Abject bodies and toxic flows in Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats
Things that Give an Unclean Feeling (Shōnagon)
In the seventh month of Jane Takagi-Little’s narration of her ‘year of meats’, she explains her incredulity at the dirty secret she finds within the preface of Fry’s Grammar School Geography: the essential conflict of man versus life. Ruth Ozeki’s novel My Year of Meats (1998) exposes the flows of power, violence and materiality that connect us with the meat we eat, the food we cook, and the ways we buy it in a globalized, capitalist world. This paper focuses on how the abject and the toxic, as they manifest across female and animal bodies, troubles the notion of a delineated sovereign subject. Instead, these processes can be seen as transgressing and dissolving the bounds of the body, and in doing so, also cause a slippage between other normative binaries; between inside and outside, self and other, and human and food. Abjection and toxicity are related but divergent embodied experiences in the novel and reveal how American food production and consumption contaminates across the scales of the environment, the transnational and the body. For this novel, meat is so much more than what’s for dinner.