Abstract:This article considers the potential political stasis produced through the ossification of a binary opposition between the local and the global. I consider, what I term, “territorialized cosmopolitanism”(a cosmopolitanism that emerges out of simultaneous multiple global and local affiliations) in two recent novels: Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park and Ruth L. Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. I suggest that these novels point to a more radically political step; not the abandonment of the global for the local, but instead taking the lessons of the local and thinking through them globally.
Keywords: cosmopolitanism; local; global; responsibility; consumption; narrative.
RECENT DEBATES SURROUNDING SUSTAINABLE FOOD PRODUCTION, distribution and consumption have been articulated around the idea that the more local these processes are, the better – an idea most clearly (and publicly) put forth in Alisa Smith’s and J.B. MacKinnon’s best-selling The 100-Mile Diet but also taken up in, among other texts, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Yet this idea – that local food is a more sustainable environmental choice that has positive economic repercussions for local food producers and communities – has often and all too easily become synonymous with the idea that the global is something to be wary of, an apolitical zone dominated by the values of neoliberal capitalism. These two ideas set up a dichotomy, then, in which the local is inherently the site of responsible political action and the global is inherently the site of irresponsible corporate greed. This fetishization of the local at the expense of the global sets up an untenable binary that suggests, at best, a highly romanticized yet anachronistic longing for an imagined past where the global did not intrude on daily lives or, at worst, a model for political action that invalidates necessary solidarity-building with others throughout the world, promoting a chauvinistic view of international relations – both at the macro level of the nation-state and the micro level of the individual. This focus on the local is perhaps particularly galling coming from citizens of Euro-American nation-states as it suggests that these citizens have no ethical or political responsibility in the situation of citizens of other places.
Through an examination of two recent novels that take up from different angles the question of sustainable or ethical eating and the local– Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park and Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats – I argue that a more radically political step is not the abandonment of the global for the local but instead taking the lessons of the local and thinking through them globally. One way in which these two novels point to their varying commitments to the local and the global is in their attitudes toward cosmopolitanism – attitudes which will be the focus of this paper. Taylor’s text reproduces an all too common leftist critique of cosmopolitanism as alienating and elitist – characteristics that I will argue Stanley Park actually imbues the local with. In contrast, Ozeki’s text points to what I will call a “territorialized cosmopolitanism” – a way of looking at the world that emphasizes multiple affiliations but which locates these affiliations in specific, though often multiple, places while simultaneously stressing the importance of real commitments to places and their inhabitants (human or otherwise). I want to begin this paper by giving a brief definition of what I mean by cosmopolitanism and, more particularly, territorialized cosmopolitanism. I will then move on to examine Stanley Park and My Year of Meats in turn.
Cosmopolitanism as a concept, following James Clifford, “evokes mixed feelings” (“Mixed Feelings” 362). It raises questions about where social responsibility and affiliations can and should lie. It seems to echo neoliberal desires for a border-free world as well as pointing to liberating forms of mobility that resist the neoliberal paradigm. Under the umbrella of “cosmopolitan theory,” debates surrounding globalization, post-colonialism and citizenship overlap. Bruce Robbins notes that “the term cosmopolitanism is ordinarily taken to [refer to] aesthetic spectatorship rather than political engagement” (Robbins, Feeling Global 17; emphasis in original). This centrality of aesthetic spectatorship seems to be the main point at which cosmopolitanism evokes mixed feelings as it implies an affective response to the world, but no ethical or political engagement.
A territorialized cosmopolitan sensibility, as I define it, is one that is simultaneously affiliated with the local and the global. In other words, someone who exhibits a territorialized cosmopolitan sensibility self-consciously positions themselves as both a citizen of (someone who has ethical and moral responsibilities to) the world as a whole and of a specific local place, or even places. Further, a territorialized cosmopolitan sensibility that emphasizes responsibility rather than the privileges of wealth and sophistication must develop out of an engagement with people and cultures different from oneself that does not seek to then eradicate difference. Similarly territorialized cosmopolitanism demands commitment to difference, not just exposure to or tolerance of difference. Here my definition is shaped by theorists of vernacular cosmopolitanism such as Timothy Brennan (1997), Homi Bhabha (1996), and Bruce Robbins (1998) who have expanded the idea of who counts as cosmopolitan in order to account for cosmopolitan practices that do not stem necessarily from economic privilege; Bhabha, for instance, posits refugees as vernacular cosmopolitan subjects. My definition of cosmopolitanism is thus inflected by postcolonial theory’s criticism of unquestioned and unlocated universals.
What territorialized cosmopolitanism offers, then, is a way of considering everyday interactions between the local and the global and emphasizing the interconnection between these two categories that are, after all, defined only relationally to one another. Instead of seeing cosmopolitanism as only the domain of the global – a view popularly put forth by Pico Iyer (1997) and Leah McLaren (2008) and criticized by Ghassan Hage (2000), this paper argues that a territorialized cosmopolitanism might actually open a more politically responsible way of being. I want to argue that thinking through narratives about global food production offers a way of localizing global questions but in such a way that constantly draws us outward. What Stanley Park and My Year of Meats draw our attention to is how we are already global citizens through the food we eat – whether we acknowledge this or not. In other words, these texts reveal the inescapability of both the local and the global, suggesting that attempts to evade one or the other are perhaps doomed to failure.
Stanley Park and the Local as Fetish
Taylor’s 2001 novel has been selected in two prominent Canadian literary competitions: it was the One Book, One Vancouver selection of 2003, and, more prominently, one of the finalists in Canada’s state-funded public broadcaster, CBC’s, widely popular Canada Reads competition of 2007. Stanley Park’s media prominence is further enhanced by its au courant (and, at the time of its publication, prescient) subject matter: local food. Jeremy Papier, the novel’s protagonist, returns from French culinary school and opens a restaurant, with the financing of Dante (the CEO of a Starbucks-like coffee chain), that serves primarily local food. For a variety of reasons, the restaurant goes under and is saved by Dante with the caveat that Jeremy take the advice of the designers Dante brings in who demand sophisticated food from no clear national cuisine. At the same time, Jeremy begins to spend more time with his father, the Professor, an anthropologist living with the homeless in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. The juxtaposition between the resolutely global demands of Dante and his employees (who include Jeremy’s opportunistic girlfriend, Benny), and the thoroughly local affiliations of the Professor and his friends/ ethnographic subjects lead Jeremy to cook an opening meal at the revamped restaurant consisting entirely of scavenged food from Stanley Park.
Taylor’s novel addresses many of the issues that preoccupy both cosmopolitan and food theory: the ethics of locality, globality, and physical place. What I want to suggest, however, is that, by reading this novel through the lens of territorialized cosmopolitanism, the text is revealed to be radically anti-cosmopolitan. This is not to suggest that being radically anti-cosmopolitan is necessarily problematic. Instead, I would argue that Taylor refuses to engage with cosmopolitanism in a serious way despite using the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism throughout the text to characterize the central characters. The novel deploys a caricatured version of colloquial cosmopolitanism to make an ultimately conservative point: that crossing borders is an inherently negative, victimizing and destructive act. To use James Clifford’s formulation:“roots” are good, but “routes” are bad (Routes). Stanley Park works in a vexed space where it uses the commodity trappings of cosmopolitan sophistication – expensive food and drink – and the global affiliations of its protagonist to reveal the sensibility that undergirds Jeremy’s and his father’s passions and to simultaneously denounce the equally cosmopolitan sensibilities of Dante and Benny. On the surface, the novel seems to suggest a territorialized cosmopolitanism where the global and the local are inter-connected. Instead, the novel fetishes the local in a way that further re-enforces an inflexible binary between the global and the local. The novel privileges the local as a site of moral superiority but, in its obliviousness to debates about urban food sovereignty, takes no interest in the potential political ramifications or possibilities of such a stance towards the local.
Stanley Park raises two compelling and topical questions that are intertwined throughout the narrative. Firstly, with the general emphasis given to the global as the sign of newness in an era of accelerated globalization, what space is left for the local that is not predetermined as nostalgia or authenticity? Authenticity is understood in the novel as contemporary repetitions of long-standing ethnic traditions; tradition, to be worthy of approbation here, is emphatically unchanging. Hybridity is something to be wary of; indeed, part of what makes Dante such a menacing figure is his hybrid nature. Secondly, where does ethical responsibility lie when affiliations exist at numerous different levels? In Stanley Park ethical responsibility exists exclusively at the level of the local. The national is non-existent in this novel and the global is characterized only by corporate finance and “post-national” sophistication (Taylor 63) with the suggestion that ethical responsibility is impossible at any level besides the local. Dante’s gangster-ish persona is emblematic of the ethical bankruptcy perceived to exist at levels beyond the local. And Dante becomes especially gangster-ish once he takes an interest in Jeremy’s local restaurant, suggesting the seemingly inevitable danger to local places when the global becomes involved.
Jeremy’s commitment to local food – a commitment which would suggest global environmental responsibility – is never articulated in terms of the political. Instead, it only marks his personal/ psychological commitment to local place and an attempt to understand his position within an authentic tradition. Early in the novel, Jeremy is asked to explain why he prefers local food; he is unable to put words to his desire and falls back on the language of nostalgia: “I was trying to remind people of something. Of what the soil under their feet has to offer. Of a time when they would have known only the food that their own soil could offer” (23). Jeremy is uninterested in, to the point of seeming unaware of, the politics of eating local food. For him, it is the “good” thing to do, but only to reclaim a seemingly stable and authentic subjectivity. His ethical commitment which is unclear and centered around authenticity is, thus, only to the local. While eating local food has global consequences – something we are increasingly aware of – these consequences are incidental to Jeremy’s choice. Food is literally only ingredients, components in the expression of traditional models of food preparation; food as something that emerges from biological processes, cultivated by farmers and enmeshed in complex economies does not exist in the world of Stanley Park. Indeed, the only food-related labour that the novel addresses is that of the chef, a highly trained and privileged individual.
Jeremy’s preparation of local food is mirrored throughout the novel to his father’s residence with the homeless inhabitants of the city, particularly those who reside in Stanley Park. Like its attitude toward food, Stanley Park approaches the residents of Stanley Park with “great deference” (14). The Professor sees the residents of Stanley Park as the spiritual descendents of First Nations people: “There had been a First Nation, of course. Squatters later. Men who lived in trees. But this generation was the homeless, the new Stanley Park people” (14). Later the Professor posits the homeless as a symbol of what contemporary culture in its entirety has lost: “In our rootless day and age, our time of strange cultural homelessness – and worse, our societal amnesia about what used to constitute both the rewards and limitations of these roots – I wonder if we might look to these homes… to find an emblem of the deepest roots of all” (136). These two attitudes towards the homeless reduce them to ahistoric symbol and disavows the real contemporary presence of First Nations people in Stanley Park and Vancouver.
A similarly reductive approach is at work in Taylor’s characterization of the three residents of Stanley Park who are given names: Chladek, Siwash, and, most particularly, Caruzo. Indeed, Caruzo (whose name alludes to Enrico Caruso, the early twentieth-century operatic tenor) is a saintly figure, contrasted with the devilish Dante. Caruzo acts as an acolyte to the memory of two brothers murdered in the park in the early 1950s. And this devotion is understood in terms of deeply rooted feelings toward the park:
He went to where the Babes in the Wood were. He found the trail. The secret offshoot. The crush of ferns, the leaning trees that did not touch the sacred ground. He went to the edge of the moss. Right there, he put his hands flat on the ground. Both hands, side by side, the thumb and index fingers touching. His heart beat faster, painfully. He sat in the salal. Sat and could not move. (315)
This passage, which describes the moments before Caruzo’s death from an unknown cause, makes clear his commitment to the park as a physical location. As Stephen Finucan notes, Stanley Park is “a modern morality play with Jeremy Papier’s very soul at stake.” The homeless act, then, as the contemporary catalyst for Jeremy’s spiritual salvation which is expressed through his increased local affiliations. Jeremy and the Professor are fundamentally uninterested in how or why these men are homeless except to understand this as both a chosen and prophetic lifestyle. This seems, in some sense, to be an awfully convenient way of understanding Chladek, Siwash and Caruzo and one that absolves Jeremy, the Professor and the city’s other inhabitants of any ethical or political responsibility to the homeless.
Yet this attitude is in keeping with the text’s more general refusal to approach its commitment to the local in any terms beyond the personal. Both Jeremy’s and his father’s respective investments in locality, are understood in the text as a response to the death of Jeremy’s mother, a no-longer nomadic Roma woman. Jeremy’s father explicitly connects his decisions to live and study in Stanley Park, not only to her death, but to the end of her lapsed nomadism: “it was as if she put down roots and they did not take… when it became apparent to her, she fell back into a place of no place. Unrooted but constrained, celebrating neither. And stranded in this way, she became the key to all of what has consumed me, capturing the universe of my studies in the small frame of a single, very beautiful person” (231). The failed rootedness of the mother and wife becomes the determining factor for son and husband’s obsession with locality. Their commitment to the local, then, is framed as a personal psychological choice, rather than part of a larger commitment to the local as local or as part of a larger global system. Just as Jeremy falls back on the rhetoric of nostalgia to describe his commitment to local food early in the novel, the text uses similar rhetoric to explain his feast of local (scavenged) food at the close of the novel:
in this brave new world of post-national cuisine, Chef Jeremy left his little reminders about what he thought had been lost. He had a whole list of nostalgic examples: regional tastes, local ingredients, passed-down recipes, family farms… And more: embedded in this cuisine… were messages about knowing the earth’s bounty and your connection to it. Understanding where one stood, understanding loyalty and the sanctity of certain soil. (389)
Not only does this make explicit use of nostalgia, it is a nostalgia that is rooted in personal experience and authenticity, with no other particular goals and without a clear referent. Jeremy is nostalgic for the past but a past that remains unidentified.
Jeremy’s local cuisine (like the homeless in Stanley Park), then, is a contemporary symbol that implies a connection to a local and seemingly to an authentic and traditional, though hazy, past. This connection to an authentic past is also echoed in the immediate precursor to Jeremy’s Vancouver restaurant, the rural French restaurant at which he worked as an apprentice. The chef of this restaurant serves, on Sundays, local farmers – whom Jeremy terms the “rubber-boot people. The people from here” (40; emphasis added). This informal and local service acts as an epiphany for Jeremy. At the first Sunday meal that he participates in, Jeremy becomes romantically involved with Patrice, a local woman who works there as a waitress. Significantly, this meal and relationship is juxtaposed with the immediately preceding scene where Jeremy’s father meets and falls in love with Jeremy’s mother over dinner (38-39). This juxtaposition further connects locality with family history exclusively. Jeremy’s epiphany, then, about local food is removed from any connection with global politics; his interest in the “rubber-boot people” is that they are local and like family to the restaurant’s chef, not that they are farmers or less wealthy than the restaurant’s typical patrons.
This local and family-centred vision of food is contrasted most clearly throughout the novel with Dante’s vision for Jeremy’s restaurant after he assumes ownership of it. Like his coffee shops, Dante wants the restaurant to be “post-national,” to be potentially interchangeable with any other restaurant in the world. This homogeneity is coded as cosmopolitan sophistication: the restaurant, like the coffee shops, will belong nowhere and everywhere. Dante’s protégé and Jeremy’s girlfriend in Vancouver, Benny, rejects Jeremy’s initial idea to remake the restaurant as a French bistro, saying “I think of French bistros as belonging in France… Not the hippest option” (252). For Benny and Dante, the most prominent characters to espouse a form of cosmopolitan sophistication, local and traditional forms of dining are inherently limiting and and decidedly “unhip:” “Our power-alley demographics, the twenty-five to forty-five-year-old, new economy, urban, food enthusiasts – what we’re calling the fooderati – they want something wired, post-national, with vibrant flavours. They want unlimited new ingredients, they want grooviness and sophistication, and both purple and gold score very well” (256). Jeremy dismisses, rightly so the novel implies, the focus group’s desire for purple and gold food. This purple and gold food is in direct contrast to the simple food that Jeremy’s mother cooked. The meal that prompts Jeremy’s parents to fall in love is “an old recipe, an open tribute,” a lamb stew with yogurt and lemon (38) and Jeremy, his father, and the inhabitants of Stanley Park cook simply, over open fires. For Benny, Dante and the other sophisticates, newness is everything and tradition, or rootedness, is undesirable.
Taylor’s characterization of Dante’s cosmopolitanism as shallow, elitist and preoccupied with consumption points to the text’s overwhelming rejection of cosmopolitan sensibilities. What reading this text through the lens of territorialized cosmopolitanism allows us to see, however, is the way in which, despite his emphasis on the importance of rooting oneself in the local, Taylor continues to reify binaries between the global and the local that do not reflect their actually existing interconnections. Not only does Taylor ignore where the global currently interacts with the local, but he also suggests that these interactions are necessarily harmful and traumatizing. A territorialized cosmopolitanism suggests, however, that local and global connections are always at work and that, in order to be a citizen of the world, one must find ways to create local and global connections that can be emancipatory and non-marginalizing as a way of resisting the de-territorializing forces of contemporary globalization. Thinking through cosmopolitan sensibilities that have been territorialized not only expands what we mean when we talk about the cosmopolitan but acknowledges the oscillation between the global and the local of everyday lived cosmopolitanism.
My Year of Meats and Global/ Local Responsibility
Like Stanley Park, Ruth L. Ozeki’s 1998 novel, My Year of Meats, takes up the question of food and sustainability. Unlike Taylor’s novel, however, My Year of Meats focuses this discussion on an examination of the production of food rather than the preparation of it. My Year of Meats is told primarily from the perspective of Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American documentary filmmaker, who is hired by an American lobby organization called by BEEF-EX that “represented American meats of all kinds… as well as livestock producers, packers, purveyors, exporters, grain promoters, pharmaceutical companies, and agribusiness groups” (Ozeki 9-10). The lobby, in an attempt to sell American meat in Japan, produces a television program called “My American Wife!” which is a hybrid of documentary and cooking show featuring idealized American housewives preparing featured American meats – essentially acting as an infomercial for the American meat industry. Interspersed with Jane’s travels throughout rural America to find suitable wives to appear on the show is the narrative of Akiko Ueno, the wife of Joichi, a Japanese producer of the “My American Wife!”
Akiko’s bulimia and Joichi’s verbal, physical and sexual violence towards her are connected throughout the novel to Akiko’s role as a Japanese viewer of “My American Wife!” and the way it transforms her views about femininity, motherhood and the eating of meat. Like Akiko, Jane undergoes a similar (though less violent) process of development as she grapples with her own infertility, the result of her mother having been prescribed DES (a synthetic estrogen believed in the first half of the twentieth century to prevent miscarriage) while pregnant with her . Not only was DES prescribed to expectant mothers and menopausal women, it was also used to control the growth and fertility of livestock. The novel, then, sets up a complex relationship between gender, nation, capitalism and the production and eating of meat.
What I want to specifically focus on, however, is how Ozeki imagines territorialized cosmopolitan responsibilities. My Year of Meats actively takes up what it means to be both a global and local citizen, and what ethical and political responsibilities accrue from these positions. Stanley Park, as I have argued, avoids the question of politics at all costs – positioning individual accountability as the only kind available. By contrast, My Year of Meats, while suggesting that individual choices are important, places them in the context of the necessity of larger collective choices. If Taylor’s novel only conceives of food as the materials of a chef’s artistry, Ozeki’s novel emphasizes the complex interconnections between the global and the local, and the producer and the consumer that shape and delimit the consumption and production of food. This focus on interconnections rather than stark oppositions makes My Year of Meats a more territorialized cosmopolitan text rather than the cosmo-multicultural Stanley Park.
Throughout My Year of Meats, Ozeki depicts Jane’s developing cosmopolitan affiliations. Indeed, it is not just that Jane transitions from non-cosmopolitan to cosmopolitan subject but that there is a shift from a cosmopolitanism as individualized identity politics to a territorialized form. While Jane’s attitudes at the beginning of the text are not merely superficial, Ozeki portrays a movement away from a fairly individualized cosmopolitanism to a more clearly collectivized cosmopolitanism. Jane is initially attracted to a superficial and hyper-individualized cosmo-multiculturalism. Her relationship with her sometimes-lover Sloan maps this change. Sloan, who arrives, randomly, at the various locations where Jane films is described in ways that echo Ghassan Hage’s definitions of the cosmo-multiculturalist: “[Jane] started to realize that the world Sloan roamed was much larger and richer than [hers…] He took [her] to exquisite restaurants, where [they] ate rich urchin roe that melted like butter, and paper-thin fugu with chili ponzu sauce, and a thimbleful of black-market caviar, wrapped in a translucent skin and tied with a chive, then covered with trembling pieces of gold leaf” (159). Slon is reminiscent of the way Hage posits the cosmo-multiculturalist: “an essentially ‘mega-urban’ figure: one detached from strong affiliation with roots and consequently open to all forms of otherness” and “just as important as his or her urban nature, the cosmopolite is a class figure and a White person, capable of appreciating and consuming ‘high-quality’ commodities and cultures, including ‘ethnic’ culture. That is, it is a class figure in a cultural sense” (201; emphasis in original). Sloan’s “larger and richer” world echoes Dante’s in Stanley Park where food is ostensibly dis-located from any kind of labour or ethno-traditional, and economic context.
Yet while Sloan’s cosmo-multiculturalism is initially appealing and enticing to Jane, she begins to view it as empty, sterile and isolating. This becomes particularly evident to her once she visits his Chicago apartment: “There is nothing soft about Sloan’s apartment. It is all polished surfaces, acute angles, hard glass, cold chrome, and leather. Like an abattoir, it could be hosed down without too much difficulty if anything unsightly, like an attachment or a sentiment, happened to splatter the walls” (220). As Monica Chiu notes, this description suggests that it is Jane “who has come to be slaughtered” (113). Chiu goes on to suggest that the end of the novel – where the status of Jane’s and Sloan’s relationship is unclear “underscores the novel’s wary stance toward men and the impossibility of a harmonious and workable heterosexual relationship” (113). Yet this changing relationship also marks a shift away from the superficial and hyper-individualized cosmo-multiculturalism that Jane, through Sloan, begins to adopt towards the socially responsible territorialized cosmopolitanism that Jane espouses by the close of the novel. Jane’s footage from the Dunn feedlot, revealing the illegal and ongoing use of DES, is in demand from “every major television news program and talk show in the country” as well as from Japanese and European news outlets (355-56). The demand for Jane’s footage seems, in many ways, to be a wish-fulfillment-happy ending yet it nonetheless suggests a new kind of global orientation for Jane.
This is a global orientation that leads Jane to recognize ethical and political responsibilities to people other than her, locally and globally, and to recognize that she herself holds local as well as global affiliations. This is not to suggest that she is unethical or irresponsible at the beginning of the novel but that, through developing a territorialized cosmopolitan world-view, these responsibilities become more conscious and explicit. Jane recognizes her own global culpability as a documentarian – a culpability that she had previously ignored or misunderstood: “I have heard myself protesting, ‘I didn’t know!’ but this is not true… I knew enough. But I needed a job. So when My American Wife! was offered to me, I chose to ignore what I knew… Maybe this exempts me as an individual, but it sure makes me entirely culpable as a global media maker” (334-35; emphasis in original). Jane’s new sense of responsibility as global media maker is distinct from her earlier acknowledgement of her own ethical dis-engagement from the results of her job (176).
Shameem Black suggests that “in contrast to words such as ‘transnational’ or ‘global,’ which can describe both progressive and hegemonic phenomena, ‘cosmopolitanism’… suggests a provisionally viable way of conceptualizing and forming communities across cultural borders. As a way of envisioning other people and imagining affiliations among them, cosmopolitanism attempts to encode an elusive ideal within imperfect histories” (228). Black further argues that, particularly, in My Year of Meats this elusive ideal centers on technologies of female fertility. What I am suggesting, however, is that Jane is situated as a global and local citizen at a number of different points – not all of which are solely reducible to questions about her fertility (though this certainly plays a central role in this narrative). Ozeki’s attention to genre and form, and its role in shaping ethics and politics is particularly global in focus, despite her attention on two of the most prominent First-World nation-states, Japan and the United States. As Palumbo-Liu writes (52), Ozeki “is especially interested in the different ways in which people might be affected by literary texts and by media images so as to act ethically and with a sense of being together.”
The way that an audience is affected by texts and images is particularly evident in Akiko’s storyline; “her story traces a shift from a passive audience to an active one, detailing her ability to read subversive (if romantic) lessons between the lines of television corporate messaging” (Black 233). While Joichi’s violent rape of Akiko is ultimately what leads her to leave him and move to the U.S., it is the episodes of “My American Wife!” that he demands she watch that establish the conditions of possibility for her to leave him. In a fax that she surreptitiously sends to Jane, whom she only knows from her husband’s communications and the televsion show she produces, Akiko articulates (in broken English) how central the program has been to her changing sense of herself: “I feel compelled to writing for the reason of your program of the Lesbian’s couple with two childrens was very emotional for me. So thank you firstly for change my life. Because of this program, I feel I can trust to you so that I can be so bold” (213-14). Once Akiko arrives in the U.S., she goes to visit two of the families featured on the show. One couple – the lesbian couple she mentions in her fax to Jane – helps her to find an apartment of her own. Once Akiko is on her own, she begins to frame herself as a writer – a producer, rather than consumer, of culture: “she had to write, otherwise it would never end” (347). This writing takes the form of a letter to Joichi to make clear the reasons why she left him; she “had plenty of very good reasons for leaving, and she wanted him to know each one” (347). Yet her use of the list as a genre echoes the excerpts from the medieval Japanese author Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book which frame each chapter of My Year of Meats and which both Jane and Akiko read from frequently. If Akiko’s “prose becomes exuberant, fluid, and exhibits a style much different than Shōnagon’s and inflected with a new confidence” (Chiu 118), it nonetheless remains connected to the generic format of Shōnagon’s work.
While Akiko’s development in My Year of Meats does not conclude with the ethical and political awakening that Jane’s does, it nonetheless maps a journey from individualism, even isolation, towards community. Akiko’s writing now has an audience, even a small audience and only Joichi, suggests a shift from its previously private nature when she hid her poetry under her mattress. Jane queries the audience of her own work, asking “who would want to see it?” (335), yet sends it on to those who have acted as pedagogical guides for her. Akiko’s writing follows a similar trajectory – though on a somewhat different scale. While Jane’s text seems to grapple more explicitly with questions of ethical and political responsibility, Akiko’s text demands similar sorts of responsibility from Joichi: it demands that he consider his ethical failings and responsibilities to her and other women. What Akiko’s text then makes visible is the near-impossibility of confidently producing a pedagogical response from an audience. Joichi might read Akiko’s letter and learn something – or he might not. Similarly, the viewers of Jane’s documentary might learn the lesson she intends it to produce – or they might not. What is important in My Year of Meats is the attempt to teach these lessons without any particular assurances of the outcome; “how do stories do their work? Once affect has been installed, how is it supposed to be harnessed to an ethical action” (Palumbo-Liu 58)?
Similar questions are at work in the formal structures of Ozeki’s novel itself. My Year of Meats is a notably hybrid text stylistically, using a number of different formats and rhetorical styles: there are faxes, letters, articles, “documentary interludes,” a television script, footnotes, a list of further reading at the end provided by “Jane,” the excerpts from Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, and then the narrative itself which follows a relatively straightforward realist pattern (it progresses in a linear fashion and attempts for a kind of verisimilitude). These hybrid formal qualities perform the majority of the text’s pedagogical function. Not only is there the development of a cosmopolitanism of social justice depicted, in Jane, in the text’s narrative, but the content of the text itself attempts to provide the same kind of education for the reader that Jane receives as she films “My American Wife!” Like with Akiko’s poetry, it is perhaps impossible to judge the success of such a goal. Nonetheless, this marks a significant difference from Taylor’s Stanley Park which satisfies itself with a more straightforward narrative style and much less explicit pedagogical project. As Julie Sze suggests, “the novel… connects meat production with global consumption, including advertising, that functions to create and shape the needs and desires of individual consumers and in national and global markets.” The bulk of these connections are made through the narrative itself. Jane acts as audience stand-in/ witness to “international crimes and explores how women combat them [articulating] new forms of personal, political, and narrative organization that help to build a cosmofeminist future” (Black 231).
Through the use of documentary interludes, footnotes, and the list of further reading, Ozeki (acting as ventriloquist through Jane) demands that her readers act as witnesses to the immense local and global physical and environment costs of the global meat industry and to the less quantifiable costs of global media. In other words, Ozeki seeks to make territorialized cosmopolitan subjects of her readers, encouraging them to see their own local enmeshment in global systems through the very food they eat. The effectiveness of this in My Year of Meats in comparison to the failed political challenge of Stanley Park lies in the fluidity between the individual and the collective, the fictional and the extra-fictional (here I mean the world outside the novel, rather than just the non-fictional elements of the novel itself). One of the possible criticisms of the novel is its (seemingly too tidy) happy ending: Jane and Sloan tentatively re-start their relationship, though its status does remain ambiguous; Akiko has left the abusive Joichi and creates a community of women for herself in the United States; and Jane’s damning footage of the Dunn feedlot has garnered a great deal of media interest. Ironically, the close of the novel has Jane observing that “I don’t think I can change my future simply by writing a happy ending. That’s too easy and not so interesting” (361). Yet Ozeki suggests in the interview included in the trade paperback edition of the novel that “happy endings satisfy the emotions, and I wanted to provide that type of satisfying narrative closure in the hope that it would free the intellect to continue its trajectory beyond the story line, pondering the issues the book raises” (13). For Ozeki, then, the pedagogical is not limited to the educational process but must include the transformation of that learning into global and local political action. Shameem Black argues that “the governing assumption behind her explanation suggests that the emotional paralysis and ambiguity of ambivalent narrative endings directly translate into intellectual and political stasis. Complex, open endings, she implies, mire the reader within the social space of the novel and prohibit the translation of affect into action” (247). In Stanley Park, it is a primarily an aesthetic and emotional response that is demanded. This form of affect is certainly at work in My Year of Meats yet it is explicitly connected, through the narrative itself and its formal elements, to a global politics.
What My Year of Meats theorizes, then, is the way a territorialized cosmopolitanism might lead to a real sense of commitment to the other citizens of the globe. Jane and Akiko feel real commitments to specific places in both Japan and the United States. In Stanley Park, commitments are much more singular and lead only to expressions of sub-local solidarities. Jeremy and his father are connected only to the memory of their mother and wife and the inhabitants of Stanley Park – not even the other inhabitants of Vancouver. What these two novels help us to understand, then, is the problems of over-emphasizing the local and rejecting too readily the global as a site of possibility. Instead, what My Year of Meats points to is the political potential of taking local and global commitments and translating them locally or globally. What Ozeki usefully argues is the foreshortened possibilities that emerge when we ignore our roles as both global and local citizens.
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Author biography: Dr. Emily Johansen is a lecturer in the Department of Global Studies as well as the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.