Tag Archives: meat

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.

Advertisements

Wal-Mart

In My Years of Meat by Ruth Ozeki, segmented episodes where Jane Takagi penetrates into the lives of various “american wives” function together to construct one coherently distressful message of the mass producing, profit oriented, mask wearing image of capitalist America. Between these bursts of plot, the one underlying theme of consumption, packaging, and mass distribution in the name of prosperity is represented by a single entity – Wal-Mart; its ugly identity remains static and transcends through each episode of the close inspections. Wal-Mart is shown to be the perfect representation of a falsified face of American culture, both in its shimmering image and its hidden despicable flaws, and in how it corrupts homeland America, as well as deceive Japan.

In America, Wal-Mart is like a disease-filled, brainwashing corporate machine. People are described as zombie like and “spent all their days off at Wal-Mart” (Location 540). Towns are sterilized and equalized into copies of each other, as if Wal-Mart’s giant gloved right hand stamps on the mark of advancement while its rotten black left hand crushes and brushes away the traditional Main street Mom n’ Pop shops. Wal-Mart has the ability to wipe clean any character, there is no race, sexuality, or disability in its eyes, and with the same welcoming embrace it accepts all and contaminates all; it is there that Susie buys her Pepsi, Gracie buys the toys, and Suzuki finds his porn. Ruth also describes the twisted values of the corporation in the case of the Bukowsky family, where “Wal-Mart did the right thing and paid a handsome settlement” (Location 2122). To the cold faced manager who refuses to admit liability, amendments for his mistake did not involve any remorse or humanly emotions. Instead of fixing their wrongs from the root of the problem, Wal-Mart’s attitude of corrective action is simply monetary repayment.

Yet such a flawed creature is glorified in Japan as the “awesome, capitalist equivalent of the wide open spaces and endless horizons of the American geographical frontier.”(Location 559). In reality Wal-Mart is more like a pretty curtain drop in front of a vulgar mess of disturbing meat production and processing; it serves as a filter between the ugly truth, and the dressed up version presented to the masses. However to Ueno, the image casted onto the curtain is precisely what he wishes to broadcast to the people of Japan, both as a means to satisfy their hunger for western understanding, and for his own selfish incentive of promoting beef. Since the Japanese crew’s very initial contact with Jane, “Waru-Maato wa doko?”(Location 538) already sounds like a desperate cry in the pursuit of a falsely constructed wholesomeness.

In My Years of Meat, Wal-Mart is singled out as a symbolism for the foulness within American culture. On one hand it corrodes individualism within the U.S. and uses mass production as a means of creating the frenzy that lies in the source of unethical meat production. On the other hand to the viewers in Japan, only a craftily manipulated image of western power is put forth.  By planting this central argument within the familiar image of Wal-Mart, Ruth urges us to see beyond what is fed to us, and find courage to peer behind the curtain and see the unpleasant truth.

The Truth About Kobe Beef

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Cattle are not native to the island of Japan and no one knows exactly when they arrived, but historical records like the Zoku Nihonki and Kokugyu Juzu first indicate their presence during the Kofun Jidai (Tatsumi). According to the Nihon Shoki, Buddhism was also introduced and slowly matriculated Japanese society during this same period (1213, par. 2). Buddhist doctrine strictly prohibited the eating of meat and cattle were strictly used for spiritual rituals and manual labor (Wagyu). Furthermore, the emperors of Japan issued a series of decrees banning meat consumption entirely (Wagyu). Consequently, aside from “so”, a dairy product eaten by aristocrats between the 8th and 10th centuries, beef products were absent from the Japanese diet until the mid-19th century when all laws prohibiting the consumption of beef were lifted (Wagyu).

As beef began to gain in popularity, clearly distinct Japanese beef dishes began to evolve and there was a sudden spike in beef consumption for the first time. As a result, during the Meiji era foreign breeds of cattle were imported and interbreed with “native” cattle to increase their overall quality and yield (Wagyu). Subsequently, four unique hybridized breeds of cow emerged – the Japanese Brown found in Kumamoto and Oichi prefectures, the Japanese Polled found in Yamaguchi prefecture, the Japanese Shorthorn found in cool northern prefectures like Tohoku and Hokkaido and lastly the Japanese Black which is found throughout Japan (Wagyu).

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Unlike most countries that prefer a lean cut of beef, the Japanese prefer theirs to be fattier with a characteristic “shimofuri” webbed marbling effect. Of the four types of Japanese cattle, the Japanese Black has been noted for its ability to retain a fattier content and is typically selected for beef production. In order for this marbling affect to occur, Japanese farmers prohibit their cattle from pasture grazing and partaking in regular exercise that would promote muscle development (Wagyu). They are raised in small byres from birth until they reach approximately 32 months old and fed high quality diets ensuring a succulent and tender meat (Kobe). Since the Japanese beef industry cannot compete with foreign beef markets, Japanese farmers are dedicated to rearing the highest quality beef possible (Wagyu). Through this quality initiative, Japanese beef has gained in popularity and the “Kobe Beef” phenomena thus began.

From the early Meiji era onwards, “gyunabe” and other meat dishes began to appear on the dining tables of Japanese families. Yet, until the late 1970’s, the clear distinction between “Kobe beef” and common supermarket grade meat was not clearly defined (Kobe). There was no way to prove if the meat you purchased as “Kobe beef” was actually real, authentic “Kobe beef”. This was the driving force behind producers, meat distributors and consumers joining forces to establish the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association in 1983 (Kobe).

Kobe Beef Stamp

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Through this initiative a strict serialized breeding system was implemented and tending sites were designated within Hyogo prefecture (Kobe). Furthermore, a severe twelve point meat marbling standard was established to grade the “shimofuri” consistency (Kobe). Once the beef has been screened and processed, only the highest quality beef gets stamped by the trademarked chrysanthemum seal from the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (Kobe).

The Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association states that their “Kobe Beef” is unique due to “…a harmony of delicate, dignified sweet lean meat and the taste and fragrance of melt-in-your-mouth fat. The “sashi” fatty content of the meat itself will actually begin to dissolve at low temperatures. This means that it will literally melt in your mouth. An abundant content of inosinic and oleic acids have also been scientifically proven to add to its outstanding flavor.”  (Kobe)

In the United States, wagyu is frequently misrepresented as “Kobe Beef”. Wagyu is raised in many regions of Japan, Australia and the United States. “Kobe Beef”, on the other hand, can only come from Hyogo Prefecture (Freemont). Currently the Freemont Beef Company is the only authorized importer of “Kobe Beef” to the United States (Freemont). As of October 2013, the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association has only exported 508 pounds of “Kobe Beef” to the Freemont Beef Company for American consumption (Kobe). With this staggeringly low amount being exported, it is highly unlikely that the average American consumer has ever eaten authentic “Kobe Beef” at their local neighborhood eating establishment.

With the inception of the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, many breeders of non tajimagyu breeds have begun to revolutionize their breeding methods to compete with the booming “Kobe Beef” market. Due to this domestic demand for even higher quality meats, the “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics” is held to identify the healthiest and most productive Japanese black stud bull bloodline (Wagyu). In October 2012, thirty eight prefectures competed in the 10th annual “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics” with the hidagyu breed from Miyazaki prefecture claiming best bull, thus, ousting “Kobe Beef” from their top honors.

10th Annual "All-Japan Wagyu Olympics" Image by NHK World Education Corporation

10th Annual “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics”
Image by NHK World Education Corporation

In closing, “Kobe Beef” has become synonymous with the Japanese beef industries perseverance for quality and flavor despite its recent loss at the “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics”. This is in part due to its popularity amongst foreign countries and commercialization through western media outlets. Unfortunately, it has also become a title frequently used by western free enterprise to loosely identify any wagyu breed slaughtered for commercial sale. As most consumers are inexperienced with the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association’s severe grading criteria, they will continue to be duped by the American restaurant industry into paying enormous amounts of money for an inferior mislabeled product.

Fast Food Nation: Unveiling Hidden Truths

Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a national best seller, examines how the fast food industry dominates our country. Throughout his work, Schlosser reveals how fast food has become commonplace for the majority of Americans. As fast food is now a central aspect in modern America, many social problems have developed such as obesity, disease, and the widening gap between the rich and poor. While the first part of the book reveals the beginnings of the fast food industry and its overwhelming success, the second half raises awareness about what is really in the food we eat. As Schlosser examines the slaughterhouses and meatpacking industries, he reveals the unsafe conditions workers face as well as the potential for E coli to contaminate the meat. Throughout Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser hopes to inform his audience about “the dark side of the all-American meal” and how fast food industries are “profit-hungry.”

In the first part of his work, “The American Way,” Schlosser displays how many fast food companies target children. According to these companies, structuring promotional campaigns around children’s interests draws in more profit. Through the use of surveys, companies discover more about what kids find the most interesting. Schlossser’s interviews with several companies reveal how many managers believe that when children want something they will “nag their parents and nag them well” (43). To lure in more children, fast food companies have constructed “playlands” to entertain the kids. According to the fast food industries’ perspective, “Playlands bring in children, who bring in their parents, who bring in money” (47).

Likewise, free toys provided with a kids meal act as an effective luring mechanism. These items are rather desirable and intriguing for children. As a result the parents give into buying these kids meals in order to please their kids. Sometimes these free toys appeal to the adult population as well. For instance, the Teenie Beanie Baby collection at McDonalds drew in children as well as adult collectors, which ultimately led to increased profit (47). Clearly, these fast food companies share the common goal of desiring the best publicity campaigns that will increase sales. This idea can be linked to Masamura’s Giants and Toys as the three competing caramel companies all hope to devise a successful campaign that will promote their companies success. As World uses Kyoko’s quirky face to lure in more customers, this company can be compared to the fast food industries that use toys and playlands to amplify their customer base. In Giants and Toys and Fast Food Nation, the emphasis on more profit and success is quite apparent. Both works demonstrate how companies construct publicity campaigns to reach out to as many customers as possible in order to make more money.

As Schlosser transitions to the second part of his work called “Meat and Potatoes,” he describes how the slaughterhouses and meatpacking industries operate. The meat is mass-produced in a factory as hundreds of workers contribute to the process: “They stand at a table that’s chest high, grab meat off a conveyer belt, trim away fat, throw meat back on the belt, toss the scraps onto a conveyer belt above them and then grab more meat, all in a matter of seconds” (171). This quote demonstrates how the slaughterhouses value efficiency and producing as much meat as possible at a fast rate. They operate in a highly systematic fashion as the men are assigned to complete the same job over and over in order to quickly produce more meat.

This idea of mass production parallels the caramel production scenes in Giants and Toys. Throughout Masamura’s work we see several instances where the caramels are similarly being produced in factories where many machines foster the production process. While the meat is moved along the conveyer belts to different stations, the caramels are also produced in this rather systematic and quick manner. This parallelism reflects the heightened importance of efficiency and mass production in both works. The slaughterhouses as well as the caramel companies value the production of products in mass quantities because it leads to greater sales and more profit.

Clearly then, Eric Schlosser unveils several hidden truths about the fast food industry, its means of production, and unwavering desire for profit. Throughout Fast Food Nation, we discover how several of the topics discussed can be related to the ideas present in Masumura’s film Giants and Toys.

Battleship Potemkin: A Unification and Solidarity Through Food

Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film, Battleship Potemkin, is a dramatized flashback of the mutiny that took place in the early 1900’s. Eisenstein utilizes the Russian crewmen’s rebellion against the officers of the Tsarist regime to encourage a proletariat revolution against the communist Soviet Union. Throughout the film, Eisenstein uses food as a mechanism to bring together the proletariat and to establish a sense of collectivity and solidarity.

Smimov inspects the maggot-infested meat.

At the opening of the film, the audience discovers the sailors’ frustration towards the superiors as Vakulinkchuk delivers a manifesto that unites the workers to rebel against authority. The crewmen’s frustration from being fed maggot-infested meat provides a commonality between them and thus ignites their unification. While the dissatisfaction of food establishes solidarity, the film also visually depicts the workers as a collective group. In this first screenshot, to correspond to the worker’s heightened anger the orchestral music becomes more dramatic as the superior examines the mass of maggots feeding on the meat. Here, the maggots are clustered together, which parallels the workingmen who are viewed as a uniform group, unlike the distinct superiors in black uniforms.

The crewmen gather on the ship deck. They are seen as a collective mass dressed in all white.

These two screenshots visually depict the similarity between the men and maggots as they are both viewed as a collective: the men aredressed in the same clothing and are hardly distinguishable just as the maggots are viewed as a clustered group rather than individually. As these maggots infest the meat, Eisenstein provides a parallelism to the crewmen’s deepening desire to “infest” the superiors and execute their rebellion. In both shots, the camera angle looks down on the mass of maggots as well as the workingmen. This downward angle illustrates the inferiority the men feel to their superiors and their longing for more equality.

The bubbling and boiling hot soup representing the crewmen's brewing anger.

As an act of defiance the sailors refuse to eat their soup. This screen shot depicts the parallelism between the boiling hot soup and the men’s intensified anger due to the unfair treatment they receive. Eisenstein zooms in on the bubbling and steaming soup with the purpose of visually portraying the men’s discontent. Here, food is utilized to correspond to the men’s brewing emotions as well as their solidarity.

The uneaten and untouched bowls of soup.

Once again, there is a parallel between the soup and the crewmen as the pots in this screenshot are positioned in a group-like, uniform manner. The untouched soup illuminates the sailors’ unity and overall group effort to rebel. These isolated and indistinguishable dishes represent the absent workers who are executing their first act of mutiny. The scene’s emphasis of the pots swinging back and forth relates to a ticking grandfather clock, which demonstrates that it is only a matter of time until the workers execute their greater plan of rebellion.

Intertitle that demonstrates the proletariat unity.

After the crewmen take over the Potemkin, the working class of Odessa supports their rebellion and is inspired to rebel against the upper class. As a variety of people join together to display their reverence to the sailors, this idea of collectivity is present yet again. The people of Odessa unify and bring fresh food to the crewmen as a symbol of their support. Once again, food is utilized to bring together individuals. Although unfamiliar with one another, food unifies the workers on the Potemkin and the people of Odessa into one working class group. Their desire for equal rights and the abandonment of upper-class oppression ignites their unification. The intertile, “Mothers, sisters brothers! Let nothing divide us!” additionally displays and solidifies the proletariat group unity. Similarly, as the screenshot of the rhythmic passing along of food resembles an assembly line, it highlights their joint efforts and overall solidarity.

Working together to bring food on the ship.

Clearly then, Eisenstein’s use of food emphasizes the unity of the working class. Throughout the film, he demonstrates how food creates an unbreakable cohesion between others. This relationship between food and unity illustrates how a powerful bond can ignite a group to revolt and bring about change.

Battleship Potemkin: A Significant Onboard Food Quality Battle

Battleship Potemkin, a silent film by Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein serves as a propaganda ploy; promoting equality for all men serving in the military. The right to fight for equitable treatment by the sailors to receive adequate food provisions, comparable to the food provisions given to the onboard officers is reasonable and understandable. The theme of the uprising and revolt of the onboard sailors was over the horrific lack of the quality of the food that they were being served-up to eat.

     This clearly shows that if provoked beyond one’s tolerance level, sailors expressed their dissatisfaction, to gain attention to their plight. Their plight was to correct the substandard and spoiled food being served to the sailors. The onboard senior officers have never been subjected to having to consume spoiled and maggot infested food.

     When squirming maggots are visibly present upon the hanging slabs of meat that are being prepared for the nightly dinner of the onboard sailors, the onboard sailors collectively and in force, refused to accept this food as being consumable. A subsequent scene shows the sailors pushing the hanging slabs of meat around from side-to-side; showing how utterly unacceptably maggot-infested this meat is, and incomprehensible for human daily food consumption. The film unequivocally portrays food as a necessary requirement for the sustenance of life. Without an adequate food supply, survival is impossible.

     Although the ship’s doctor examined the meat and dismisses the maggot filth as being able to be washed away with brine, the sailors thus conclude that the doctor is forced to side with the officers onboard. The sailors are now intolerable of continually being served rotten meat. A revolutionary sentiment engulfs all sailors and their revolution has officially begun. One sailor states about the food, that “its not fit for pigs”! Another states that “the meat could crawl overboard on its own” and another sailor states that “Russian POWs in Japan are fed better” than we are. The scene depicting the empty bowls of soup are illustrative of their protest.

Typical Onboard Sailor Food

     The sailors are infuriated by their daily inedible food supply. From the maggot infested meat to the grimily thickened, germ infested soup, their physical well-beings and personal self-esteem is sinking metaphorically, to the depths of the sea on which they sail. They will no longer be tolerable of substandard provisions. The sailors have a dismal outlook on their futures especially after the ship’s captain threatens to hang the sailors who refused to eat their soup.

      One evening the sailors, who are not individually identifiable because they are all dressed in white uniforms and wearing similar white hats, are washing their dinner plates. One sailor stops and observes the writing on the plate. The writing around the perimeter of the plate states “give us this day our daily bread”. The climax of the film is about food and the inadequacy of the food they have been receiving. The demonstrative breaking of that plate signifies the severity of their situation and their uphill battle against it.

What Is Our Daily Bread?

Battleship Potemkin: The Rebellion for Food

The Russian Revolution, the rise of the Proletariats, may have started from something truly trivial. In Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, the start of the Russian revolution and the red fever was over a simple piece of meat. The crew on the battleship Potemkin were getting tired of eating rotten meat everyday and decided to do something about it. The crew decided rebel against the terrible rations and not eat the meat soup. The officers of the ship were furious and decided to execute those who had rebelled against them, triggering the whole crew to rebel.

The rotten meat that started the rebellion

Disobeying the orders of a superior and refusing to eat highlights the important role that food takes on. While eating rotten meat may not kill the men, good food is something worth fighting for. The crew’s resentment stems from unfair treatment by the officers. If everyone were eating the same type of food, there would be no reason to complain. However, the doctor and the officers are getting better treatment than the rest of the crew. The crew simply wants to eat the same food as everyone else. Beyond the notion of equality of food is the notion of equality of status. By rebelling on the pretense of fighting against eating rotten meat, the crew inherently wants the same status as everyone else.

The jump from equality of food to equality of status is not too hard to make. Food is something that relieves the body, a comfort essential to everyday life. It is something very personal. The officers have no right to deprive the crew of their precious everyday comfort; the crew is essentially what runs the ship and the crew believes that they deserve good treatment. The first mention of status is when someone mentions that even the prisoners of war get better food than what they are serving on the ship.  Why should the crew, fighting for their country, eat worse food than prisoners? While the members of the crew had put up with the unfair treatment for so long, their patience snaps when the officers expect the crew to eat maggot infected meat. The officers expected the crew to eat the same meat that the maggots eat. In effect, the officers are telling the crew that they are on the same level as maggots. The crew is enraged at the blatant superiority shown by the officers and rebels for the sake of equality.

Uneaten Soup Pots shows the Crew’s Indignation

The actions of the crew on the battleship are not so surprising when considering the meaning behind the men behind the food. The rotten meat symbolizes blatant maltreatment that places the crew on the same level as squirming maggots. Rebellion against injustice is only natural once the men realized that they truly held the power. The rebellion for the sake of better food and the rebellion for the sake of equality are one and the same.

from “Aguranabe” (1871, Sitting around the Beefpot)

Continue reading