I had an interesting experience reading Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. Particularly, because of its theme in the commodification of meats. In the novel, meat is commodified by the company, BEEF-EX, to promote red meat consumption in, typically vegetarian, Japanese consumers to promote a household of domesticity toward women.
I think in the novel, the character that most resonated with me was Jane. From the beginning of the novel, Jane points out how she, “just defaulted to a vegetarian diet of cabbage and rice because [she] couldn’t find a job” (Ozeki 20). Jane resonated with me because of her interest in controversy. She challenged the system of the television show, and aimed to show a revised way of looking at meat as commodification.
In my own experience, I guess I would have been the target audience for whom BEEF-EX would have targeted. If I had grown up in Korea, like my parents, perhaps I would have grown up watching a show such as My American Wife, aspiring to be like the women on the show—cooking for my husband. Instead, my parents immigrated to Canada. My dad cooked for my mom and my family. When my mom got sick, my dad continued cooking for our family, packing each child’s lunch according to their specific taste-buds. Even on days when I refused to eat, my parents would always say, “at least finish the meat.”
Growing up I was always told how my mom maintained a vegetarian diet, not out of choice, but because of her financial situation. For me, my parents always strived to make sure that some sort of meat was incorporated into every meal. For them, it was a sign of status. For them, it was a sign of love.
My choice to go vegetarian, I acknowledge, is highly privileged. My love of animals–and my ability to choose between that and my survival– is a first-world problem to say the least. Yet, in my opinion, meat has become commodified to the point of normality. The commodification in the western world has changed in order to fit its consumers. Often times, it’s cheaper to buy fast-food meats than it is fresh produce. For a student like myself, it’s easier to grab a chicken/turkey wrap than it is to cook myself a nutritious and well balanced meal. In this day, in this society, it’s easier, and often cheaper, to get food without meats. Commodification will ultimately follow where consumerists reside.
Ozeki, Ruth L. My Year of Meats. The Text Publishing Company, 2013.