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.

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