My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki, is a thoughtful writer who tackles diverse issues from food production to time travel. All three of her novels focus on sympathetic female personas who are challenged by outside forces. In My Year of Meats, her first novel (published in 1999), Ozeki exposes the meat industry in a way rivaling Upton Sinclair.

Jane Takagi-Little, a documentary film maker, lands a job coordinating a television series promoting meat and "wholesome" American living. The series is to be broadcast in Japan. On each assignment, Jane spends a few days filming an American family. Each show ends in the kitchen with the family cooking a favorite meat recipe.

On the other side of the globe is Akiko Ueno, a former office worker who is now a stay-at-home housekeeper. She is married to Jane's boss - an abusive tyrant whose disdain for women is shockingly apparent.  Akiko watches each program religiously and becomes drawn into the lives of the families portrayed. The programs become her escape into a safer world than her present one.

As Jane travels through the American heartland, she is welcomed into the lives of a number of families. Other than the family with two moms, they are seemingly conventional. But the "traditional" families harbor dark secrets that Jane is forced to confront. When she does so, she must face the truth about her own life as well as the tragedy of unsafe food production and illegal use of hormones.

Although the book's message seems a bit heavy-handed at times, the sad realities of the meat and poultry industry have changed very little since the book was first published. Documentaries such as Food, Inc., Super Size Me and A Place at the Table, as well as the writings of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, all testify to this sad reality.

My Year of Meats employs engaging characters and an eye-opening plot. It will make you think twice at your next trip to the grocery store.

Bon Appetit!

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