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"The Great Kobe Beef Lie" - Forbes Lays Down Some Unhappy Facts

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"I will state this as clearly as possible:

You cannot buy Japanese Kobe beef in this country. Not in stores, not by mail, and certainly not in restaurants. No matter how much you have spent, how fancy a steakhouse you went to, or which of the many celebrity chefs who regularly feature “Kobe beef” on their menus you believed, you were duped."

- Larry Olmsted, _Forbes_ 2012-04-12

Read the article.

(ETA: Don links parts 2 and 3 of the article downthread here)

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Very interesting. That the author's claim is likely true isn't so surprising. That all media got this wrong would be more surprising in the era of the internet and aggressive investigative diy journalists on every corner and behind every monitor.

Beyond the kobe news, this is the line that most caught my attention:

As far as regulators here are concerned, Kobe beef, unlike say Florida Orange Juice, means almost nothing

With that line, the author has been duped. If interested in the scam that is "pure" and "not from concentrate" florida orange juice in this country, I'd enthusiastically recommend this excellent, substantive and positively eye-opening book:

Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice (Paperback)

By Alissa Hamilton

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"I will state this as clearly as possible:

You cannot buy Japanese Kobe beef in this country. Not in stores, not by mail, and certainly not in restaurants. No matter how much you have spent, how fancy a steakhouse you went to, or which of the many celebrity chefs who regularly feature “Kobe beef” on their menus you believed, you were duped."

Really?

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I'd like there to be a Part 3, where they try to calmy explain to people that even if their $40 Kobe Burger came from the most impeccably marbled beef on the freaking planet, once you grind it up it's irrelevant.

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Japanese beef is currently banned from being sold in the US. I think Todd Kliman actually tried to make people aware of that in his chat about a year ago, in reference to something "kobe" that a person said they had at Blue Duck. Unfortunate that its banned because I'd propose another tasting dinner (at Vidalia) as a great forum to dissect the issue that the author has.

While I do see a major flaw in the article, (which is apparently going to be addressed in part 2) I believe I do agree with the spirit of what he's trying to write. Assuming that what he's really driving at is people (mostly restaurants) misleading people about something so they can charge more for it.

Since the above would be a rather lengthy post/tirade, I would like to make a comment about America as a society. I think we as a group like to throw around words that are easy for us to identify with. As it pertains to the food industry I think it is because we have a pretty young food culture. In the rapidly changing world of technology its because we tend to lead innovation in those areas. The monetary issue aside, is there that much difference between the way people have thrown around terms like caviar, champagne, google or xerox?

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I'd like there to be a Part 3, where they try to calmy explain to people that even if their $40 Kobe Burger came from the most impeccably marbled beef on the freaking planet, once you grind it up it's irrelevant.

You know, after I saw Wagyu for the first time, that was my initial thought - it is only worth the money intact.

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This is a reprise of the old US/France dispute over champagne.

The article seems to me to be deliberately misleading, for journalistic effect. That you cannot have "true" or "genuine" Kobe beef in the US is true, but in a legal, not a culinary sense. "Kobe" applied to beef is an appellation, a legal distinction, a trademark. That distinction is not recognized in the US, so I could label any piece of beef in the US as Kobe and not break any US laws (I could not, however, sell OJ made from oranges grown in California, or Brazil, as Florida orange juice in the US, and that is the basis of that line in the story).

So as a practical matter it depends on whether you personally believe that beef from Wagyu cattle raised in a particular geographical area in Japan is truly distinguished from and better than beef from genetically identical Wagyu cattle raised the same way in other areas of Japan or other places in the world. If you do believe that, fine. But you will likely be paying more for the experience, and the added price certainly devolves from a legal distinction; whether that legal distinction carries over to the characteristics of that which is on you plate is less clear.

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I think we as a group like to throw around words that are easy for us to identify with. As it pertains to the food industry I think it is because we have a pretty young food culture. In the rapidly changing world of technology its because we tend to lead innovation in those areas. The monetary issue aside, is there that much difference between the way people have thrown around terms like caviar, champagne, google or xerox?

Marketing is a major factor in our changing language, and it's not just connotations that change. One example is "house" vs. "home". "House" is a concrete noun: a building people live in. "Home" is abstract: it's where the heart is. But who wants to buy a building when they can buy a dream? We've seen "new home for sale" for so long now that the two words have lost their distinctions.

It's serious business (money) to have a brand name become the generic word for a product or process. (google, xerox, kleenex, band-aid)

There are plenty of examples in the food world, not just for trademarked items or appellations. When's the last time you saw an actual Napoleon on the menu? Do people remember Napoleons? Pretty soon now it will lose its quotes (the written indicator of a winking eye) and then it will be a generic noun meaning "ingredients assembled in layers".

Possibly with another couple cups of coffee I could recall more examples. Anyway, I'm pretty sure I've seen "kobe" (lower case) used generically to mean "well-marbled". Though more honest establishments will write "kobe-style".

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This is a reprise of the old US/France dispute over champagne.

The article seems to me to be deliberately misleading, for journalistic effect. That you cannot have "true" or "genuine" Kobe beef in the US is true, but in a legal, not a culinary sense. "Kobe" applied to beef is an appellation, a legal distinction, a trademark. That distinction is not recognized in the US, so I could label any piece of beef in the US as Kobe and not break any US laws (I could not, however, sell OJ made from oranges grown in California, or Brazil, as Florida orange juice in the US, and that is the basis of that line in the story).

So as a practical matter it depends on whether you personally believe that beef from Wagyu cattle raised in a particular geographical area in Japan is truly distinguished from and better than beef from genetically identical Wagyu cattle raised the same way in other areas of Japan or other places in the world. If you do believe that, fine. But you will likely be paying more for the experience, and the added price certainly devolves from a legal distinction; whether that legal distinction carries over to the characteristics of that which is on you plate is less clear.

A glass of Chambertin with that, please.

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The US is one of the few countries with a lack of automatic recognition of the name of origins of traditional products. When Korbel is labeled champagne and the Kraft crap in a box is labeled cheese, much less Parmesan, it does not degrade the original to anyone with knowledge, but it prevents the new and inexperienced from learning about the real thing.

This is a list of lies that are acceptable on US labels

US wine label laws tell us what lies are allowable {ie 75% pinot noir grape can be called pinot noir etc.} In all my years in the wine business, I have never heard a small winery say that having to put exact label percentages of grapes on a wine if it was less than 100% would be onerous, not anywhere near as onerous as having to report inventories on hand in different formats, on different days of the month, as of different forms of the month, in different units etc. Ridge winery, {yes now owned by a large corporation but still run as a medium sized winery, has had transparent labeling on EVERY bottle of wine it has ever sold. It can be done

It's funny that the folk who passed these laws that serve to help the large scale producer, are also the ones up in arms about intellectual property rights. Yet, we don't respect brand names that most of the rest of the world enforces as a matter of routine. We don't respect the consumers right to make a decision on facts.

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Yet, we don't respect brand names that most of the rest of the world enforces as a matter of routine. We don't respect the consumers right to make a decision on facts.

Not exactly. I'm not a trademark lawyer, but I think a "brand name" is respected and enforced in the US same as elsewhere, provided it is registered in the country being asked to do the respecting, as most brand names are these days -- everybody has heard the "Aspirin" story. The problem here is that terms like "kobe" and "parmesan" are not and never were brand names (as far as I know), but are general geographic descriptors used by a variety of producers originally in a certain area but then "adopted" by those elsewhere. Had the original producers gotten together and gotten them properly registered in time, they could have headed the problem off. But they didn't. Nothing special about this in the US. It happens all the time everywhere, or at least it used to before folks got smart. I remember being offered a "Chicago" steak in Singapore that I'm confident was never near Chicago.

So I don't see us as being the "bad guys" you suggest. We handle it pretty much the same way everybody else does. The onus is on the producers.

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In my post, I mistakenly used brand name in one place, but I was talking about traditional place names recognized under the DOP and the worldwide convention signed by most of the world, but not by China and the US. Argentina stopped allowing parmesan use years ago in favor of Reggianito. But you can still bu Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

We are different than Europe, Japan, Australia and parts of South America and the countries that make up the lion's share of our trade {with the exception of China.} The facts say that we are not on the side of most of the world.

Just because things are accepted does not make them acceptable. We differ in opinion, but you can't have your own facts.

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I was talking about traditional place names recognized under the DOP and the worldwide convention signed by most of the world, but not by China and the US.

Could you give me a cite on that?

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http://en.wikipedia...._European_Union

If you look at the fact that the Eu and the countries listed {plus many others} are the majority of our trade partners, we are out of step.

Also, in some of the countries who are not siignitories to the bi lateral agreements, the proctices in fact are not like they are in the US. For example, in my role as cheese buyer for Whole Foods SoPac region, I never came across the use of place names in cheese like that if the US, even if not prohibited by treaty.

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http://en.wikipedia...._European_Union

If you look at the fact that the Eu and the countries listed {plus many others} are the majority of our trade partners, we are out of step.

Also, in some of the countries who are not signitories to the bi lateral agreements, the practices in fact are not like they are in the US. For example, in my role as cheese buyer for Whole Foods SoPac region, I never came across the use of place names in cheese like that if the US, even if not prohibited by treaty.

I'm certainly aware of the EU restrictions in this regard. However, these internal EU restrictions are only applicable and enforceable against producers in other countries if there is a bi-lateral treaty between the EU and whatever country. In fact, that is always the case, ie if such local distinctions in one country were to be enforced in some other country. But if you read the article you can see that such bi-laterals are few and far between, are very limited in their coverage, and have been reached mostly where both countries have something to protect and thus have a basis to cut a deal. They are certainly not comprehensive as you suggest.

AS a practical matter, most foods with a famous local name designation are European, and they clearly have an interest in protection of those names and do so where they have legal jurisdiction, ie within the EU and against EU exporters. But few countries outside the EU protect those names within their own territories -- the US is far from alone on this, and is not "out of step" as you claim. That is the fact, not an opinion. But because we are a much larger buyer of these items, perhaps the situation arises with us in the popular mind more often. Maybe it therefore seems we are bad guys, but I'm sorry I don't buy it.

Coming back to kobe beef, where this thread started, how many countries can you say protect the term? How many handle it differently from the US?

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Coming back to kobe beef, where this thread started, how many countries can you say protect the term? How many handle it differently from the US?

How is Kobe any different than Mosel-Saar-Ruwer? The cattle is called wagyu; the wine is called riesling.

What would you think if someone had a store overseas that sold "Crabs from the Chesapeake Bay" that weren't? What's the difference?

Forgetting "what you can get away with," maybe it's time people starting thinking about basic right and wrong.

The only reason "kobe" has become a semi-generic word is because restaurants have abused the term and misled the public. Maybe I should open a restaurant and call it "Wolfgang Puck" - we'll see how much he likes it. And maybe if he complains, I'll change the name to "Virginia Wolfgang Puck" and make sure to use his recipes. Incidentally, this post appears to no longer be relevant because their current menu, once again, features "American Style" Kobe Short Ribs. There are probably a couple dozen restaurants in town guilty of similar transgressions, so by no means do I wish to single out The Source for duping consumers. I like The Source and Scott Drewno has always been nice to me. I do not wish to implicate Scott for any of this - I have to think this is coming straight from corporate. BLT Steak is equally guilty, as evidenced by numerous examples of "Kobe" on their menu ("Grilled Kobe Skirt Steak Salad," "Smoked Kobe Brisket," etc.). These two restaurants should be ashamed of themselves for having led the way in perpetuating this questionable marketing scheme.

PS - A very interesting and highly relevant tweet from The Pure Pasty Company just now.

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The only reason "kobe" has become a semi-generic word is because restaurants have abused the term and misled the public. Maybe I should open a restaurant and call it "Wolfgang Puck" - we'll see how much he likes it. And maybe if he complains, I'll change the name to "Virginia Wolfgang Puck" and make sure to use his recipes.

Don, have you been hitting up the London KFC knockoffs again?

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Don, have you been hitting up the London KFC knockoffs again?

Kind of complicates the issue, doesn't it. I've been seeing "Maryland Fried Chicken" around the country my whole life (and even though I grew up in Maryland, I don't even know what Maryland Fried Chicken is).

Just to play devil's advocate, what's the difference between saying "Kobe beef" and advertising an "Italian restaurant?"

My instinct is that if an area cares enough to protect their cultural heritage, one must pay respect to that. I'm not saying you have to honor it 100% of the time, but it merits attention and thoughtfulness.

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My instinct is that if an area cares enough to protect their cultural heritage, one must pay respect to that. I'm not saying you have to honor it 100% of the time, but it merits attention and thoughtfulness.

Unfortunately, some do, and some just don't.

Borrowing the punchline from an old joke: "In my heart I know you're right, but, business is business."

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Unfortunately, some do, and some just don't.

Borrowing the punchline from an old joke: "In my heart I know you're right, but, business is business."

Which brings me to mink coats and pink slime...

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PS Larry Olmsted has also written a Part Two (I learned something about "Wagyu" from this) and Part Three for Forbes.

Mr. Olmsted and I are on the same page, and are clearly thinking about this issue the same way. My examples of Chesapeake Bay Crab and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer were things I thought of independently, before I even knew the above two articles were written. The reason? It's just so logical.

As to why I feel so passionately about this issue ... I'm not sure, actually. It's not as important as curing cancer. I guess it's just something I've respected (having come into the food world as a passionate student of wine) for so long now, and also having had my original, creative work stolen by other media outlets, that it just strikes a nerve. Artists and artisans should have their labors, hard work, traditions, and unique attributes honored and respected, and that goes for individuals, regions, and yes, businesses. I don't think you can say "well what about xerox, kleenex, and coke?" because in those cases, I suspect the companies are delighted to have had their products become part of our everyday lexicon. A vastly different situation. (Ever ordered a "coke," and had someone ask, "Is Pepsi okay?" Rest assured they're under orders from Pepsi to do so.)

An interesting discussion for me. Thanks for starting it and keeping it going.

Rocks

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Unfortunately, some do, and some just don't.

Borrowing the punchline from an old joke: "In my heart I know you're right, but, business is business."

And that is the problem. Profitable does not imply right. RIch does not imply a moral superiority. Power does not imply the right to run over others.

Some person a couple of thousand years ago said "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

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I think the real issue here, if we are arguing by analogy, is the abuse of the term Kobe Beef is the same as if one were to go to the Ritz Carlton and pay $28 for a Champagne Cocktail made with Korbel, or to Citronelle and pay $50 for Fresh Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes made out of tinned Indonesian Blue Swimming Crab. Or paying $35 for two "Day Boat" scallops because the dishwasher was listening to Harry Belafonte when he opened up the gallon tin of 10-20 scallops.

It is not a trademark or AOC or cultural heritage issue, it is a deceptive practices issue--exacerbated by the pervasive ignorance of restaurant reviewers who are more concerned with bathroom decor than knowledge of food and wine; and the pervasive culture of media-whoring in the restaurant business today.

N. B.: I did not mean to imply that those things occur at the Ritz or Citronelle, they were the first names to come to my mind as paragons of reputation and the finest of ingredients.

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