Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

My Year of Meats

Rate this book
A cross-cultural tale of two women brought together by the intersections of television and industrial agriculture, fertility and motherhood, life and love—the breakout hit by the celebrated author of A Tale for the Time Being

Ruth Ozeki’s mesmerizing debut novel has captivated readers and reviewers worldwide. When documentarian Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job producing a Japanese television show that just happens to be sponsored by an American meat-exporting business, she uncovers some unsavory truths about love, fertility, and a dangerous hormone called DES. Soon she will also cross paths with Akiko Ueno, a beleaguered Japanese housewife struggling to escape her overbearing husband.

Hailed by USA Today as “rare and provocative” and awarded the Kirayama Prize for Literature of the Pacific Rim, My Year of Meats is a modern-day take on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for fans of Michael Pollan, Margaret Atwood, and Barbara Kingsolver.

366 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1998

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ruth Ozeki

15 books5,351 followers
Ruth Ozeki (born in New Haven, Connecticut) is a Japanese American novelist. She is the daughter of anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury.

Ozeki published her debut novel, My Year of Meats, in 1998. She followed up with All Over Creation in 2003. Her new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was published on March 12, 2013.

She is married to Canadian land artist Oliver Kellhammer, and the couple divides their time between New York City and Vancouver.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
5,649 (31%)
4 stars
8,005 (44%)
3 stars
3,472 (19%)
2 stars
700 (3%)
1 star
170 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,995 reviews
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,460 reviews8,565 followers
April 6, 2023
Okay you all… what did I just read. What did I just read.

I almost gave this book two stars. I think My Year of Meats contains some interesting commentary about the production and marketing of meat on a global level. It also highlights the cruelty of patriarchal abuse and violence.

However, I just cannot get past the horrible anti-Black racism that Ruth Ozeki perpetuates in this novel. I was literally shocked when I read these passages given how I hadn’t seen anyone point them out before. I’m going to provide a few examples, though be warned they’re super racist.

At one point the Asian American protagonist, Jane, studies abroad in Japan and meets a Black man there, Emil. Ozeki describes Jane’s encounter with Emil as such:

“He towered over them – tall, coal black, utterly different. Our eyes met over the tops of the schoolgirls’ heads and he froze like a panther, hungry after a long nap, at the sight of an antelope jogging by.”

What the actual f*ck?? Why could you compare a Black man to a literal animal? That’s literally so dehumanizing and degrading and racist. And then, on the same page, Ozeki writes this of Emil’s voice: “his voice was like chocolate.” Now you’re comparing a Black person to food. Also, what does chocolate even sound like? Does chocolate make a sound?? And to top this all off, on the following page, Jane assumes that Emil is an athlete. When Emil points out that this is a racist assumption, Jane gets defensive, and then, the worst part – Ozeki literally writes their interaction so that Emil doesn’t care that Jane was racist toward him, and the two proceed to have a romantic relationship for two years. I am not even kidding. This is 100% what happens.

You might say: but Thomas, this book is at least slightly satirical, so maybe that’s why Ozeki wrote these racist passages. Okay, sure, satire, whatever, but even if that were the case, I feel like satire is supposed to have an actual point. In my opinion satire should have some sort of purpose, like to communicate social commentary (that ideally punches up). In this book, Ozeki’s anti-Black racism served no purpose. There are at least two other examples of anti-Black racism I detected in this book, one in which an interracial lesbian couple perpetuates the stereotype of Black men as hypersexual (the quote from the book: “Yeah, apparently black men don’t have a lot of problems with potency”) and another passage where Black people are described as “poor colored folk” who “make do with lugging along some home-cooked fried chicken.”

To my fellow Asian Americans… we really have to do better than this. Not to center my feelings, though I’ll just say it’s frankly embarrassing to me that this book exists.

To top it all off, I found Ozeki’s portrayal of her Japanese characters as one-dimensional and stereotypical. Her Asian American protagonist Jane comes across as more three-dimensional and “progressive,” whereas her Japanese female protagonist Akiko is portrayed as submissive and passive *until* she makes contact with Jane. Idk what else to say to you all about this novel. Fingers crossed for much better reads moving forward.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,306 reviews753 followers
April 27, 2016
In this root sense, ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence.
If you spend too much time amongst the bestsellers and the prize winners and the white male authors of the world, you will be misled in your assumptions of what is possible for literature at a particular point in time. Romanticism, Realism, Modernism, Post-Modernism, de blah, de blah, de blah, all these flitty little titles that do not help a bit when I want to explore Arabic, Chinese, or Brazilian lit of a mislabeled time. Ignoring the cross reference of countries outside the Anglo stasis doesn't help, for what is this particular title my world carries on? Post-post-modernism, when Adichie thrives on Realism? Post-post-post-modernism, when a millenium-old text is interwoven with what is written on the cusp of 2000 CE? And then, of course, no political for you. Even further on, no Internet save for in diminished, slighted, sniggering tones; whistling in the dark of knowledge is power.

I continue to eat the four-legged sort of meat despite having had a pescaterian sister for a number of years, so what she has not accomplished was not to be done so by this work. True, there's many a guilt trip in the dietary movement, but the pretenses of ethical capitalism (there is no ethical consumption in late capitalism) and appropriation of various civil rights movements and genocides (could you not disrespect the death of millions whose descendants are still oppressed today in order to further promote your vegan restaurant of the day? kthx) has left me without the urge to expand my discipline in that particular direction. I deal more in suicide and military industrial complexes than domestic abuse and the atrocities of the meat market, which is a reason why A Tale for the Time Being hit me with a much fiercer pulse that powers my heartbeat to this day. However, the half star lowered rating above should be contextualized as Ozeki compared Ozeki, rather than Ozeki compared to everyone else. It would be unfair to said everyone else, when so few consider pushing their writing in all directions of contemporary times a necessity.
...it occurred to me that I was probably the only person in the history of the world who has ever recalled Shōnagon in a strip joint in Texas. I liked that.

People Who Look Pleased with Themselves

I was at the top of that list.
It's very hard to make me cry. If you insult me, I'll respond with far worse. If you hit me, I'll rip your throat out. As someone who isn't male and thus doesn't have the stoicism complex to lose, let me tell you: it's not healthy. Thus, I pay careful attention to what makes me uncontrollably bawl, and what I've found thus far consists of an acknowledgement of a Big Scary World, coupled with an acknowledgement of the necessity to do something about that Big Scary part of the World, mixed in with a giggling through tears that marvels at those who do not sidestep representation of the real in favor of the safe security of the white suburban narrative. Everyone has a story, but do not cozen me to the narratives of the villains on the backs of the usually silent, nor pretend there is only one, single, irrefutable way of righteousness. More often than not, there is money, power, and their resulting illusions, all too often offered sacrifices of communication and humanity, all too often used as the end all excuse, the ultimate safety blanket.
There are many answers, none of them right, but some of them most definitely wrong.
I like works that do this. They are few and far between, but ignoring the sign posts of literary convention helps a bunch. Think Mary Ann Evans, George Eliot for the more widely known pen name. Then find her everywhere and everywhen and every tongue the world can sing.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews290 followers
September 27, 2018
4.5 stars. I can’t say that I was overly excited to read this book based on the synopsis. I picked it based solely on the author as I had been meaning to read her for ages, I really thought the book would be dull and hokey. But I was pleasantly surprised. A truly original albeit complex story. Sure there’s a huge neon moral story screaming through the pages but the delivery was fresh and full of wit and I thought it was very cleverly written. The characters are somewhat over exaggerated with plenty of racial stereotyping but it added to the charm of the book rather than hinder it, the characters really leapt out from the pages and some of the more memorable characters will undoubtably stick with me. It’s a book that made me stop and think about what we blindly take for granted, we don’t always stop to think about what we eat or how it came to be placed on our plate. I’m sure this book will continue to make me think and I really love a book that can do that while still entertaining me. It sure delivered more than I ordered.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
April 27, 2015
"I am haunted by all the things— big things and little things, Splendid Things and Squalid Things— that threaten to slip through the cracks, untold, out of history."

You know when you start a book and it speaks to your own experiences or thoughts at a particular point in time? If I had to pick a book to transport me back to the 1990s, My Year of Meats would be it.

The main character Jane Takagi-Little is tasked with directing a reality TV show for Japanese television and her brief has basically two features:

1. The show is supposed to portray the all-American family; and
2. Because the show is sponsored by the beef industry, it needs to have a central focus on foods - and predominantly, the consumption of quality meat.

So, she and her team set out on a journey across America to find the perfect participants for the show. Soon enough, Jane's disenchantment with the "beef is best" message of the show brings out her creative streak and instead of pleasing the producer's bigoted expectations of what a typical American family is, she sets out to put a dose of reality into "reality tv".

"Screw the Beef. Lamb was Lovable, and I had just shot the most mouth-watering show of the season. And with that thought, I unbuckled my seat belt and walked to the lavatory at the back of the plane, closed the flimsy folding door behind me, and vomited into the metal toilet."

Jane sees herself as a "documentarian" and her aspiration is, on one hand, to record the times she lives in like the Japanese writer Shōnagon, and on the other to inspire someone by the results of her work.

"Murasaki may not have liked her much, but I admire Shōnagon, listmaker and leaver of presumptuous scatterings. She inspired me to become a documentarian, to speak men’s Japanese, to be different. She is why I chose to make TV. I wanted to think that some girl would watch my shows in Japan, now or maybe even a thousand years from now, and be inspired and learn something real about America. Like I did."

As the story progresses, Jane manages to turn the show into a work of investigative journalism rather than light entertainment and discovers some aspects of the meat industry that she feels need to be made public - and if this happens in a program paid for by the meat industry even better!

"Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralyzed by bad knowledge, from which the only escape is playing dumb. Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people to live. Stupidity becomes proactive, a political statement. Our collective norm."

I know, this sounds like My Year of Meats might be one of these books written by militant vegetarian out on a crusade, but it is actually a pretty well researched documentary about issues in cattle ranching and the meat industry in general of that particular time.

There is also so much more to the story. The meaty issues are really just a backdrop for Jane's journey of discovery - and self-discovery. And this other aspect presents herself in the form of Akiko.

“Weird, huh? How someone just drops into your life like that. I mean, there we were, minding our own business. . . . What did we do to deserve her?”

Akiko is the wife of Jane's producer in Japan. The two have never met, but Akiko has been moved by Jane's documentary series, and, like Jane, she embarks on a journey of examining her life.

"But it was not just fear of his anger or even of getting hit. As she watched the sun set on the vast American landscape—“ Beefland!” the logo proclaimed— she realized that her tears had nothing whatsoever to do with John. These were tears of admiration for the strong women so determined to have their family against all odds. And tears of pity for herself, for the trepidation she felt in place of desire and for the pale, wan sentiment that she let pass for love."

I really enjoyed My Year of Meats. When a book sets out to be challenging but still remains a form of intelligent discourse, full of colourful wit and empathy, what's not to like? And when the book does all of this without trying to manipulate an opinion or drawing at your hear strings to evoke a response - yes, looking at you here J.S. Froer - perfect!

"I don’t think I can change my future simply by writing a happy ending. That’s too easy and not so interesting. I will certainly do my best to imagine one, but in reality I will just have to wait and see. For now, though, it is January again. Like Shōnagon, I have “set about filling my notebooks with odd facts, stories from the past . . . ,” or at least this past year, and “everything that I have seen and felt is included.” However, unlike Shōnagon, living in the Heian days, for whom modesty, however false, was still a prerequisite, I live at the cusp of the new millennium. Whatever people may think of my book, I will make it public, bring it to light unflinchingly. That is the modern thing to do."
Profile Image for Cat.
830 reviews143 followers
December 8, 2011
Ruth Ozeki recognizes the collaboration of commercially-fueled media hype, deliberately adopted consumer ignorance, and the bottom-line practices of the food industry, and this diagnosis of disturbing global trends and local effects rings true. There was a lot of information in this book about hormonally treated beef that I did not know in this detail, and Ozeki is clever to package that information within a novel about two women both preoccupied with their fertility. The first is a Japanese-American documentarian, Jane Takagi, hired by a Japanese TV show to promote beef products through a reality series focused on the American family, specifically called My American Wife!. Ozeki is not particularly subtle in suggesting that the way that women are treated in the media (and sometimes in their own homes) bears a striking similarity to the dressed slabs of beef in these episodes. The second is the Japanese wife of the representative of the corporate sponsor BEEF-EX. This corporate representative has started going by "John" to compliment his name "Ueno" (and likes to say "get it? get it? John Wayne-O!")

One of the problems that I had with this book is that it is painted in such broad strokes (and some of those strokes seem awfully close to familiar Asian stereotypes). For example, the Japanese wife is hopelessly timid and unassuming, even as her husband becomes more and more horrible and abusive. He is an unabashed villain who becomes only more tyrannical and heinous as the book continues. It becomes increasingly creepy that his wife, Akiko, has determined that all she wants is to become a mother (with the help of his sperm) and then she can leave him. ?!?!? I have no doubt that such monsters exist in the world, but it seems awfully convenient that the wife-beating, heavy-drinking, stripper-loving, rapist husband also happens to represent an evil beef conglomerate bent on marketing contaminated products to the world. Funny how all of these levels of moral turpitude go together.

By contrast, Japanese-American Jane falls into bed with a blind date who turns out to be even more wonderful than she'd realized he was to begin with. Not only is he fabulous in bed (which Ozeki details relentlessly), but he's also a good guy. And rich. And handsome. And a musician, if you'll believe it! Jane's agency and self-determination (and Western-ness, I hate to add) allow her to save the day at the conclusion of the book through her artistry. While when Akiko and Jane finally meet, Akiko is disappointed that Jane is not more stalwart and decisive, it seems like Jane's overall spunkiness is the moral center of the book, guiding everyone else towards a more self-aware position. In this formulation, though Japan is being contaminated by American food products, they also need American individualism and iconoclasm to mitigate respect for authority and rigid gender relations. I don't know very much about Japanese culture, but this self-congratulatory tone about Americanism struck a false note with me.

The novel follows Jane's journey as she visits families meant to teach Japanese housewives about meat products on the reality show. Here too Ozeki lays her ideological cards blatantly on the table. The "good" families include a family with multicultural adopted children, an African American family active in their local church, the parents and community surrounding a disabled teenage girl hurt at a Walmart, and an interracial lesbian couple. I too applaud the recognition of diversity, disability, and queerness (hurrah! hurrah!), but all of these families turn out to be rather bland and perfect. They don't feel real; they feel like liberal ideals of feel-good models of families. Meanwhile, the "bad" families are white (a bland couple running a B&B) and/or work for bad industries (the family that runs a feed lot and slaughterhouse and must be awakened to the error in their ways by Jane Takagi).

The didacticism of the book undercuts its novelistic and psychological resonance. There are some heartbreaking topics in here: from children being poisoned to vicious rape and spousal abuse to late-term miscarriage. But none of them felt heartbreaking (more grisly) because I keep feeling like I was being led through the paces of an ideological argument rather than a real, living world. My detachment felt all the stranger since I more or less agree with the ideological argument. (Factory farming = bad. The global reach of this toxic interplay between American food and pharma = bad.) But being grossed out by the disturbing things the book depicts is not the same thing as being moved, and I wanted to be moved and to believe in these characters. They felt like cardboard cut-outs of themselves. At risk of a cringe-worthy pun, I wanted meatier characters.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,714 reviews2,308 followers
June 15, 2022
Ozeki explores the producer / consumer relationship in a quite compelling way.

Through split narratives, we meet Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese American documentarian, and Akiko Ueno, a Japanese housewife. Jane is hired by Akiko's husband and his business (Beef-Ex) to direct and produce reality / cooking shows about American meats for a Japanese audience.

Jane directs and produces this program (called 'My American Wife') traveling the US and meeting ' wholesome and upstanding (and they must be attractive and white!) families that they can showcase to Japanese housewives, in order to sell their meat industry products to this new population.

Jane produces and while she gets very entwined with her subjects on the show, she gives very little thought to the Japanese consumers back in Japan who enjoy the show and what affect it has on them.

The book veers into Upton Sinclair "The Jungle" territory, and while some may discount it for this, I felt Ozeki steered the ship right - finding a platform to share true and relevant information in this fictional universe.

4.5 stars - nearly marked up to 5, but was a little distracted by the pregnancy subplot. I felt the book would have just been better without it.
Profile Image for judy.
17 reviews3 followers
January 24, 2008
the ending just ruined it for me. there was something contrived in the magic it tried to dust over an otherwise clean, compelling narrative. i was close to love up until the epilogue's approach.

"Sometimes Akiko felt like a thief, sneaking through the desolate corners of her own life, stealing back moments and pieces of herself." (37)

"They voted to name her Joy. When she first came to live at the large brick house at the end of the drive, she spoke no English and certain things seemed to terrify her ... Other things--the sight of the full Louisiana moon or a black child smaller than she was--would set her off in a different way. It was like something inside her heart just snapped. She would turn to face the nearest vertical surface, press her forehead against it, squeeze her eyes shut, and emit a high-pitched keening that split ears. She would stand like this for hours, humming like a tuning rod to the pitch of her grief." (71)

"Eventually I slept again, and I dreamed about the slaughtered cow, hanging upside down, her life ebbing out of her as she rotated slowly. In my dream I saw her legs move in tandem, like she was running, and I realized she was dreaming of an endless green pasture at the edge of death, where she could gallop away and graze forever." (297)

"Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralyzed by bad knowledge, from which the only escape is playing dumb. Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people to live. Stupidity becomes proactive, a political statement. Our collective norm." (334)
Profile Image for Becky.
498 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2010
Disturbing title. Okay book.

Story about two women: the strong, independent documentarian Jane Takagi-Little (Takagi for short); and the timid, weak Japanese housewife Akiko Ueno. They are indirectly linked by Joicho "John" Ueno, who is Akiko's abusive husband and Takagi's evil boss.

Takagi is filming a tv series called "This American Wife" which is being used to market beef to a new Japanese market. Because the series is funded by the beef industry, Takagi doesn't have the freedom to portray honest, interesting content. The plot thickens when she learns that non-organic beef is borderline toxic.

Akiko is so underweight due to her bulimia, stemming from her dismal marriage to an asshole, that she cannot have children. However, her husband is obsessed with passing on his genes. He also enjoys drinking excessively, ogling strippers, and beating up his wife whom he only sees as an incubator for his future child.

Despite the obvious differences between these two women, their lives parallel each other throughout the novel. They both enjoy Shonagon (an ancient Japanese author), struggle with getting pregnant, and have complicated relationships. The parallels are so similarly timed that while Tagaki is sick from her early stages of pregnancy, on the other side of the world Akiko is throwing up due to her bulimia. At times the parallels are a nice touch; at other times, a bit forced. But interestingly, their characters switch by the end of the book: Takagi falls apart after her miscarriage, Akiko finds strength to leave her husband.

The anti-meat section of this book fell a bit flat. You settle in and get comfortable with the book, which seems to be about two women. Suddenly you're reading a fiction book posing as a non-fiction book about the hazards of eating red meat and the evils of the beef industry. A bit heavy handed. I like a good non-fiction book, but when placed in a novel, it loses all credibility. The novelist isn't an expert with credibility, despite her moderate research. Plus, the delivery of the message through a conveniently one-sided evil character felt biased. It doesn't matter whether or not I agree with the message; this wasn't the place for a term paper.

While I've mentioned one-sided characters, John Ueno was also too much evil for one weasel of a man. I didn't quite buy it. I understand that he has a high-pressure job and takes his frustrations and failures out on his wife. And maybe the pressure and guilt led to a drinking problem and the subsequent downward spiral. But how did this clueless man ever rise to his current high position at his company. Was he competent/charming/kind before he was married? Was there a time when he didn't consistently do or say the wrong thing? It just doesn't fit. Nothing about this man jumps off the page as an authentic character. He's basically your generic asshole, too conveniently and entirely evil so the reader has someone to hate.

Oh yeah. There's also an unconvincing, unrealistic romance with a happy ending.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,578 followers
July 17, 2020
(4.5) I don’t know what took me so long to read another novel by Ruth Ozeki after A Tale for the Time Being, one of my favorite books of 2013. This is nearly as fresh, vibrant and strange. Set in 1991, it focuses on the making of a Japanese documentary series, My American Wife, sponsored by a beef marketing firm. Japanese American filmmaker Jane Takagi-Little is tasked with finding all-American families and capturing their daily lives – and best meat recipes. The traditional values and virtues of her two countries are in stark contrast, as are Main Street/Ye Olde America and the burgeoning Walmart culture.

There is a clear message here about cheapness and commodification, but Ozeki filters it through the wrenching stories of two women with fertility problems: Jane, whose reproductive system was damaged by DES, a synthetic estrogen her mother took during pregnancy to prevent a miscarriage; and Akiko, the wife of Jane’s boss, who struggles with an eating disorder and domestic violence.

Jane starts sneaking controversial subjects into her shoots: a lesbian couple, a family formed by interracial adoption, and a five-year-old who has already undergone puberty due to the hormones used on her family’s cattle feedlot. What is “natural,” and what gets branded alien or invasive? From the kudzu that strangles the South to a murdered Japanese exchange student, Ozeki probes the related issues of nativism and racism. Her two protagonists’ stories – one in the first person; the other in the third person – come together in a surprising manner as Jane decides that she has a more pressing obligation than creating a diverting television show.

This is a bold if at times discomforting novel. At first it brought to mind the exaggerated comedy of Julian Barnes’s England, England and Jane Smiley’s Moo, but as it grew darker it reminded me more of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. It’s tricky, when a work of fiction tackles ethical or environmental matters, to balance storytelling and consciousness-raising, but Ozeki pulls it off with style. The only aspect that didn’t mean much to me, perhaps simply because of my unfamiliarity, was the excerpts from The Pillow Book of Shōnagon. How sad to think that I only have one more Ozeki awaiting me, All Over Creation. She averages a book every 5‒10 years; we can only hope that another is on the way soon.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Alicia.
Author 2 books21 followers
April 29, 2008
Wow. I had heard about this book while at Smith College because it was the summer reading choice for incoming first-years. I was either a sophomore or junior at the time, and had always meant to pick it up. (Funny that only after I finished it did I learn that she is a Smith alum too).

This novel is so many things: a work of fiction, a cinematic piece in its movement, a political piece in its content, a look at "romantic" relationships and complexities, motherhood, eating disorders, the meat industry, corporations, television, American cities and towns, Japanese housewives. I really couldn't put it down (and my last few days of working have suffered from it!), but it isn't traditional page-turner material, I kept thinking. But then when I was reading the interview with Ozeki at the end, she said she realized she was writing a "thriller," so in a way, yes, it has traditional page-turning qualities, but the content is so authentic, so original, so different.

I've been poking around her website and was happy to find that she is a lover of libraries, as am I: http://www.ruthozeki.com/weblog/ (May 30, 2007 entry). I could sense this in the book as well, but she says something I have wanted to articulate but couldn't so succinctly: "libraries are miracles of public munificence in an age of privatized corporate greed" and goes on to elaborate upon how truly wonderful the public library is. Every once and a while, I deliver my monologue on the same thing, going on and on about Ben Franklin and how lucky we all are to have libraries and that we should never take them for granted.

Anyway, read this book and tell your friends to as well.
Profile Image for Elaine.
59 reviews1 follower
April 15, 2017
I started out loving this book. The voice was moving, and it seemed like a love letter to everything I adore about the American Heartland. I was fascinated by the commentary on authenticity - with ourselves, with physical commodities such as meat, and with others. I also absolutely loved the excerpts from The Pillow Book and all of its simple profoundness. I'm definitely going to put it on my to-read list. I also was moved by Akiko's plight and found her story interesting.

Then, out of nowhere, the book becomes a poor man's The Jungle, only with more jerks. The character Dave appears completely from thin air, and his entire purpose is to spout paragraph upon paragraph of stuff that seems lifted from "Food, Inc". It's very much like how The Jungle devolves entirely into a socialist manifesto by the end, only a lot less interesting.

I am very aware of factory farming and the book made an impression on me in this respect. However, this material would have been better suited for a non-fiction book. It tore apart what could have been a moving portrait of two women from different cultures.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews488 followers
April 8, 2014
this is my new bff ruth ozeki's first novel and yes, it is a novel that deals with the woeful health impact of the way beef is processed these days by the US meat industry, but like all of ozeki's novels, it is also so much more. and i for one am a little astonished that this is her first novel, because there are so many layers to it, and this complex ensemble of voices, self-referentiality, and documentary work is put together in such a controlled, light-hearted, humorous yet touching way, you just can't stop reading.

it seems as if what i'm about to say could be said of all of ozeki's novels, but this is mainly a story of women, and since ozeki is nothing if not a fierce woman writer, she gets into the nitty gritty of femalehood -- sex, the body, mothers, children, wives, blood, guts, food, work, love, resilience, and the bond of honesty that must (imperatively must) link women everywhere -- from the get go, and stays there, right in there, in that space of womanhood that is so often undervalued and dismissed, the whole time, even when the going gets tough and malehood threatens to encroach and take over.

there are lovely men and there are awful men in the book, but the women, the women are all terrific, even the monstrous ones, especially the monstrous ones. and this is only fair, you know, this is not slanted or skewed or unbalanced, this is just fair because womenworlds get so little room in literature and movies, so little darn room -- not for brave women authors' lack of trying, but for lack of reviewing, advertising, supporting, mediapropagating, enthusing, etc. -- you need once in a while to see the world through a woman's eye, and see that we trust each other, and need each other, a whole lot, and that men sometimes are to us just bad people who think they own us.

some people on here found the book preachy. i can't for the life of me see any preachiness in it, but at the same time i do see, somehow, how one might feel preached at by it. eh. if you feel preached at just drop this book and read something else. ruth ozeki won't mind. she didn't write the book for you.

what makes it all so fantastic is how daring ozeki is formally. she puts herself -- the writer -- right into the narration; she spills outside the boundaries of the first-person/third-person/multivocal novel and does pretty much what she pleases, addressing the reader, discussing the book even though the book should be invisible, and blurring the author-narrator distinction; and she infuses it all with such riotous humor, and such elegance, and such goddamn pathos, you wonder how it all works together. but it does, it does, and there isn't a clumsy, heavy-footed, incongruous moment in the whole thing.
Profile Image for Alena.
868 reviews220 followers
June 8, 2014
Ruth Ozeki writes with such precision and honesty that I found myself walking alongside her main character Jane Tagaki-Little, completely immersed in the story rather than viewing it objectively. I had to keep reminding myself that this was Ozeki's first novel, because it's so fully formed and well-written.

Jane is a documentary maker who lands a job producing a television series for Japanese housewives called "The American Housewife" sponsored by the US Beef Conglomerate. She travels the country in search of families who exhibit American wholesomeness and values and can also provide a tasty meat recipe. (It's really a great premise.) Across the world, Akiko is a bulimic Japanese housewife, watching and being moved by these shows. Opening each chapter are the words and poetry of a 1st Century female writer Sei Shonagon.

Given the alternating viewpoints, the mix of verse and prose, the author's tendency to switch from first person to third person and a jumble of faxes thrown in, this could have been a hot mess of a book. Instead, it's a work of art.

Both of these women are on a journey to find themselves which provides the emotional backbone for the novel. Akiko's story seems to unfold in real time while Jane is writing with some self-awareness as she is looking back on "My Year of Meats."

"It changed my life. You know when that happens -- when something rocks your world, and nothing is ever the same after?"

While Jane's assignment starts out as just a job, she grows immersed in the lives of the families she chooses to profile. She struggles to balance her desire to tell the truth with her need to serve her client, the show's BEEF-EX sponsor, personified by Akiko's husband. As she delves into "meaty" stories, she uncovers disturbing truths about the meat industry, which lends a very disturbing (almost sickening) undertone to the novel.

Ozeki clearly points out in the author's note that this is a work of fiction, but it feels very much like the truth, complete with bibliography and footnotes. Issues of hormones, fertility, abuse, agriculture and culture all come to the forefront, but Ozeki resists the urge to preach.

"I chose to ignore what I knew. Ignorance. In this root sense, ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge had become synonymous with impotence."

Ozeki takes this novel from sharp-witted and playful to emotional and honest seamlessly. Her writing shines in the descriptions of each of the families Jane profiles, adding layers of richness to the main story.

"Each sojourn into the heartland had its own viscosity - a total submersion into a strange new element - and for the duration, the parameters of my own world would collapse, sucked like a vacuum pack around the shapes of the families and the configurations of their lives."

This is my second Ozeki read. Last year I fell in love with A Tale for the Time Being. I will now actively seek her out. I am officially a super-fan.

Highly Recommend.
Profile Image for Ciara.
Author 3 books348 followers
December 17, 2008
this would be ruth ozeki's fantastic first novel. you should go read this right now, if you haven't already. it's one of my all-time favorites. the story is based around two protaganists: one is a mixed race american woman who works as a television producer. the japanese beef council hires her to produce a series that profiles a different american family & its beef consumption every week, highlighting the all-american robust outdoors-y health of the family, & featuring a beef-heavy recipe at the end. the other protaganist is a japanese housewife who watches the show. her husband wants them to have a baby, but he doesn't know that she has been throwing up everything she eats in an effort to prevent herself from menstruating so that she won't get pregnant. she prepares the beef meals from the program for him every night, but doesn't eat them herself, & she feels confined within her housewife role & wants to leave the marriage, but doesn't know how. meanwhile, the american TV producer starts to comprehend the horrors of the beef industry & the unfortunate side effects that accompany excessive meat-eating, & starts to feel pathologically guilty about her role in producing this beef propaganda for japanese viewers. one family she profiles raises cattle for beef, & the young daughter there has already started developing breasts because of over-exposure to growth hormones. the father in another family has developed thyroid cancer because of ingesting the hormones in the low-grade chicken products his family eats. i think the TV producer also has some kind of pregnancy side plot, but i can't remember exactly what it is. the book could be just way too stident propaganda, but it's actually presented as a really compelling story full of moral ambiguities. & maybe it will make you stop eating meat. not that i have, but you know.
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 5 books114 followers
February 6, 2017
Many years ago, my parents had a property (Australian for "farm") in the Wyong Valley north of Sydney, where they bred and raised beef cattle on pasture. It was a beautiful place, worlds away from the stinking feedlots so vividly depicted in Ruth Ozeki's novel. Even though, of course, the end place--someone's table--is the same. My mother read My Year Of Meat while she lived and worked on this property, and then she passed it on to me, saying that she found it "interesting." Soon after that, my parents sold up and retired.

Didactic and full of unlikely coincidences though My Year Of Meat is, you've got to admire Ozeki for deciding to treat the beef industry in novel form. On pp. 393-94, her documentary-making heroine Jane even muses on the difficulty of telling such a story: "Ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence."

The chapter epigraphs from Sei Shōnagon's The Pillow Book are wonderfully chosen. Only the evil Japanese salaryman, Joichi Ueno (to be pronounced "John Wayne"), and his long-suffering wife Akiko struck me as unbelievable.

Has the beef industry been cleaned up since the publication of Ozeki's novel? I doubt it. So My Year Of Meat is still well worth reading.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,076 reviews711 followers
May 11, 2015
Reading this book is one way to give yourself the incentive to become vegetarian. It's a novel, but if you can believe that it's based on actual conditions that occur in the meat industry you will feel nausea every time you walk past the meat department in the grocery store.

I read this book back in about the year 2000 long before my goodreads.com days. So I didn't write my own review. I was reminded of it because the following short review showed up on by PageADay Book Lover's calendar for today.
In this satire on American habits and attitudes about consumption, Jane Tagaki-Little, a documentary filmmaker, takes on a new project with a Japanese television show. Called My American Wife, it is sponsored by a company that does PR for the meat industry. As Jane roams Middle America seeking housewives willing to be hosts for the show, she gets an eye-opening look at the beef business, and decides to use the show as a vehicle to attack its vile practices. A unique premise and Ozeki's biting wit give the story its zing.
MY YEAR OF MEATS, by Ruth L. Ozeki (Penguin, 1999)
Profile Image for Mike.
511 reviews131 followers
December 10, 2013

So perhaps I am a bit late to the party, but My Year of Meats is an engaging and compelling read.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but that is often the case; if I pick up a book from a shelf I generally do not read anything on the cover or flyleaf and if I add it to my Goodreads TBR list it seems to be years before I get to it. Without checking, I don’t even know which friend’s feed caused me to originally mark it to-read.

But, putting all of that aside, I am very glad that I did read this novel. I found the story and most of the characters to be “real”. There are a couple of major characters that were not as fleshed out as the others. Not a complaint, just an observation.

If you look at any of the widely available summaries, you’ll know that the book concerns a pair of women whose lives interact via a pseudo-documentary-episodic-commercial TV program, My American Wife. Although filmed in the United States, the program is created for and produced by a Japanese advertising agency for broadcast within Japan. Since there is a considerable difference in the two cultures, the book uses the inevitable misunderstandings and opposing sensibilities as one of its strengths. Having experienced both cultures (if ever so briefly during my trips to Japan), I can attest to the “trueness” of these observations. But, don’t rely on me; the author herself is the living embodiment of both cultures.

The story of meat (beef) production which also threads through the book is also real. One doesn’t have to accept this from a fictional work. The facts have been reported news multiple times as concerns about “Mad Cow Disease”, the early onset of puberty (via sex hormone exposure), and the effects of growth hormone on children periodically come to the surface of the 24-hour news cycle. Time for a spoiler or two…

Another major (but related) theme in the book is the use of chemicals and medicines on humans even when the effects are unproven (or to be more charitable, unknown). The synthetic hormone DES (Diethylstilbestrol) ties back into the meat industry storyline because it was used to accelerate the maturing and fattening of beef cattle. In humans it was used in pregnant women (supposedly to help bring babies to term) and until the late 70’s for treatment of breast cancer (pre-tamoxifen). As the story proceeds, we learn that our American protagonist is a DES baby. (The term is used for children who were in utero during the course of treatment.) Like Mad Cow Disease, DES and its effects on female embryos has been in the news many times. Spoiler number two…

What tie all of this together are the stories and anecdotes of running around the US and filming the families who star in My American Wife. Throw in a little home life for women, some subversive attitudes (including a lovely couple in Northampton, Mass.) and a love interest and you have a fully-formed novel of superior writing and sensibility. I have no idea how other people have ranked this, but if you can stomach some non-Al Gore unpleasant truths; this is a book you should definitely read. A full Four (4.0) Stars.

Profile Image for Tocotin.
761 reviews108 followers
January 10, 2016

Only ¥150 at BookOff!

Honestly, this book is very strange. It reads like a memoir, definitely not like fiction. I *thought* it was a memoir good two-thirds into it. There are so many scientific details, included so mechanically, that it made me think I was reading a long, occasionally poetic, occasionally over-the-top dramatic reportage. It was interesting, okay, but confusing.

Confusing is the operative word for this book. I noticed many reviewers being shocked or even offended by its alleged “vegetarian agenda”, but I couldn’t see much of it. The book’s main character is obviously against eating beef. Lamb, chicken, pork, and fish are more than fair game. One of the most sentimental scenes contains a railroad car full of cheerful black people, singing loudly and presenting the secondary heroine of the book, Akiko, with gifts of mouth-watering fried chicken. I wish I were kidding.

No, seriously. There is a lot of stereotyping, and this is what spoiled my enjoyment of this book. I don’t mind vegan or vegetarian agenda, I think it’s very valid and important, I don’t eat meat myself. Vegan proselytizing, bring it on, baby. But the bad and ugly here is the totally untrue, stereotypical, overwrought caricature of Japan and Japanese. Akiko is too stupid to live, her husband is the most hateful, despicable portrait of a Japanese salaryman that has been ever painted using exclusively bile and spit, and the Japanese society is a group of evil automatons. Poor Akiko can only find happiness running away to the beautiful land of America, where random people will feed and house her for free.

And the quotes from The Pillow Book annoyed me to no end. Its author is Sei Shōnagon, folks. You don’t shorter it to “Shōnagon”, ever. Shōnagon is not a first name, it’s a court rank of someone she was related to. No one knows her real name. Now this is a creepy fact.
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,381 followers
November 11, 2007
This novel outdid Fast Food Nation when Eric Schlosser was still collecting Happy Meals.

Okay, maybe that's a bit inaccurate, but I found one of Ozeki's more recent novels today in a thrift store and remembered how much I liked this one. I read it a long time ago when -- full disclosure -- I still might've been in my excitable vegan phase -- but I remember it being highly entertaining. It has a sort of American Cattle Ranch with some kind of Japanese something thrown in; I know that's not especially helpful, but in any case, this was good.

I'll let you guys know about the newer one when I get to it.
Profile Image for Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun).
315 reviews1,971 followers
January 21, 2022
A high 3.5 stars. I really respect that this book got better and better as it went along. It asks a lot of questions about TV conflicts of interest with corporate sponsors, the line between documentary and fiction, and the horrors of the U.S. meat industry. It's funny, because there was an interview with Ozeki in the back of my copy and she addressed a lot of the problems I had with the book (disliking the first person/third person combination, a one-dimensional villain, occasional random soapboxing about the meat industry). But her responses didn't change my reading experience. Still recommended, but for people new to Ozeki, read A Tale for the Time Being first.
Profile Image for Misa.
25 reviews6 followers
August 17, 2009
Full disclosure: I stopped reading "My Year of Meats" about 100 pages shy of the end. It had come strongly recommended from many friends, so I had high expectations. The book had a strong beginning but slowly devolved into an depressing and transparent disaster. The extent to which Ozeki felt she had to hit me over the head with her message was insulting. With the exception of the main character, Jane Tagaki-Little, everyone fell so clearly into obvious stereotypes and, despite not having finished the novel, I can almost guarantee that I could tell you exactly what happens. Most troublesome was the almost insulting degree to which Akiko, the Japanese wife, was submissive. I also couldn't help but to roll my eyes at how startlingly knowledgeable certain characters were about the cattle industry and how quickly they gave up the goods, leading to the inevitable conclusion that meat is VERY, VERY bad.
Profile Image for Holly Dunn.
Author 1 book769 followers
July 6, 2015
I adore Ruth Ozeki. Her female characters aren’t stock characters and they’re really interesting. Like in A Tale For the Time Being here are two main narratives, one is a TV director making an advertising series about US meat for broadcast in Japan. The other is the wife of the first woman’s boss. She lives in Japan and her husband is awful. There are a lot of philosophical and moral questions raised about the way that meat is produced in America. I think some people have found this a bit preachy, but I didn’t find that at all. That might also be because I don’t eat meat in the first place... But I can’t recommend Ozeki enough though, she so great.
Profile Image for Janine.
252 reviews26 followers
December 5, 2017
Possibly one of the most important books I have ever read. I knew how Ozeki was when it came to handling themes but nothing is like her first book. It discusses not only misogyny, culture, and corporate corruption but also the terrifying reality of American Beef. Jane and Akiko's story is incredibly intriguing, with so many delightful twists and turns. From their twin issues with fertility to the confining roles for women, Ozeki weaves their tale well. Especially with regards to the parallels between the two, which were absolutely breathtaking. Ruth Ozeki's first book was absolutely masterful.
Profile Image for Emilia Ładak.
14 reviews
January 20, 2022
This is the most compassionate book I have ever read. I can't even put it into words, so I'll help myself with a quote I found on its back cover: "Ruth Ozeki is a deeply intelligent and humane writer". She understands and cares for her characters and the reader. She is passionate about the topics she writes about and she is determined to make the reader passionate too. Everyone should read this book. No, everyone MUST read this book. Even though it takes place in the 90s it manages to describe our modern reality accurately. The variety of topics and themes in this book is astounding, and it only takes a skilled, brilliant and passionate author to combine all these things into one: women's struggles, following one's dreams, cultural differences, the film industry, the compromises one must make to survive, and, the meat! Environmental and health issues caused by eating it isn't something most people want to read about, as it isn't pleasant and comfortable and makes one ponder their life choices. But Ruth Ozeki has a method to getting her message across. As Jane, the main character, gradually finds out more and more about this corrupted and poisonous industry, the information creeps up in the reader's mind, knocks at the door of their conscience and, before they know it, has entered their lives forever. That's what happened to me. It changed my thinking about many things. And isn't this what books are for? It's an example of a modern novel that matters. It's a sign of the times, one destined for changing the world.

If I tried to describe all the present-day struggles the two main heroines have to endure, I would have to sit here forever. Instead, I would just talk about the ones that touched me the most. Jane Takagi-Little a documentary filmmaker, seems like the perfect image of a "modern woman", liberated from all the traditional gender roles, independent and "in charge" of every situation. We see that image deconstructed as we dive into her thoughts and events during a particularly turbulent year of her life. "The year of meats". As she struggles to make ends meet she has to take up a job that requires her to tame her documentary efforts and sell unauthentic images of perfect American families, especially wives. The behind the scenes of shooting the TV show provide the reader with a beautifully diverse and interesting landscape of American families. It is like a tour around the USA, that I enjoyed very much. Meeting all these people Jane struggles with many things: feeling foreign in her own country, racism, and questions of love and motherhood. Here the very prominent theme in the whole book is introduced: the tragedy of people affected by infertility. "My year of meats" deals with a very important and up-to-date topic I haven't been taught about in school: how the inability to have a child breaks hearts and relationships. The book provided me with very important information that everyone needs to acquire before stepping into adulthood and parenthood. Jane is a particularly dear character to me because I perhaps want to be a filmmaker myself someday. Her courage and perseverance are truly inspiring. But even though Takagi is so stubborn and passionate about what she does, she alone, still can't change a rotten industry. An artist's hands are bound in the era of big company sponsorships and advertisement campaigns. And I have to keep that in mind as I go on, but I will always carry Takagi in my heart as my own, personal hero.

Cultural differences are a prominent theme in the book, but not only the ones between different US citizens: we also have a correspondent in Japan. Akiko is a "perfect" housewife: submissive, silenced and scared. Through her eyes, we see what a woman in her position has to endure: constant humiliation, violence, loneliness and complete lack of support from those around her. She lives in an arranged marriage with an abusive man, who constantly blames her for everything, and the societal expectations and fear stop her from having any interests, friends or life of her own. It's a nightmare and it's deeply, disturbingly realistic, and that's precisely why this book is so important: it's not afraid to speak about the lives of those, who aren't often talked about, the struggles of women who are silenced to the point of never getting their story out there. Akiko is forced by her husband who coordinates the meaty "American Wife" TV show not only to watch it but also to cook all the meals of the "superior" culture. Her husband Joichi "John" Ueno "Wayno" feels deeply inferior to Americans and tries his best to become one. Akiko's story later intertwines with Jane's and she finds the courage to change her life. Akiko's tale is important and inspiring, it may (sadly) also still be relatable to many women today.

"My year of meats" is versatile enough that everyone can find something for themselves in it, but also it's specific enough that very particular people can claim it represents them. It leaves the reader with knowledge that will help them live in the modern age and with a bigger awareness and better understanding of struggles faced by people around the world. It helps shed light on topics that need urgent discussion. It presents a fantasy to the reader just to tear it into pieces a minute later. It shocks with blunt reality (which may make some scenes unbearable, not only uncomfortable but also traumatic to some readers, so be careful). It exposes industries, overthrows empires, daunts and overwhelms the reader. And then it gives us the incentive to take all this knowledge and share it with the world, and, most importantly, do something about this state of things. As the ending of the novel claims, no one can change the world alone, but together... well that's a different story.
Profile Image for erika.
135 reviews2 followers
May 26, 2019
I enjoyed this, for the most part. The dynamics surrounding in/fertility, gender, and abuse were something I've rarely encountered in fiction, and it tied Jane's and Akiko's stories together beautifully.

The ending felt pat, though maybe that's my cynicism.

I also felt like the Black characters in the book were never really fleshed out and Blackness in general played a role of authenticity/"noble savagery" for others' consumption. Uncomfortable.
Profile Image for Matt Carl.
132 reviews2 followers
February 27, 2017
Starts gently, but builds fast and hits hard. Add in some really interesting characters, and this was a very good book.

Can't say there's a happy ending when a 17 year old book addresses the same issues that need addressing today, more than ever.
Profile Image for Paige.
45 reviews1 follower
March 25, 2022
3.5 Stars. Have to organize my thoughts on it once I’ve digested the book a bit more now that I finished it!
Profile Image for Liisa.
683 reviews46 followers
March 30, 2020
Second read, 3/2020, 5/5
Oh my. Ruth Ozeki’s novels seem to just improve upon a reread, and I feel like I understood this better the second time around. The realities of animal agriculture really do make for a powerful literary backdrop. I wish more fiction would explore that, from different angles and not too overwhelmingly, to help people see what’s going on. Essentially we need more authors like Ozeki who can brilliantly intertwine important and educational matters with captivating storylines.

First read, 6/2016, 5/5
I finished this book days ago but have been unable to transform my thoughts into an articulate review. So I thought I would just list all the things that I loved about My Year of Meats, because honestly, there´s nothing I didn´t like.

1. The main themes in this book are the problems of meat production. That´s a matter I´ve researched a lot myself, but there´s still some information that I had no idea about, especially about hormones fed to cattle. Then again, I wouldn´t consider this a book that extensively explains why you shouldn´t eat meat and it doesn’t have to: My Year of Meats is still fiction and not at all preachy.

2. Other things that are brought up include the power of media, eating disorders, infertility, cultural differences and domestic violence. Ozeki is fantastic at teaching the reader about important matters while telling a compelling story.

3. The characters. Like A Tale for the Time Being, My Year of Meats follows two very different females whose lives are connected in a heart warming way. There´s also plenty of side characters and even though some are part of the story for only a few pages, I cared for them.

4. The actual story and the writing. I´m not going to explain it here, but you really should read the Goodreads synopsis if you haven´t read this book, as the idea is something utterly unique. I´m never good at describing different writing styles, so let´s just say that he text simply flows well and is beautiful.

5. The structure. My Year of Meats is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month. That made following the story very easy. At the start of each chapter there´s a quote from Shonagon´s (Japanese courtesan, lived around the year 1000) The Pillow Book, which has all these obscure lists like ´Times When One Should Be on One´s Guard´. I found these extremely interesting and I hadn´t even heard of Shonagon before reading this book! I love how Ozeki introduces her readers to new ideas, philosophical and historical, religious even, without making the text feel at all dry.

Only after two books Ruth Ozeki has earned her place among my all time favorite authors, her stories have everything I enjoy in a book and after turning the last page, I feel like I´ve changed somehow. I´m most certainly going to read All Over Creation soon, though not too soon, I want to give it all the time it deserves.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,995 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.