Meat is the Message, is the Message you heard, it’s got Additives, it’s got Meaning

“Meat is the message.” A simple line, a play on Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” yet it embodies exactly what Ruth Ozeki’s message in My Year of Meats. Within this novel, meat is used as a metaphor in the context of a diary that represents the lives of the various characters introduced. As the meat is molded and tampered so is the life of the main character, Akiko, whose diary section, along with Jane’s, gives us a deeper understanding of Akiko’s character and her marriage.

The novel splits itself into two parts, one being a behind the scene showing of what’s going on and the other being the diary of Akiko. From the background it is seen that the meat that is put on the shows use glycerin in order to make it glisten (42), likewise the meat used for the Coca-Cola roast has actually been doused by Pepsi, which is, “Not the real thing at all…” (30) On the actual show the food looks amazing, but even Akiko has a sense of distrust as she notes that, “…it felt like they were hiding something.” (40) This ties into Akiko throwing up the beef that she eats every night, almost in mutiny of the change in lifestyle that her husband “John” has pushed onto her. (37-38) Jane’s diary also gives us a glimpse of “John” and his relation to Akiko. Jane make’s a list, in the style of Shonagan, of “John” in response to his behaviors noting that he is, “Hateful/Unsuitable/Depressing/Annoying/Presumptuous”. (44)

The story, although having sequences that could are “behind the scene,” is driven by the pseudo-diaries of Jane and Akiko. Taking these three parts into consideration, they make the layers of perception for the story. There is Akiko’s point of view, the view of the audience who witnesses the show about meat.  Then there is the “behind the scene” point of view that depicts what happens to the meat in preparation for the show. Finally there is Jane’s perspective that goes deeper behind the scenes and shows the character of “John” tying all three perspectives together. “John” is seen as hateful and unsuitable along with a myriad of other negative labels in Jane’s diary, symbolizing how “John” by trying to modernize himself has ultimately been perverted. Akiko’s diary shows us the effects of this culture clashing, and essentially her innate struggle to fight off such forces as seen by her throwing up. This creates a contrast between the two characters despite the fact that they are joined by marriage. In a sense the marriage between the two reflects the condition of the meat. On a surface level the marriage between Akiko and “John” works and looks good, but underneath all of the additives lays something unnatural, a something that Akiko innately tries to push out of her life. The diaries thus help to create a cohesive view between the characters and the background view of the show.

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