"My Year Of Meats" was a delightful read that provided an accessible story, engaging characters, humorous glimpses of two culture misunderstanding one another and still managed to take a serious look at the American meat industry and the American public's unwillingness to believe unpleasant truths.
Published in 1999, "My Year Of Meats" tells the story of Jane, a Japanese American documentarian, who spends a year making a series called “My American Wife” that is intended to promote the sale of American beef in Japan by showing wholesome American housewives cooking wholesome American meat.
Much humor arises from the gaps in perception between what is happening in front of the camera and what makes it to the TV show, the gap between Japanese and American views of wholesomeness and the gaps between how men and women react to things. It's a sign of Ruth Ozeki's skill that the same gaps are also used to generate empathy and compassion for the people involved.
One of the themes of the book is our willingness and ability to take in a fact-based view of the world and to take action on what we know. Jane's journey from seeing her role as "Hey, it's a job." through, "I want to be fair to the people I film" to "I need to do something about these abuses" provides a vehicle for us to consider how and why we engage with what we know. During her journey, Jane comes to the view that, to some extent, we all cultivate an level of ignorance to protect ourselves from "Bad Knowledge", that is, knowledge that we acquire from a constant barrage of bad news that leaves us feeling powerless because we can't act on what we know so we would rather no know it.
I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki's lightness of touch. Her people are believable. Her humour is compassionate in its way and yet she still manages to seed new ideas and concepts.