The Steak Is a Lie

Why there ain’t no such thing as Kobe beef or wagyu beef in this country, but there is such a thing as customers getting scammed.

Via Ace of Spades.

I’d feel happy about this, except that Obama was eating a lot of fake “Kobe” beef with my good money.

To a certain extent, I sympathize with the traditional American use of food names as somewhat generic. If somebody says you’re drinking champagne, of course it’s not from Champagne unless it’s labeled as French champagne. Budweiser from the US doesn’t have to be Budweiser from Prague. I’m not going to give up Parmesan cheese just because it’s not Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Also, EU food regulations have often acted to strangle several regional food traditions about how to make X food, in favor of the one region that did a lot of paperwork and spent money. There are huge numbers of sausage varieties in Europe that the EU food regulations have attempted to make illegal, for example. I hate to think what they’d do to Cincinnati bratwurst if they had a chance, much less the Wisconsin kind. And it would be horrible to declare there was only one legal variety of chili.

But OTOH, it’s pretty clear that people are paying the big bucks to get a specific style of beef from specific cattle from Kobe, and they’re not getting that. It’s a scam.

UPDATE: Okay, maybe it’s not a scam so much as incomplete info needing better marketing….

Read the comments – Foxfier has many useful things to say.


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13 responses to “The Steak Is a Lie

  1. I’ve got a family friend that raises “Kobe beef” (Wagyu). They imported the bulls or their ancestors, IIRC.
    (American cattle are classed by the bloodline of the bull; thus, my folks sell “pure black angus” that’s born from cows of a wide range of colors and genetic backgrounds; I suspect some were even dairy, from their temper! The ones sold on their father’s pedigree are at least black, though, and almost every cow they have that’s under 15 had a papered father, now….)

    I kind of wonder if the guy did any research at all on beef labels, though– I suspect he was looking for government regulation, not certification. I assure you that my folks work harder for their certified natural classification than for the pure black Angus one.

    Just reached page 2. This guy is… so full of it, his eyes turned brown.

    My husband just walked by and– I kid you not– asked “The great Kobe scam?” I explained the allegation, and he blinked and went “and? I thought everyone knew that ‘Kobe’ is Wagyu.

    The walk-back link sounds like he was TOLD how he was wrong, with evidence, and is trying to save face.

    Ignorant town kid. /rude

  2. Shorter:
    cows aren’t clocks. The “manufacture” of beef is not going to be well understood by someone who seems to expect the Gov’t to decide what everything is.

    A nice start would be if he’d mention when “Kobe” got trademarked in Japan…..

  3. Thirty seconds of searching:

    My family friend has been raising these things for longer than that; freaking scam.

    • Well, I’m perfectly cool with eating beef from Japanese breeds of cow, or from crossbreeds of Japanese and other breeds of cow. “American Wagyu” I don’t have a problem with; it says openly what’s going on. I’d even be fine with “Kobe-style” or “Japanese-style”, because it tells you what’s going on.

      But I don’t want to win the lottery, spend 200 bucks on a “Kobe steak”, and only then find out it not only wasn’t from pampered bovines living in their tiny corner of Japan, but was made out of normal beef from down the road. There are plenty of American steakhouses that will sell you bodacious steak that melts in your mouth, including one that is about a mile and a half from me and famous for making even presidents wait in the bar to be seated. (And it doesn’t claim to serve “Kobe beef” — although frankly, they only change their menu in tiny ways, and I’m not sure they’d admit to having heard of it!)

      That was the part of the article where I thought the guy went a bit ape. I mean, just because the English came up with Thoroughbred horses doesn’t mean that American Thoroughbreds aren’t the same breed. And of course, there are all manner of things people do with various breeds without it being any kind of con, as long as you clearly give a new name to a slightly different subbreed.

      The other thing I thought was hilarious was the way the guy didn’t go into detail about why the USDA doesn’t like Japanese slaughterhouses. Is this going to gross us out, or is this some case where the USDA wanted something crazy?

      • But don’t worry; I’m not going to argue cow stuff with cow people….

      • I see it as exactly the same as the power-grab of saying no champain made outside of France is the real stuff; it’s the opposite of the Kleenex phenomina. Also symptomatic of abuse of gov’t for a business advantage, but that’s another rant.

        Imagine if hamburgers were really originally from Hamburg; would it make sense for them to suddenly declare that any made outside of Hamburg were just “sandwiches made in the Hamburg style” and must be labled as such?

        Not trying to start the argument you mentioned you don’t want; just elaborating why I’m so irate.

      • It may be a function of people nearer the coasts (or in areas more important to the beef industry) hearing more about Kobe beef earlier, whereas the rest of us never even heard the phrase until 2008 or so. Anyway, I polled my family, and they all agreed that they thought Kobe beef was beef shipped straight from Kobe and surrounding areas. So if I was uninformed, at least I had an army of the uninformed with me!

        The beef marketing people obviously need to do a cool YouTube video making everybody feel good about true blue American Kobe beef and Japanese bull immigration. 🙂

      • Update — Apparently the USDA banned Japanese beef imports into the US as retaliation for when the Japanese banned exported US beef during the mad cow thing. When the Japanese ban was lifted, some US slaughterhouses went to the trouble of getting re-certified for export to Japan by the Japanese, but the Hyogo prefecture slaughterhouses didn’t bother to get re-certified for export to us (presumably since they had enough sales without).

        All Japanese beef was re-banned from the US in 2010 because the USDA suspected foot and mouth disease. It was only supposed to be a temporary ban; yet it’s still going. Hmmmm.

        The Japanese copyrighting-in-Japan of the term “Kobe beef” was probably partly done as part of this altercation, but probably mostly it was a move of the Hyogo prefecture cattlemen vs others in Japan, probably including newbies in Hyogo prefecture (which probably explains the breed specificity disallowing other breeds of Japanese cattle).

        So the writer guy was leaving out some important info.

        I wonder if the Japanese are trying to re-enter the US market, or if this is just the writer off on a tear?

      • I’d guess it’s a case of being too proud of too little knowledge, with a heavy dose of trying to protect something he did that was pretty cool. (Going to Tokyo and trying Kobe raised Kobe beef.)

        It clearly worked great for highly intelligent people who just happen to not know much of anything about the cattle industry and didn’t bother to research anything they “know”….

        Just texted my mom. She corrected me on the family friend; the cows are papered, too, because it’s such a boom business. (Makes great sense– breed the ones that have great form, butcher the rest.)
        . She also rather subtly reminded me that American beef folks tend to have breed associations.

      • We were stationed in Japan for a while, too, and TrueBlue even tried genuine Kobe beef at one point.

        Plus, I think that Seattle is where it got started– the Seattle PI has a big to-do about it from 99 in the archives.

        I know it’s not authoritative, but when I searched for “Kobe burger” most of the results had stuff like this, telling the history of “kobe.”

      • This whole thread is making me hungry.

      • If you were closer, I’d invite you over for natural, grass-fed black angus burgers!

      • Yummmmm. Yet another reason to invent practical teleportation!

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