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.