“I did it all for the money, Lord, it’s what it seems…”

by Katie Pizzuto on April 22, 2012

in Beef

I was sitting in the quiet of a few stolen moments before party guests arrived, contemplating this piece, when I received an email from a blogger friend telling me that a fellow soulmate of sorts had suddenly passed away. Those of you that have read this blog for more than a couple of years know that I’ve raved before about Oxford Falls and their amazing bloody mary mixes. Behind that name was a man who, beyond being a mad talent in his R&D kitchen, was a kind, beautiful soul who made a shitload of friends on Twitter that now mourn his passing. None of us ever got the chance to meet him, but his snarky, off-center comments kinda walked hand in hand with a warm sincerity that you knew was genuine and unflinching. I gave pause and thought, damn, I should really just dedicate an entire post to him, but he no doubt would have kicked my ass for putting aside what I had intended to write in the first place. Jim Mosier is too soon gone, but from where he sits now (with a cold, spicy bloody mary in his hand) he wants you to know that you are being had…

I can no longer count—nor to do I care to honestly, at this point—how many menus I’ve perused in New York City that offer a dish made with Kobe Beef. I’d liken that offering to the guy outside just a block down, selling Louis Vuitton purses for 15 bucks, but that would be an insult to the street vendor because at least he isn’t fucking you silly while he’s bending you over…after all, you know that purse isn’t really a Louis Vuitton, and you don’t much care because you’re only paying a fraction of what the real ones cost. But those $40 Kobe burgers at the Scam the Schmuck Bistro? They’re not real, either. Chances are, unless you’ve been to Japan you have not had Kobe beef.

You can’t buy Japanese Kobe beef in the US. No store, no restaurant, no “gourmet importer” in this country carries it. It’s doesn’t matter how much of your paycheck you’ve blown, or what rock star chef you trusted with the beef on your plate, if you ordered Kobe beef in the US you were unequivocally fucked. There is absolutely no way you have tasted the master of meats called Kobe. Why? Because since 2010 it has been illegal to import any Japanese beef. And before 2010 you could only import boneless fresh Japanese beef, none of which was real Kobe. In fact, the only place Kobe beef is exported to is Macao. Ever been there? Can you even find it on a map?! China.

Restaurant critics may rave about it, your favorite food rag may dedicate an entire issue to it, online vendors may gladly ship it to you, but “it” simply isn’t Kobe. And answering how they could possibly get away with it is sadly easy. It’s unregulated. Why? Because we Americans have a flare for thievery. In the same way that a New Jersey winery can call their sparkling wine “Champagne” if they feel like it, “Kobe Meat” may be a patented term in Japan, but it’s not recognized or protected by US law. Here, Kobe means nothing. Actually, wait, no, that’s not quite accurate. Here, Kobe means high profits because it means nothing.

The con the US food industry is selling you is that the paycheck-worthy steak on your plate is somehow linked to a heritage of excellence and culinary superiority. It ain’t. And if you are somehow able to put that aside and think that at the very least…if nothing else…you are getting the domestic equivalent of that Kobe cattle, you ain’t. In Japan, to be Kobe requires a pure lineage of Tajima-gyu breed cattle. The animal must also have been born in Hyogo prefecture and thus raised on the local grasses and water and terroir its entire life. It takes much longer to raise for consumption, must be processed in a Hyogo slaughterhouse—none of which export to the US—and then pass a strict government grading exam. There are only 3000 head of certified Kobe Beef cattle in the world, and none are outside Japan. The process is so strict that when the beef is sold, either in stores or restaurants, it must carry the 10-digit identification number so customers know what particular Tajima-gyu cow it came from.

Here, our government lets the cattle, retail and restaurant industries call nearly anything Kobe beef. You may be buying it because of its reputation, but what you are getting is a trampled version of it. Trampled literally under foot. It’s not Kobe—hell, it’s not even Japanese—it’s just a cow. And if they try to put on an air of transparency and sell you “Domestic Kobe” or Wagyu, know that they are still screwing with your head. That has little to no meaning here, either. US ranchers have crossbred cattle, both Eastern and Western, until they’ve become kissin’ cousins, to produce a bloodline that usually only has a hint of Japanese heredity…yet they still call that resulting breed Wagyu. So the burger may be juicy, it may be really damned tasty, and it will no doubt be costly, but it definitely isn’t Kobe. The only true Kobe you can pay to experience in America graces a basketball court, not a dinner plate.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey April 23, 2012

It’s a form of counterfeiting really isn’t it? If it was a brand name shoes or a record, the companies would be concerned about this fake…. Coz it’s food, it’s different!

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2 Katie Pizzuto April 23, 2012

If our legislative body can’t be bothered to define “natural” foods and draws really blurry lines with what “cage free” chickens are, they obviously aren’t too worried about what consumers believe they are consuming.

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3 Elle April 23, 2012

I’ve never bought anything Kobe, so I don’t feel cheated. I have to laugh a little that it’s just plain old cow. I feel badly for the people that maybe saved and splurged on some “Kobe Beef,” but not for the idiots that just want to buy the status symbol and say “I only eat Kobe Beef, sorry.” I can’t even say I was shocked to find all of this out, really.

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4 Elle April 23, 2012

Now, about Jim. I was shocked to hear of his passing. I met him on Twitter, and right away, he knew how to make me laugh. He was caring, thoughtful, and generous. He’d email recipes to me that he thought I’d like–that was so sweet. I remember using my mad stalking skillz to help him track down a fellow Twitter friend so he could send her flowers when her life hit a rough patch. That was hilarious! Not the rough patch/flower part, but trying to find the needle in the haystack.

He and I didn’t see eye to eye on politics and man, did he love to rant about them! :) I checked in on him often, though, even if he didn’t know. I’d read his tweets and see what he was up to. Make sure he wa still there, you know?

I’ll miss knowing you’re there, Jim. Rest in peace, and let the politicians sort themselves out on their own now. xo

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5 Janet April 23, 2012

My heart sank when I heard the news this morning via Heather. Knowing Jim via Twitter, his snark and true spiritshined in every tweet. He got me addicted to The Oxford Falls line of deliciousness, which I know was his business intent, but he made a friend for life in me with his deep respect for my opinions and beliefs, even if they didn’t mirror his own. I have a now empty bottle of his steak seasoning… I kept meaning to call him- he said he’d make me up a special huge batch if i’d just save the grinder. >sigh<… Thanks for being you, Jim.

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6 ShelleyBakes April 23, 2012

I met Jim on Twitter, “friended” him on Facebook and appreciated every snarky comment he left on my wall or in response to my posts. The world is an emptier place without him … you will be missed.

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7 Heather April 23, 2012

Oh Jim. You made me laugh. Wince. Smile. Question authority and hide behind my monitor snickering at all the people you offended with your filterless straight forward thoughts and feelings. I am laughing now at the mere thought.

I still owe you my beer pralines! I’ll share some with Katie and we’ll wash em back with some crabby bloody mary’s.

Okay… maybe not that combo but you get the idea.

God Speed Jim! The lives you touched were many. The ones you offended, few… but my friend I hope you know it was all damn worth it.

Missing you.

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8 Renée Joslyn April 23, 2012

I never got a chance to meet Jim “in real life”, but I hoped to, soon. The last time he was in Miami, my husband and I were in Asheville, NC. Through Twitter, Facebook, email, telephone, and business, I grew to love Jim like a big brother. He was a mentor when I started up my own business, Freakin’ Flamingo, and I was proud to be an online retailer of some of my favorite Oxford Falls products. Sometimes I think the last was just an excuse for me to have my own personal supply of salsa and vegan worcestershire sauce. :-)

Jim was incredibly supportive when he found out that I have breast cancer. The last time I spoke with him, which was apparently just a few days before he passed away, he offered me encouragement and told me that he would stay in the background, but would always be around if I needed him. And now he’s gone. Words can’t express my shock, sadness, and sense of loss. I will miss him terribly.

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9 Katie Pizzuto April 23, 2012

I haven’t opened my bottle of worcestershire sauce yet and doubt I ever will now.

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10 Renée Joslyn April 23, 2012

Oh, go ahead and use it, Katie. It’s the best worcestershire sauce I’ve ever used – regular or vegan. If you run out, I’ll share my private stash with you. :-) I’m considering pulling it and the Fried Green Tomato Salsa out of inventory, to hoard it for myself.

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11 Katie Pizzuto April 24, 2012

If you promise you’ll send me 1 more bottle, then OK :) I haven’t had the chance to try it, so half of me really wants to try what he dreamed up, and half of me just wants to preserve it.

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12 Smokenmirrors April 24, 2012

I was responsible for getting our local market (the original Fairway Market in Fort Lee) to stop calling their wagyu (?) beef Kobe. I personally used the analogy of Champagne vs sparkling wine,When I pressed the butcher and his manager regarding the origins of the beef they were selling. They are now calling it Wagyu. Perhaps I will continue the fight on this ;)

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13 Katie Pizzuto April 24, 2012

I would. Wagyu just means “Japanese Cattle”. So technically, what they are selling it as is still BS since it’s impossible to sell Japanese beef here. American cattle breeders should just find some other unique name for their version of this highly marbled beef….like CA winemakers did with “meritage” so they could stop saying “Bordeaux-style blend”. But then I guess they couldn’t mark it up so much :!:

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14 Chef June April 24, 2012

Reputable restaurants advertise the meat as what it is… American Wagyu. or they might call it “Kobe style” beef.

In any case, it’s quite tasty meat. the folks with enough money to afford it ought to be smart enough to know Kobe beef is not importable into US.

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15 Katie Pizzuto April 24, 2012

I disagree with what you said, however, regarding “American Wagyu” or “Kobe Style” because those are misleading terms as well. (Man, I would really rather have this convo on the blog itself…) Those are basically red herrings. These guys are taking a Western breed of cattle, cross breeding it with “something” Japanese that isn’t even Kobe, and then selling it under the terms you mentioned. No lineage, no heritage, no terroir. If someone takes a US lobster (not even from Maine), cross breeds it with one from Japanese coastal waters, and calls it “Japanese Maine Lobsters” what the hell does that mean?! Nothing. It’s a damned crustacean mutt.

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16 Kelly Jaggers April 24, 2012

Jim was a generous, funny, unexpected, and loyal friend. It did not matter that we did not see eye-to-eye on every issue, he and I got along famously on Twitter. We got along so well that he even sent me a few things – like the coffee syrup to test and muffin liners to use for my last book – just because he felt I needed them. Jim was a tireless supporter of his friends, and he was never shy about promoting what he felt was our best work. Mostly what I will miss is his humor, his love of dogs, his creative spirit, and knowing that no matter how bad my day was he would find a way to make me smile. I will miss him, and I know so many others who will, too! He is gone too soon, but I trust that wherever he is now he is mixing it up!

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17 Marye Audet April 24, 2012

Totally shocked, saddened…. I will mis Jim so much. He was one of the main people that pulled me through those miserable days after my marriage fell apart unexpectedly (to me). He kept encouraging me to take the high road…. and was always quick to offer comfort when I was trudging through a particularly bad day. He promoted my blog like crazy.. told jokes…made me laugh. Sometimes he made me think and question my own beliefs. I will miss Jim… there will be a Jim sized hole in the Internet for me.

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18 Winestein May 2, 2012
19 Doug Schulman June 3, 2012

interesting. I do have a small point regarding this line: “a New Jersey winery can call their sparkling wine “Champagne” if they feel like it”. In 2005, the US did finally agree to ban the use of generic terms like “Champagne” and “Chablis”, except where such terms already existed on registered labels. I don’t know if there’s a winery in NJ that has that right, but not any winery can do it. I believe the names must always be accompanied by the actual place of production as well. Maybe you knew all of this, but the way you wrote that part seemed a bit ambiguous, as if it implied that anyone could use that term. I’m not saying that the US has done the right thing, but I think this detail is worth pointing out.

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20 Katie Pizzuto June 3, 2012

Yeah, unfortunately I don’t think US has done the right thing. The terms really should have been done away with altogether. But being a Jersey Girl myself, I do know of a few that still use the term, including Renault Winery, and I unfortunately know that several still use the term because I was stupid enough to attend a Jersey Wine Festival a couple of years ago: http://bit.ly/JM12d2

Could I have been a little less ambiguous? Perhaps. But the focus here was on the beef, not the wine. I was trying to make a point about the general lack of concern with food/beverage terminology here in the US. Same holds true with “natural” foods, etc. THAT is where the true ambiguity lays…very intentionally I might add.

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21 Doug Schulman June 8, 2012

Yes, I agree about the ambiguity and even deceptiveness of so many food labelling terms here in the US. It’s too bad that the FDA gets the bulk of its funding from the very folks who have reason to want it to be that way. talk about conflict of interest.

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