Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meat and Potatoes

Les pommes et les pommes de terre
dans mon évier de cuisine

In continuation of yesterday's post of food - related reading, I have to say a little bit about one of my favorite novels of the 90s:

My Year of Meats
by Ruth L. Ozeki.

The narrator, Jane Takagi - Little, has been hired to write a television series sponsored by "the Beef Export and Trade Syndicate, or, simply, BEEF - EX" (9). The goal of the weekly show -- entitled My American Wife! -- is to promote the American beef market in Japan. Jane's job is to find and film fifty - two ideal American families, i.e., white, middle - class, 2.5 kids, no deformities, no irregularities -- who eat lots of home - cooked beef at every meal. As her agent in Japan explains, "You must catch up healthy American wives with most delicious meats" (10).

However, as her "year of meats" progresses, Jane grows more and more disgusted with the beef industry (kind of like The Jungle in this respect) and her programs begin to veer off course. First, she annoys her boss by featuring a less than perfect family (the parents are Mexicans and the father has lost a hand to an accident at work), but at least they eat Beefy Burritos. Next, it's a large Louisiana family with two biological children and ten adopted Amerasian and Korean children, in which the husband instead of the wife prepares the meal of roast pork! After that, it's a family with a wheel - chair - bound daughter who craves lamb chops; then a "biracial vegetarian lesbian couple" who choose to demonstrate Pasta Primavera for the Japanese viewers. Oops! Jane is in big trouble with the higher - ups at BEEF - EX!

I love the organization of Oseki's novel: twelve chapters, given the Japanese names for the months (e.g., "The Ever - Growing Month," "The Poem - Composing Month," "The Gods - Absent Month") and each beginning with an appropriate passage from The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon that is then somehow woven into the chapter's meaning:

"On the day after a fierce autumn wind
everything moves one deeply.
The garden is in a pitiful state
with all the bamboo and lattice fences knocked over
and lying next to each other on the ground.
It is bad enough if the branches of one of
the great trees have been broken by the wind;
but it is a really painful surprise
to find that the tree itself has fallen down and is
now lying flat over the bush-clover and the valerians.

"The Pillow Book"
Sei Shonagon, painted by Hisashi Otsuka


A few additional points gleaned from
recent food - themed texts such as

Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation
~~ also the film version
~~ also Chew On This, with Charles Wilson


Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

1. the American French Fry as we know it is a truly evil force

2. ditto: high fructose corn syrup

3. if you have any self - respect,
you will never eat at McDonald's again

4. eat little or no meat

5. buy local eat seasonal (well, I already knew this)

6. shop at the Farmer's Market as often as possible,
even if the prices are higher than the grocery store

P.S. Ruth Ozeki also writes of french fries
in her novel about the potato: All Over Creation

(which I read back in 2006)

Also worth watching: