Let’s just get it out of the way: I eat meat. I eat chicken, fish, pork, shellfish, buffalo, ostrich and even (gasp) red meat. I do not eat veal, but that’s neither here nor there. My family has strong vegetarian leanings going back many generations. My brother is an “omnivore who chooses not to eat meat” and I am married to a man who was raised on a dairy farm. I am not amused (and am often annoyed) by people who use their food consumption choices as a way of bullying others who may not make the same choices they do. Smug “we don’t eat (insert food choice)" comments make me want to eat whatever it is they don’t. Seriously, I have had enough of this self righteous food snobbery that grass fed, organic, free range, locally grown, soy based goop might spurt out of my eyes if I have one more raised eyebrow pointed in the direction of my grocery cart. Don’t get me wrong, I read labels and avoid high fructose corn syrup as much as possible. I buy the bulk of my produce from local farmers. I love food, but I don’t hold it up as an idol to be worshipped or as a weapon to be wielded.
All this leads up to a book I just finished: “My Year of Meats” by Ruth L. Ozeki. It was a summer reading option for my book club and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It is the story of Jane, a Japanese-American documentarian who lands a job producing a Japanese television show for an American beef exporting business. During her year producing “My American Wife!”, she learns about the unpleasant side of the commercial beef industry. She also learns about life, love and understanding. A parallel story of an abused Japanese wife searching for self and safety weaves in and out of the main narrative, as do poems from Sei Shonagon’s “The Pillow Book”. Reading this book felt like I was watching an expertly edited film or gazing upon a piece of collage.
Yes, it’s pretty disturbing in parts. I skipped a whole scene toward the end. But all in all, it is a darn funny book. I loved it in the way I loved the movie “Lost in Translation”. It wasn’t completely Japanese in sensibility, but it wasn’t entirely American either. It was like a wonderfully tasty dish, something that is both American and Japanese at the same time. Like drinking a Coke and eating sushi at the same meal, “My Year of Meats” was two worlds meeting on the same dinner plate.