Ruth Ozeki on her early career

Before Ruth Ozeki was a novelist, she made documentary films. In an interview, she describes working on an ad campaign for Philip Morris–big tobacco. She mentions walking around the streets of NY with her pockets “stuffed with Marlboros and lighters.” You can find the interview at the end of your novel edition of MYOM:

The issue of commercial sponsorship had always been a concern of mine. Like Jane, I had made programs sponsored by industries I didn’t quite approve of, in particular, Phillip Morris, the tobacco corporation. At the time, I was very aware of the way that the content of our programs was being impacted by our sponsor’s commercial message: for example, in every show we were required to include one shot of a person enjoying the sponsor’s product. At a time when I was desperately trying to quit smoking myself, I’d walk around the streets of New York with my video crew, pockets stuffed with Marlboros and lighters, plying people on the street with cigarettes and begging them to smoke for us so we could film our “smoking cut.” I was aware of a certain hypocrisy in this. So when I chose the meat industry as the sponsor in the novel, it only made sense to investigate how meat could impact the physical body of my character. You are what you eat, right?

The icons of these cigarette campaigns–frontier, Marlboro man–seem to have found their way into MYOM as well.

And in turn, the same visual imagery of the lone man on the frontier is now recycled in agro-business today.

Monsanto's ad adaptation of the earlier Marlboro campaign

One final connection to this mythology we might note is the “farm bill” debated and passed roughly every 5 years. The farm bill is currently on track for debate in Congress in 2012. While “farm” makes us think of rural areas and lone agricultural prairie-dwellers like these, the largest portion of the “farm bill” does not fund commodity crops (corn, beans, etc.), but actually goes to nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or food stamps, and school lunches. The US House ag sub-committee, for example, estimated that about 75% of the so-called farm bill will go to nutrition programs. (For a good simple breakdown of budgets and issues, see here.)


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