and can be performed at home for a family dinner. At the typical American family dinner table, red meat represents the main dish that unites each family member to bond with each other by sharing the dish. In order to establish a bond for the Japanese family during dinnertime, Jane Takagi-Little emphasizes the modern American tradition of serving red meat at the dinner table.

As the main purpose of the TV Show, red meat, instead of the American housewife, is the star of My American Wife. Sponsored by Beef-Ex, My American Wife wants Japanese housewives to “feel the hearty sense of warmth, of comfort, of hearth and home – the traditional family values symbolized by red meat in rural America” (Ozeki 8). Normally, the typical Japanese family indulges in light-tasting dishes, such as seafood, rice, soup, and vegetables. Although these dishes are light in flavor, the Japanese consider this cuisine as a commonplace in their culture. However, red meat, an “attractive, appealing, all-American dish,” gives the Japanese a sense of both westernization and modernization with the appeal of the American culture. As Japan becomes more of a Western-cultured civilization with the increase of American fast food places and red meat at the markets, it is reasonable for home-cooked meals to include the use of red meat as a main dish.

In order for the audience to gain interest in American red meat cuisine, Ruth Ozeki’s word choice to describe the purpose of the show creates a warm and persuasive tone. For example, the passage emphasizes how red meat brings the “hearty” sense of “warmth,” “comfort,” “hearth,” and “home.” (Ozeki 8) Instead of having the normal Japanese dinner, the Japanese should try something that would provides tons of flavor while producing the pleasant feeling of comfort while consuming the dish made of red meat. Ozeki wants to appeal to the Japanese housewives so their family members can intensify the feeling of comfort at home while enjoying their meal as a family. By intensifying this comfortable feeling, this allows family members to endure in bonding with sharing the amiability of their main dish of hearty red meat.

By emphasizing the value of bonding as a family as well as the use of red meat at the dinner table, the American tradition of the culinary concoction of red meat allows the Japanese housewife and her family to experience the ways at the dinner table of the modern American family.  As a rising country in the westernization of cuisine, utilizing red meat in home-cooked meals allows the typical Japanese family to meet the modern expectations of the modern westernized Japanese culture.

Shao-Hsing rice wine in Gourmet Club

“Gourmet Club”, which was published in 1919, was written by Tanizaki Jun’ichiro. This gourmet club was founded by five people who are crazy on fine cuisine. In addition, Tanizaki uses exoticism genre in this work, and lots of Chinese cultural are existing in his work. Shao-Hsing rice wine is one of the most remarkable Chinese cultural symbols, and it’s also providing an aesthetic effect in Gourmet Club.   

   First of all, Shao-Hsing rice wine is one of the most famous varieties of huangjiu, which is a traditional Chinese wine. Also huangjiu is three of the world oldest beverage as well as beer and grape wine. Shao-Hsing rice wine originally from Shao-Hsing city, in Zhejiang province of eastern China. This wine is widely used in both a beverage and a cooking wine in Chinese cuisine. People like to drink it at the beginning of a meal instead of eating rice. In addition, it will be drunk out of rice bowls and usually accompany with peanuts or other snacks. Besides that, Shao-Hsing rice wine contains six different tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, umami, and astringent. With those six flavors harmonious interaction and their mutual effect, it formed the unique of this type of wine which give people an unforgettable impression. Meanwhile, in the gourmet club, Count G. knows this special drink so that he can recognize it.

   Then, Shao-Hsing rice wine was mentioned when Count smells it from two Chinese, the narrator describes: “but at the instant they passed, a whiff of shao-hsing rice wine reached his nostrils. He turned and glanced at the others’ faces” (P107). Because of this, Count G could find the hidden Chinese banquet, and have a series of the stories about there. Furthermore, shao-hsing rice wine came up again in the following text. When Count gave a brief glance at this Chinese banquet, he saw that: “when it was at last placed in the middle of the table, one of the diners stood up and raised a cup of shao-hsing wine, whereupon those sitting with him also rose and, all together, drained their cups” (P120). It first confirmed that Count’s judgment of this type of wine was corrected. Secondly it represents how important of this beverage in Chinese culture.

Overall, with this narrow down exoticism of Shao-Hsing rice wine in Tanizaki’s text, it lend to the aesthetic of the story. The mention of this beverage is not only the symbol of Chinese cultural, but also foreshadowing the development of the story. Shao-Hsing rice wine is also an important setting in this work, which can give readers’ the sense of smell, so that Tanizaki refers twice in the text. Without this specific item, the development of the story is not that reasonable and credible.

Modern Japan (Extra Credit)

Ruth Ozeki’s fictional novel, “My Year of Meats,” tells the story of two Japanese women, Jane and Akiko. Jane, a Japanese American woman, works to create an American television show called “My American Wife” which instills American values into its Japanese viewers. Jane eventually encounters Akiko, a Japanese housewife, who we later find is abused. Using alternating perspectives, Ozeki reveals the “modernization” or “westernization” of Japanese culture through the lives of Jane and Akiko.

 

Ruth Ozeki demonstrates the influence of American culture in Japanese society through the events which take place in Akiko’s life as a housewife. Her husband Joichi, in particular, exemplifies the introduction of American ideals in their lives as Japanese citizens. For instance, Joichi reveals his interest in American culture when he changes his name to “John” and begins to use common American verbal phrases such as “kill two birds with one stone.”  This subtle transition of their lives from an older Japanese traditional lifestyle, devoid of any foreign influence, to a more “modern” or American lifestyle becomes more starkly evident when Joichi or “John” forces his wife to cook beef in a similar method used in the American television show. Joichi feels that they can become more modern if they consume the same meals  as American citizens. In essence, John becomes more civilized and a more modern Japanese citizen by using food to embrace American ideas.

 

 

In addition to events which take place in Akiko’s life, plot events from Jane’s perspective also reveal the modernization of Japanese culture. For instance, as Ozeki continues to narrate through Jane’s viewpoint, Jane quotes, “I was hired by Kato to be a coordinator for My American Wife, the TV series that would bring the “heartland of America into the homes of Japan.” This passage from the novel demonstrates how there is a demand in Japan for a more American influenced media and basically anything “American.” The consumption of beef is made out to be symbolic of one’s complete adoption of a modern lifestyle when the show attempts to persuade its Japanese audience to change their traditional diet to a more beef laden American diet. Furthermore, a memo sent to Jane from the Tokyo Office includes , “***MOST IMPORTANT THING IS VALUES, WHICH MUST BE ALL-AMERICAN.” This is a blatant attempt by an office surrounded by Japanese culture, to change the culture of the Japanese American citizens. While this may seem almost hypocritical, it only makes more apparent the tendency of Japan to make its people become more modern by adopting the American values.

 

 

In conclusion, through the incorporation of various perspectives on the events which take place in “My Year of Meats,” Ruth Ozeki is able to portray the “moderization” of Japan or the “westernization” of the Japanese people. Through Akiko’s and Jane’s viewpoints, Ozeki successfully demonstrates how the Japanese view beef consumption and anything of American influence as “modern.”

Meat as a tool to legitimize a story

My Year Of Meats follows the path of a documentary storytelling by following the exploits of two main protagonists in this story (Takagi & Akiko). Following the lives of these two main protagonists gives the feel of an investigative documentary as they unnecessarily uncover the things that are occurring behind the scenes with the American meat industry. At the same time by following the personal lives of these women we are either dealing or are witness to an assortment of different cultural, economic, and social problems that both the United States and Japan face. the medium that we see this throught is the production effort of different people involved in the filming of My American Wife.

First we are witnesses to the personal life of housewife Akiko and her husband ‘John.’ Slowly by following along the health problems that Akiko has we are able to uncover one of the consequences that American meat(beef) can have on the reproductive health of a woman. We see the resurgence of her periods and normal body weight when she starts to eat the Australian raised lamb instead of the American meat. (Ozeki, 143). The same can be said about Akiko and her difficulties with both her prior attempts at becoming pregnant, and her pregnancy to her musician lover, Sloan.(Ozeki, 173).  The use of antibiotics also makes an appearance with the people that are involved in the making of an episode of  My American Wife as one of the camera crew members suffers an allergic reaction to the American raised meat being used in the shoot.

From these complications we are presented with the reality of what are the consequence of using both antibiotics and hormones in the raising of feedlot cattle become apparent.

The lesbian couple being filmed, Dyann and Lara, go in depth why they have chosen to become vegetarians as they go on to explain the evils that feedlot cattle can cause both to the animals and the people that consume them.(Ozeki, 174-176). By not directly addressing the actual wrongs with the meat through the first half of the book, what Ozeki is doing is giving a back story to the actual problem. That is to say her main argument is being covered by these series of smaller stories and characters that are not connected directly.

We as the reader are taken through this voyage as we are presented with a different set of characters who are connected by My American Wife and each gives a little bit of the overall picture of how wrong is the meat in the United States. Technically this would be a critique on the meat industry. At the same time the book deals with issues of class, sexual and physical abuse, racism and stereotypes that afflict the Asian-American community. If this story were a film, it would be a combination of an investigative documentary that is a critique on the meat industry while at the same time it would take a look at several of the issues that were listed prior in this piece.  Meat is the food that becomes the medium through we are able to explore these issues in My Year of Meats. The reason for this it glues all of the stories together as BEEF-EX is the one bankrolling My American Wife. Without them there is no story. They give the story a plot that one can believe to be possible. Thus legitimizing the rest of the other stories.

Japan: A Nation of Lost Identity (My Year of Meats Extra Credit)

In order to survive in this planet of ever-growing changes, shifts and changes are often made, leading to the discarding of past values and tradition. In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, My Year of Meats, Ozeki indicates a shift in Japan as a country, as a result of influences in capitalism, consumerism, and overall American Culture. Ozeki makes it increasingly evident that Japan is losing its identity amongst nations as Japan seeks to conform with societies which have been deemed successful and prosperous. Japan is shown to seek adaptations of cultural lifestyles with a change to a diet richer in meats and shift towards desires of the “American Dream.”

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Modernization of Japan into a Meat Culture

Clear resentment is presented towards past Japan through Akiko’s husband, John, who displays a growing loss of interest in his wife due to her small figure and infertility, which he views to be due to a meat-deficient diet. The remedy in such situation is concluded to be a change to a more American lifestyle, one that incorporates large consumption of meat. In such way, Ozeki utilizes meat as a linkage to American consumerism and culture, displaying shifting tides in Japan, as Japan becomes further accustomed to meat consumption through the cooking show, My American Wife, that Jane (the Protagonist) helps to produce. Ozeki essentially hints to the failure of infrastructure in Japan as a whole, as Japanese culture has caused its people to pale in comparison to American people.

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Large Portions of Meat (Symbolizing American Culture & Consumerism)

The Protagonist Jane can be seen as the bridge between Japan and the America, as she is of Japanese and Caucasian decent. In presenting this duality, Ozeki is able to further the idea of American health and stature through both the successes of Jane with her TV show and Jane’s figure itself. John who comes into contact with Jane, in one passage, commends Jane on her height and intelligence, which he attributes to her Caucasian side. This sort of American favoritism that Ozeki incorporates into her novel, creates a sense of a dying Japanese culture that people seek to abandon for something of greater nourishment and prosperity. In My Year of Meats, this nourishment comes in the form of the meat that is cooked on the show and the meat that is sold to the Japanese people through BEEF-EX. The early Meiji Era values of 19th century Japan, values that include buddhist ideals of being frugal, low meat consumption, and overall moderation, are discarded and replaced with American values of excessiveness and high consumerism (in particular with that of meat). This new 20th century Japan, illustrates Japanese high regard toward a state of modernity, which is thought to be only possible through the mimicry of “American culture.”

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Cover of My Year of Meats Novel (displays Japanese Chopsticks which pick up Beef Cow)

My Year of Meats is a novel in which Japanese progression towards modernity in the 19th and 20th century is displayed through Japanese adaptations toward the American lifestyle. Ozeki displays such shift through the symbol of meat which becomes an increasingly common part of the Japanese peoples’ lives. American consumerism is placed at the utmost highest pedestal, as it emanates and produces prosperity and health which is shown through the juxtaposition of American and Japanese women.

My year of meat (Extra Credit)

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Soyoung Son
Japanese 70

         Jane Takagi-Little is a Japanese American journalist and she works for a Japanese production company. She produces the program of called “My American Wife.”, this is about meat (beef), they show how to cook beef, what the best meat is, and show her life as American wife, how she cook meat every week. There are story of Jane, Suzie and Akiko. Jane’s story is the life of Akiko Ueno, she is manga artist and married with a man who work for BEEF-EX.

         This book’s story is about meat, actually culture of meat is not for Asian food, it came from Western and now it is popular and had been settled as our meal. Almost every one love meat and always find it at table and also rate of sold a meat has been growing rapidly. In My American Wife program show how to cook meat in the best way, and where we can find the best meat. They try to find the place where they can find the best meat, but they found the company which made a meat in stranger way rather than the best meat. There are actually lots of menu that they will cook but end up, they decided to cook a beef, because this American broadcast company have supporter Japanese company as well and this American company make a program for showing Japanese wife the best way to cook beef and that is actual purpose to sell a meat. The company which sold a meat have a huge farm, they want to raise a cow with very easy way, they shot inject of Hormone and other variety prevent inject to cow when cows are born, and also during they are growing, the company give them food mixed some drugs and give some shot as injection. It probably looks that cows are very healthy and they are growing up in very well circumstance, but it is not like that, it is very mess. The company even haven’t cleaned cow’s excreta, the farm is too small cow to grow, People who work there looks very bored to work as machine.  And if kids eat this meat, then they have problem of growing well. I think, most people have ambition and it brings these terrible result, they just need to sell it and earn money with any reason and ways. Ruth Ozeki wants to tell veil of food story, and we have to know there is lots of problem in food. Asian food culture is actually not meat long time ago but now it is popular and every Asian know it as healthy food, but there are lots of junk food also made with meat, such as Hamburger, sausage  and spam, we might know it is very unhealthy food, but we can’t stop eating those food. That means meat has already settled in our life. So we probably want to find a way to eat healthy and great meat as well and even if we eat junk food, we should try to eat less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The significance of Kobe Beef

YoungEun Kim

Mcknight, A.

Japanese 70 – Dis 1C

18 December 2013

Extra Credit

The Kobe Beef is an extremely tender and full-flavored, it is a high quality of beef from cattle raised in Kobe in Japan. The history of Kobe beef begins with the importation of wagyu cattle into the isolated Kobe region before 1868. It is also called as Wagyu beef which means Japanese, orJapanese-style cattle. In the United States, there is Choice or Prime for beef, Kobe beef is usually two grades higher than them. The Japanese feed grains, beer and the cow gets a massage regularly to make cow’s meat become tenderer. untitled                                                        “Japanese feed a beer to cow for Kobe beef”

Even though it has more fat than other meats, the content of cholesterol is lesser than others. In Japan, the highest grade one is around 300hundreds dollars in 200g. Some people is going to say it is too expensive to eat, but the gourmet people will love to eat. In the U.S., Kobe beef producing cattle ave been crossbred with American cattle, and Kobe beef produced in the U.S. is generally less expensive than in Japan. Kobe beef sells for over $100 a pound in Japan. Most believe that although the Kobe beef in America is good, genuine Kobe beef can still only be found in Japan. The reason why Kobe beef is expensive and popular is that it is rare, and producing it is an expensive, time consuming process.

There are three main factors that make Kobe beef so tender and succulent. The Wagyu breed of cattle, the regular massaging of the cow to blend the fat into the muscle, and the diet of beer given to the cow to stimulate appetite. If you ever get a chance to look at a cut of Kobe beef before it is cooked, you will notice that fat is interspersed in the meat in tiny pockets. How they are able to do this is still very weird to me, but it makes the steak taste so good and better. The most important thing in Kobe beef is providing health benefits to people. It has not only low calories, but also good protein, value of iron, low fat and low sodium. Since the fat has a bad reputation, consumers prefer to find a Kobe beef than other meets. According to research results from Pennsylvania State University, “the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers concluded that eating monounsaturated fatty acids are better for your heart than eating special diets with lean products. The research also shows that Wagyu meat can actually help to reduce cholesterol levels. Wagyu beef is visually striking because of its wonderful marbling” (Pennsylvania State University). The Kobe beef is the best teak to not only gourmet people, but also the people. I would like to have a meal with delicious even though it is expensive, and I really look forward to eating the Kobe beef one day.

Contemporary Travails

Parallel through character development but different through personal struggles, Jane Takagi-Little and Akiko Ueno both experience a learning journey that alters the shape of their futures. Jane produces a Japanese cooking show—with hopes to locate America’s most winning wives—and Akiko watches the reality performance—with hopes to cook and consume delicious, beef dishes. Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats, presents a wide variety of serious, somber issues that delve into cultural relations. Plaguing modern society’s viewpoints and beliefs, she begins to question these particular conflicts: the relationships between women and men; the gender stereotypes surrounding women; and the undisclosed affairs conducted by the meat industry. Through a characterization comparison between Jane and Akiko, Ruth Ozeki tackles issues that contemporary individuals and couples face on a daily basis in My Year of Meats.

Jane and Akiko not only embody dazzling counterpoints, but they also symbolize astounding resemblances. Jane’s first-person account provides the novel with its comical/frank tone, and Akiko’s ultimate conquest offers the novel its didactic/wise tone. Ozeki first attacks the sometimes troubling, complex relationships that women have with men. Jane’s intimate affair with the mysterious saxophonist, Sloane, supplies readers with an interesting scope: how modern-day relationships can epitomize ambiguity and confusion. This allows Jane to realize that her emotions cannot stop her from permitting fear of intimacy to dismember her relationship. Comparably, Akiko continues to pursue her puzzling relationship with Joichi Ueno—executive producer of the show. At this point, Ozeki begins to explore the distressing issue of spousal abuse: “he gave Akiko one last violent shake… gouged Akiko right above the eye” (100). Ozeki then starts to analyze the intricacies of gender stereotypes that constantly hamper women. Due to mainstream media and a bashing husband, Akiko is led to believe that the ideal, American wife characterizes an “ample, robust, yet never tough or hard to digest” (1) woman. Ruth Ozeki plays with this idea of stereotypes to test the preconceptions and misconceptions that contemporary individuals have with gender and culture.

Nevertheless, My Year of Meats fully discusses the concern of food safety and the practice of hormones in the meat industry. Ruth Ozeki conducts a rough examination about the trace residues of such growth-enhancing drugs; blended in the industrial beef, Americans unknowingly eat harmful remains on a consistent basis. This information integrates itself into the story and begins to affect Jane’s well-being. Learning that she once was exposed to a DES hormone—which promotes growth in cows and prevents miscarriages in women—she heartbreakingly realizes that she now has reproductive problems. Such a large, social issue regarding the meat industry begins to resonate with the small, intimate portion of this woman’s life. Ozeki investigates one of the true evils of the world while reveling about the defective, flawed qualities of human nature.

In their own respects, each character traverses through differing obstacles and opposing conflicts. However, even though they both rise above any complications, Jane comprehends that happy endings only satisfy the emotions of a reader: “I don’t think I can change my future simply by writing a happy ending” (350). After all of the proposed issues in the novel, readers not only wonder about modern society’s belief system, but they also ponder about the efficacy of a desired outcome.