The Danger of Selling Culture Through Food

Genre in My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki unfolds into both a personal diary narrative and third-personal documentary.  It follows Japanese-American Jane Takagi-Little as she helps create a television show called “My American Wife” emphasizing meat and American values to the Japanese public.  The personal narrative aspect of the book is told by Jane as she recounts her personal experiences in working on the meat promoting show.  The documentary portion follows the show itself and its effects on a Japanese housewife named Akiko.

An intimate relationship is forged between the reader and Jane through her first-person reflections on the job.  Throughout the book, her self-dialogues are often blunt and harsh.  Jane does not bother with any sort manners in these passages; she is direct, forthright, and genuinely frank.  Jane’s assertive mindset may actually be reminiscent of Sei Shonagon’s boldness in her personal writings, “I am the sort of person who approves of what others abhor and detests the things they like” (1).   Her straightforward attitude not only allows the reader a closer connection to her part of the story.  It, more importantly, imparts the reader with a deeper insight into the fundamentally corrupt manipulation techniques that the show uses to sell a supposedly perfect culture to the Japanese people. Together with the documentary elements of the book, Jane’s personal narrative highlights the increasingly apparent fabrications on the show while underlining its exploitation of both the American families and the Japanese public.

Akiko’s experience with the show is described in the documentary portion of the book.  Her husband, a worker for the company sponsoring the show, forces her to watch the show and adopt American habits, “that’s when her meat duties started.  Every Saturday morning, she would be required to watch My American Wife and then fill out a questionnaire he had designed, rating the program from one to ten in categories such as General Interest, Educational Value, Authenticity, Wholesomeness, Availability of Ingredient, and Deliciousness of Meat” (21).  Her every attitude and reaction are documented and revealed to the reader during her involvement.  Thus, the reader is able to see the direct effects of Jane’s actions in creating show on the Japanese public, thereby seeing what goes into the creative side and the resulting impact. Consequently, the documentary component is critical to the reader’s understanding of Ozeki’s aim of detailing culture exploitation.  Even Akiko’s husband has bought into the artificial, American culture and forces her to eat meat in the hopes that her health and fertility would increase.

The reader is able to observe the destructive harm of the show’s attempt to sell culture through the book’s dual genres of personal narrative and documentary.  Ozeki’s choice to include both methods of writing allows her to portray the damaging effect of valuing and imposing a culture over another.  One may infer that she does not believe any way of life to be inherently superior to another.

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