BOOKS: My Year of Meats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1999:

My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
Penguin Putnam Inc. (375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014), 1998.
366 pages, hardcover. $23.95.

If you are interested in how live-stock are treated by those who raise them, or
in how meat is viewed culturally in Japan and
America, then read this unexpectedly hip
novel. It touches on the evils of commercial
television and advertising agencies, bigotry,
spousal abuse, and of course, the meat
industry. But it’s mainly a morality tale centered
on the world of advertising and one person’s
epiphany and redemption.
Told in the first person by one Jane
Takagi-Little, the daughter of a Minnesotan
father and a Japanese mother, who is an upand-coming
TV series coordinator, the book
is a real page-turner. Sponsored by “BEEFEX,”
a (fictitious) American beef export and
trade syndicate, the TV series is designed to
convince Japanese housewives that meat
should be a part of every big meal: that
“Meat is the Message.”

So Jane begins an odyssey that
takes her all over the U.S., and, emotionally,
to Japan. The TV series is filmed on site at
different locations: Texas, Louisiana, Iowa,
with visits to New York and Tokyo. Jane discovers
the dangers of the hormone DES and
its linkage to the beef industry. And she sees
a connection between the way in which meat
is viewed in American society and the
unpleasant ways in which minorities, gays,
and others who are “different” are viewed.
There is a sensitive subplot involving a loathsome
Japanese ad exec who abuses his wife
and her flight to freedom, finding salvation in
the Cajun music of one Bobby Joe Creely.
This is a terrific first novel, and
though the author doesn’t quite have the science
right, she’s headed in the right direction.
Emotionally, she will be seen as a kindred
spirit by many ANIMAL PEOPLE readers.
I highly recommend it.
––Franklin M. Loew

[Dr. Loew, now president of Becker
College, was formerly dean of the Cornell
University College of Veterinary Medicine,
and founded the Tufts University School of
Veterinary Medicine.]
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