Author Archives: rpstan17

Meat as a tool to legitimize a story

My Year Of Meats follows the path of a documentary storytelling by following the exploits of two main protagonists in this story (Takagi & Akiko). Following the lives of these two main protagonists gives the feel of an investigative documentary as they unnecessarily uncover the things that are occurring behind the scenes with the American meat industry. At the same time by following the personal lives of these women we are either dealing or are witness to an assortment of different cultural, economic, and social problems that both the United States and Japan face. the medium that we see this throught is the production effort of different people involved in the filming of My American Wife.

First we are witnesses to the personal life of housewife Akiko and her husband ‘John.’ Slowly by following along the health problems that Akiko has we are able to uncover one of the consequences that American meat(beef) can have on the reproductive health of a woman. We see the resurgence of her periods and normal body weight when she starts to eat the Australian raised lamb instead of the American meat. (Ozeki, 143). The same can be said about Akiko and her difficulties with both her prior attempts at becoming pregnant, and her pregnancy to her musician lover, Sloan.(Ozeki, 173).  The use of antibiotics also makes an appearance with the people that are involved in the making of an episode of  My American Wife as one of the camera crew members suffers an allergic reaction to the American raised meat being used in the shoot.

From these complications we are presented with the reality of what are the consequence of using both antibiotics and hormones in the raising of feedlot cattle become apparent.

The lesbian couple being filmed, Dyann and Lara, go in depth why they have chosen to become vegetarians as they go on to explain the evils that feedlot cattle can cause both to the animals and the people that consume them.(Ozeki, 174-176). By not directly addressing the actual wrongs with the meat through the first half of the book, what Ozeki is doing is giving a back story to the actual problem. That is to say her main argument is being covered by these series of smaller stories and characters that are not connected directly.

We as the reader are taken through this voyage as we are presented with a different set of characters who are connected by My American Wife and each gives a little bit of the overall picture of how wrong is the meat in the United States. Technically this would be a critique on the meat industry. At the same time the book deals with issues of class, sexual and physical abuse, racism and stereotypes that afflict the Asian-American community. If this story were a film, it would be a combination of an investigative documentary that is a critique on the meat industry while at the same time it would take a look at several of the issues that were listed prior in this piece.  Meat is the food that becomes the medium through we are able to explore these issues in My Year of Meats. The reason for this it glues all of the stories together as BEEF-EX is the one bankrolling My American Wife. Without them there is no story. They give the story a plot that one can believe to be possible. Thus legitimizing the rest of the other stories.

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An Emotional Crusade Against Dolphin Killings

The Cove takes on the task of uncovering the truth behind the thousands of dolphins being killed each year in order to feed the demand of Japanese consumers. Director Louie Psihoyos task is to convince us as viewers that these massive dolphin hunts that are being undertaken in Taiji, Japan are a massive ecological crime that the world must know about. The main protagonists throughout the film is dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry. His personal connection to the capture of dolphins for television studios and aquariums has instilled in him the view that the capture of dolphins is a reprehensible act. Not to even mention the killing of them. To support his position he does not present a rational argument stating that the capture or killing is a waste or unnecessary. No! Instead he presents the heartful story of the tragic passing of a dolphin that he had worked with on the set of the television show Flipper. Barry’s image of him describing the details that propelled this dolphin to commit suicide are purposely meant to invoke an emotional response. The image of the “smilling’ Flipper is in contrast to O’Barry’s claim that  this dolphin had decided to take its own life. (Image 1). This comparison of these two contradictory ideas gives the viewer a sense of how far from the truth is the reality of dolphins who live in captivity. This early scene in the film sets up the entire rest of the film as it shows the journey that these filmmakers have to take in order to find out the truth as to what is happening in the cove at Taiji.

One of the original 'Flipper' dolphins

 

The ultimate goal of the entire film is to end both the use of dolphins at aquariums, but more importantly end the killing of dolphins in Taiji. From the very beginning of the film O’Barry describes how the artificial environment that is an aquarium leads to a series of health problems for captive dolphins. The noise of machinery and people at these aquariums places a lot of stress on the animals. This is why twelve minutes into the film we are presented with these beautiful scenes of dolphins out in the ocean. (Image 2). Jumping in and out of the water in groups of three or four. Psihoyos wants to impress upon us how a dolphin should live according to his viewpoint. It has to be free in the ocean in order for it to roam and swim free. In captivity is not where it needs to be. While a cove in Taiji where dolphins are sent to be killed is just a crime against these amazing animals that has to end. The visual image of the free dolphins in the ocean is a stark contrast to the brutality and extent to which these dolphins are killed for consumption.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Sitting there in the meat section of a Japanese supermarket is the image of a small piece of what is implied to be dolphin meat. (Image 3) Marketed as whale meat, this piece is stated to be most likely dolphin meat that is being passed as much more appealing whale meat. This is to say that those Japanese shoppers who go into the supermarket are unaware that they are being lied upon in the name of profits. O’Barry asks what would be the reaction of the Japanese consumer to the news that what they believe to be exotic whale meat, a meat whose consumption is controversial in itself, is in reality dolphin. Psihoyos message here is that the cause of the killings at Taiji is both the decision of the Japanese consumer to eat whale, that the film also implies should not be eaten, and the deception that the food industry has undertaken in order to hide the reality of dolphin meat. It is the belief of the makers of the film that these killings would end if the general public knew what was happening in Taiji.

Whale/dolphin meat

Here it is implied that what we are seeing is dolphin being passed as whale meat.

 

The ideology behind this film is that of a moral crusade against a dark secret that this cove has hidden from prying eyes. The very beginning of the film we are presented with a character in disguise as a Japanese elderly man entering the town in where the secret resides. Cameras hidden in rocks, the use of night vision capable film equipment, and the trespassing into the area surrounding the cove all give to this sense of danger. A feeling is presented in that these activists in the film are on a moral endeavor that will place them in many dangerous situations. Though, the goal of combating that inconspicuous piece of meat (Image 3) found inside Japanese is well worth all of these obstacles. At the end of the film the viewer is expected to demonstrate anger at these fisherman who catch dolphins. The images of smiling flipper, and those of the meat in the supermarket are meant to be two contradictory images that is designed to arouse the emotions of the audience. The hope is that viewers will be outraged at the idea that is dolphin meat.

Food as a tool of Sociohistorical analysis

The image of Japan is one of a land that is in constant motion as it tries to deal with these changes to its self-image that make it question it true identity. From the race to modernize with the west at the turn of the 20th century, to the aftermath of the second world war, to the boom of the post-war years, one sees a nation that is is constant turmoil as it tries to come to terms with these new forces that are changing its identity in a very fast manner. Throughout it we can identify specific examples of how these changes affected in particular the dietary habits of the Japanese nation. Food took on a greater meaning than just a source of nourishment source. Changes in diets also came about at times that great social changes were affecting the nation. Beginning with the Western Food, Politics, and Fashion reading by Katarzyna Cwiertka up through the film Giants and Toys we are witness through a series of social changes that Japan is going through. With food one is able to witness the constant flux of Japan as it tries address foreign influences. Throughout our readings we are witness to how food can be associated with great upheavals in the history of Japan. From this we are able to understand that by examining food movements we are able to understand some of the issues that the whole of Japanese society is going through.

The Meiji restoration was the beginning of a journey that would see Japan become a colonial power equal to those of the European continent. With this change came about the pursuit, on the part of the Japanese elite, to imitate the ways of European people. It was the belief that by following the manner and ways of the Europeans that Japan itself could overcome what it viewed as its own backwardness. This is to say that Japan needed to catch up with the powers of Europe and the United States to fend of the colonial interests of these groups. This meant a radical campaign that would change the entire Japanese society all in the name of modernization. Food played an important role in this campaign as the idea of beef eating took on a greater importance. Prior to the twentieth century Japan was a nation of people who ate very little meat. Diets consisted heavily of roots, vegetables, and rice. To this we can also add some sources of animal proteins like venison and wild boar. Eating meat actually had been declared illegal in 675. “The main reason for the ban was to prohibit the eating of beef and horse meat and protect the livestock population, as well as to prevent drought, insect damage and famine.” (Cwiertka, 24). Over centuries this ban would heavily shape the nations dietary practices and their attitudes toward the idea of eating beef.  “…by the late sixteenth century the eating of the domesticated animals acquired a status of a taboo in Japan.” (Cwiertka, 26). This idea changed quickly as the opening up of Japan in 1854 brought about it into this competition to become like the five nations( US, UK, Germany, France, The Netherlands). Forced to come out of its self-imposed isolation, Japan worked feverishly to catch up with the rest of the world. In the case of meat this meant doing away with the avoidance that the Japanese had of eating it. This movement undertook a great leap forward with the announcement in 1872 that the Emperor himself had decided to eat meat. This symbolic announcement signified the government’s push towards becoming like the west. “The consumption of beef by the emperor, in turn, elevated it into the symbol of Japan’s transformation into a modern nation.” (Cwiertka, 33).   Although the idea of eating meat still faced opposition from some up to the nineteenth century, its acceptance by the general public began to grow. Supporting this idea was the push by progressives that eating meat was good for the body. “They argued that the lavish consumption of meat by the westerners was responsible for their superior physique, and they tried to convince the Japanese public that by adopting Western dietary habits Japanese would be bolstered as well.” (Cwiertka, 33). The meat came to symbolize the move forward into the modern age and the end of the pre-Meiji era. Food came to symbolize the drastic changes that were occurring in Japan in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Dietary changes came to symbolize a move towards the west and the modernization of the country after several decades of isolation. Later decades would show once again how changes in food coincided with great changes to Japanese society.

The film Giants and Toys by Matsumura Yasuko is a critique of 1950’s Japan’s incredible economic recovery in the aftermath of the Second World War. Food plays a change to this film by presenting it as a part of the economic growth that is occurring. With these changes one also is present to the demands that are placed on workers throughout the film. Dedication to one’s job is seen as both dehumanising and fast paced all in the name of profits. The norm for this period.

We are witness to these changes to Japan through the eyes of the protagonists Nishi and his work at the advertising department of a caramel making company. The sale of caramel, and in turn the advertising department that Nishi works at, is dominated by these new capitalistic trends that demand that all the dedication of its workers. “Nishi’s predicament is is framed in specifically national terms: the frenetic pace of the advertising world is explained by the Japan’s domination by consumerists trends from the United States.” (Raine, 160). This is to say that people live for their jobs. That one loses their own identity and just become a worker of a greater entity that in this case is the corporation. Yasuko would later on use Charlie Chaplins “madness of modern civilization”  from his comedies in order to present the dehumanization that took place during the period that this film takes place in. “…Chaplin ‘escapes the automation machines and disappears over the border with the girl he loves’, but in Japan escape is impossible: one can only ‘work like a madman until till he dies’.” (Raine, 161). No longer do traditional ideals and relations stand the test of time to this post war Japan.Even relations between people have a price or profit. Nishi proves this with his relation with Kurahashi. To him their relationship is simply to obtain information on a rival company in order to help his own. Nothing is what it seems. The sweet candy that is caramel becomes the symbol of all the bad changes that are occurring in Japan during this period.  That is to say that it is at an intersection where no one can recognize the old signs that could identify Japan. Kurahshi describes this places as “…a Japan that is not the US,but also, at the same time, no longer Japan.” (Raine, 162).

Food is a tool that we can use to gauge many of the social forces that a nation has experienced or is experiencing. In the case of Japan the eating of meat came at a time that saw far greater changes to country in just a few decades than anything that had occurred in the past centuries. This trend continued into the twentieth century with the end of World War Two and the post-war boom that saw Japan become the second biggest economy in the world. A simple candy like caramel came to symbolize a Japan that was being altered forever. What resulted was, according to critics, a nation that was profit driven, but at the same time thought little of the workers who brought it its wealth. Food thought these periods serves as a tool to help us better understand the changes that both the nation, and the people in it, are going through during different times.

Suppon: Tampopo and the idea of the American Dream.

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One hour into Tampopo and we are witness to this scene where we see gathered together all of the main characters that have been present with us up to this point. A rainbow of personalities, backgrounds and age groups are present as we are about to witness the preparation of a culinary meal being prepared by the chef. We have the wealthy elderly man and his materialistic younger wife. Next, we also have the older homeless chef master who is an associate of Goro. While finishing it up we have the presence of the films three main protagonists: Tampopo, Goro, and Gun. It is the presence of all of these individuals together that gives the impression that from here on forward the dream of a great Tampopo ramen shop can become a reality. Now they have all of the culinary experts at their disposal in order to actually make ramen that will cause people to queue in line for it.

From the beginning this gathering can be seen as a the moment when Tampopo’s dream start to become a reality. Here we see the actual goal that tampopo is striving to become. That is to be a great cook that can create a great meal experience to her patrons. We can see this in the care that the chef has taken in acquiring the turtle that he is about to make. Suppon, as the dish that is being prepared is called, is known as a gourmet food that also provides various health benefits to the people who consume it. It is a dish that require both high quality materials (the turtle), and also a good cook who can bring together all of these ingredients. One must first take great care in dealing with this dish as it can only be prepared in a certain way in order for it to come out correctly. The elder rich man explains to Tanpopo that the turtle has to be drained of blood in a certain way in order for it to be good enough for this dish. It is like this old man is advising Tampopo on how to obtain that which she is striving for. We can see some of this lack of knowledge on the part of Tampopo as she nearly has her finger bitten only to be saved by the older man. It is from this point forward that we really see a teacher/student relationship between all of the characters and Tampopo. Knowledge is shared between all of the characters in order to create that perfect bowl of ramen.

One is given the feeling that this gathering of all of these individuals embodies many of the ideas of both the American Dream and the American West. Here we have the arrival of Goro, an outsider, into the life of Tantoco and literally changes her life for the better. Again an idea borrowed from Western films. At the same time we see that the hard work that Tampopo place into her ramen shop, combined with a little luck, resulted in her obtaining the dream ramen shop that she wanted. It is with these two ideas that this scene brings together these American ideals and places it into the booming Japan of the 80’s.