Author Archives: Hiroki Ishihara-Baez

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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Dolphins and Intersubjectivity

The documentary film The Cove attempts to demonstrate that eating dolphin meat is unethical by showing that dolphins are intelligent animals that experience pain as humans do. Recognizing intelligence in other animals allows humans to relate to the animal and feel empathy towards them. Intersubjectivity; the idea that the ability to experience another being as a subject, as opposed to an object, allows one to experience empathy; plays a critical role on determining the ethics of killing/eating animals because it allows the range humans can feel empathy towards. By showing footage of psychological experiments which demonstrates the intelligence of dolphins, the film attempts to broaden the range of the audience’s intersubjectivity and appeals to them that killing/eating dolphin is unethical.

Why is dolphin killing/eating unethical? Although The Cove touches upon the risk of mercury poisoning for prohibition, the major claim the film makes is that killing/eating intelligent animals is a matter of ethics rather than food safety. How does intelligence, then, determine the ethics of animal killing/eating? The assumption that intelligence correlates to the capacity of feeling pain is used to argue killing/eating intelligent animals is unethical. However, it may be quite difficult to determine whether other animals including dolphins experience pain the same way humans do.

Then what determines the ethics of making an animal experience pain? Why is it acceptable to kill an unintelligent chicken, but unethical to kill a dolphin? Intersubjectivity allows humans to feel empathy towards other beings, and intelligence determines the range of creatures that allows intersubjectivity to occur. Intersubjectivity can be expanded to the realm of dolphins, allowing humans to assume they experience pain the same way we do. The film argues that projecting our empathy into the mind of a dolphin is not difficult because of the results of several psychological experiments that apparently demonstrate high levels of intelligence in dolphins. If dolphins think like we do, the film argues, they can feel pain as we do, and making them feel pain would be unethical.

The film shows three psychological experiments performed on dolphins.

Reactiontime measurement

Reactiontime measurement

 

Reaction time measurement shows evidence that dolphins have advanced ability to respond to a stimulus.

Working memory test

Working memory test

Working memory test demonstrates the existence of short term memory in dolphins which hints the capacity of meta-cognition.

The mirror stage

The mirror stage

The mirror stage shows the ability to recognize oneself objectively, hinting that dolphins go through the process of self-identification

Although the first two experiments recognize advanced intelligence in dolphins, the third experiment is yet again a matter of intersubjectivity. Dolphins and other animals such as the great apes may recognize oneself in the mirror; however whether these animals go through the same self-identification process which Lacan theorized as the mirror-stage is highly questionable. It is more likely that humans are projecting themselves into the reflection of dolphins and making a leap of logic.

By showing footage of psychological experiments performed on dolphins, The Cove attempts to demonstrate dolphins as intelligence animals that have the ability to experience human-like pain. Whether dolphins can experience pain like humans do is indeterminable, for evidence of pain experience in dolphins may merely be humans trying to intersubjectively project their own experience into dolphins. Claiming dolphin killing/eating unethical from the perspective of dolphins experiencing pain is questionable.

Food and Death –The Food Fatale-

 

              Using aesthetic language and dreamy imagery, Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club compares the pleasure of dining with eroticism and associates the skillfulness of cuisine with fine art. The aesthetics and pleasures of fine dining are so captivating that, instead of gobbling down the food, the members of the Gourmet Club seem to be swallowed by it. The obsession towards the perfect plate leads Count G, who organizes the Gourmet Club, to the discovery of a magical cookery which may eventually lead the members to destruction.

              Food in The Gourmet Club is compared and contrasted to many things. It is compared to “art” in general, for its captivating aesthetic value, and specifically “orchestra music” for the rapturing excitement it provides (99). The pleasure of cooking is also associated with sexual pleasure in the very first sentence of the story. The narrator explains that the members of the Gourmet Club loved “the pleasures of the table” as much as “those of the bedroom” (99). The most important thing or, more appropriately figure, which food should be compared with in the story is the femme fatale.

               As professor McKnight explained in the lecture of Tanizaki Junichiro, food in The Gourmet Club is as enchanting as a femme fatale. The features she lists for a femme fatale is so similar to the traits of the food delineated in The Gourmet Club that she characterizes it as a “food fatale” (McKnight). Indeed, the food in the story is aesthetic, as it is depicted as a form of “art”; seductive, for a pork loin is compared to a woman with “soft, white, and luscious” skin; and dangerous, since it is so “unbearably delicious” that “one’s stomach (may) burst open” (Tanizaki 99, 114, 104).

              The charm of the “food fatale” is so intense that Tanizaki often associates it with something that may lead to death (McKnight). The Gourmet Club’s obsession with food drives the members across the country to satisfy their cravings for a dish. Club members will take any necessary measures in order to appease their appetite. “Once you’ve set your heart on eating something,” a member says, “you’ve just got to have it” (Tanizaki 101). Count G, the leader of the Gourmet Club, dreams of a, “music like food,” referring to a food that would “make men dance madly, (and) dance themselves to death” (Tanizaki 104).

              Even after the Count finally encounters with this fascinating cuisine, he is still obsessed with food and proposes that the members of the club should only “focus (their) interest and curiosity fully on the things to be eaten” (Tanizaki 137). The members become possessed by their lust for food, and other pursuits in their lives are dissolved. It seems like they no longer “‘eat’ fine cuisine, but are consumed by it” (Tanizaki 139). The narrator predicts that the fate of the members of the club will lead them to either “raving lunacy, or death” (139).

              The Gourmet Club illustrates both the positive and the negative side of the obsession with food. When one knows their limits, cuisine can be the highest form of art and captivate the gourmet. When one becomes obsessed with it however, it may lead to destruction. Just like a femme fatale, food may be fascinating and dangerous in the same time.

Citation

Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro. “The Gourmet Club.” The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, trans. Ed. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy.Tokyo; London: Kodansha, 2001. 99-140. Print.

                             McKnight, Anne. “Tanizaki Junichiro.” Japan 70. Haines 220, Los Angeles. 28 October. 2013. Lecture.

Ramen and Mindful Eating

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A simple but well-prepared bowl of ramen.

              Tampopo’s main sequence opens with a vignette where a ramen master mindfully has a bowl of ramen noodles, which vividly captures the essence of the film. Film director Itami revisits ramen noodles, a homely Japanese food that had since been disregarded, to remind the audience the joy of appreciating simple cooking. Japanese traditional home cooking has suffered from marginalization after the boom of haute cuisine during the transition between the high-speed economic growth era and the bubble economy. The scene of the master having a bowl of ramen noodles in a mindfully aware manner demonstrates to the audience the pleasures of having a simple, well-prepared dish. It is the same appreciation of good ramen that leads protagonist Tampopo to pursue the art of its careful and crafted preparation, later deciding to serve this simple but delicious dish to the people of her community. Mindful awareness deconstructs the social status associated with food, allowing the diner to appreciate food in its purest form, and help the diner recognize art and comfort in daily cooking.

The main plot of the film tells the story of protagonist’s pursuit of serving a delicious bowl of ramen. In the film, Itami illustrates ramen as a mundane food, as opposed to the high-class French cuisine the five businessmen have in another scene. By making a contrast between ramen and French cuisine, Itami points out that anyone can enjoy a well-prepared delicious bowl of ramen, while French cuisine may be inaccessible to many diners due to its perceived elite nature. This can delude the diner with the social status the food is associated with, preventing the diner from enjoying food for the sake of it. By revisiting and valuing mundane ramen noodles, Itami attempts to deconstruct the social status associated with food and advocates for the appreciation of cooking in a pure form. By choosing a simple food like ramen noodles, Itami suggests that appreciation of food is universal and doesn’t necessarily require affluence and class to enjoy a deep and satisfying dining experience.

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Master suggests the other man to be fully present and be aware of the ramen bowl.

The ramen master’s mindful and deliberate experience with his ramen is instructive to the audience; Itami is clearly advocating a simple yet deep approach to consuming food. By being fully aware of the bowl of ramen in front of him, the master can truly appreciate his food. He suggests the man accompanying him to examine the food, to appreciate the food as a whole, and then examine the components and notice the details while savoring the aroma. The mise-en-scène of the ramen bowl has a crucial function in the scene to captivate the audience. The bowl of ramen is first shot in a lower angle close-up shot, capturing the savory details of the bowl, and then the camera slowly and gently rotates the angle up to a bird-eye’s shot in order to capture the gestalt of the dish. This scene depicts the details of the noodle bowl, how the soup glitters, how the shinachiku shines, how the seaweed is deliciously absorbing the soup, how the green onions are placed on top, and lastly how the pork modestly hide itself despite it plays a key role in the dish. The master also suggests the other man to gently caress the noodles before eating them. The vivid description of the ramen noodles not only causes one of the characters in the film to crave the noodles, but also likely the audience as well. Examining, smelling, caressing, and tasting, all these actions completes the art of appreciating food and allows the diner to have the full experience of eating ramen noodles.  Itami suggests that staying mindfully aware of the food presented will provide a holistic experience in dining.