The Frontal Cortex

Kobe Beef

I’ve never eaten Kobe beef from Japan, and now I never will. Authentic Kobe beef is essentially veal that isn’t put out of its misery. Barry Estabrook, in the new Gourmet, investigates the real life of these very expensive cows (ten ounces of Kobe beef can set you back about $175):

Traditional Japanese producers raise their 1,600 pound cattle in highly confined areas. “From the time they are a week old until they are three and a half years old, these steers are commonly kept in a lean-to behind someone’s house,” said Blackmore [an expert on Kobe beef production], “where they get bored and go off their feed. Their gut stops working. The best way to start their gut working again is to give them a bottle of beer.”

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I decided to swear off corn-fed beef, in favor of grass-fed beef. The product still isn’t easy to find – I don’t live near a Whole Foods – but my local butcher is able to special order it. Compromises like this are how I justify not being a vegetarian.


  1. #1 user
    November 28, 2007

    Idealism is a luxury.

  2. #2 tim
    November 28, 2007

    Idealism is a luxury.

    So is Kobe Beef.

  3. #3 Jonah
    November 28, 2007

    And an expensive luxury at that. Grass fed beef can easily be twice as expensive as the normal corn feed beef in the supermarket. And don’t get me started on humanely raised chicken…

  4. #4 Matt Penfold
    November 28, 2007

    Giving beer to ruminant who are off their food is not confined to Kobe cattle. It is a common remedy used in cattle, sheep and goats. It seems it is a combination of the malt and yeast which helps.

    Note that using American beers such a Budweiser would not help. You need to use real ale/lager.

  5. #5 Jon
    November 28, 2007

    Note that using American beers such a Budweiser would not help. You need to use real ale/lager.

    Sorry, off topic, but this is a huge pet peeve of mine. You can’t just throw around the label “American beers” to refer to the shitty pseudo-pilsners put out by Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc. Sure, those are the bulk of beer produced in America by volume, but there’s a thriving micro and craft brew industry producing fantastic beers that are distinctly American. As someone who lives in Portland, Oregon (arguably the beer capital of the US) I get really annoyed by the fact that people think of Bud when they think of “American beer” and not Bridgeport or Deschutes or Dogfishhead or Rogue or Elysian or Boundary Bay or New Belgium or Widmer Brothers, etc, etc, etc.

  6. #6 SabrinaW
    November 28, 2007

    I self-identify as a “social carnivore” (I’m trying to quit, but…), and when I cook meat at home, I make a concerted effort to get grass-fed beef or free-range chicken. I would not be able to go vegetarian (I’ve tried and gotten sick), but consuming more moderate amounts of humanely raised animals is a very reasonable ethical approach.

    Loved The Omnivore’s Dilemma!

  7. #7 T. Bruce McNeely
    November 28, 2007

    Sounds like that would be a good way to raise top-grade “long pig”. Provide a Laz-e-Boy, a wide screen TV and unlimited beer? MMMMM, that’s good eatin…

  8. #8 Spaulding
    November 28, 2007

    Darn right, Jon. Would someone dismiss Japanese cuisine on the basis of 25ยข instant ramen?

    Is it some kind of shallow tourist mentality that leads someone to ignore the real qualities of an area in favor of the ubiquitously marketed pablum? Or is it the desire for superiority?

    On the other hand, maybe the excellent American beers don’t export much, while the crappy ones do?

    And I’ll add Abita, Bluepoint, Brooklyn, and Sam Adams to the list. There’re many more.

  9. #9 RNB
    November 28, 2007

    This is broader than just Kobe cows, but:
    Could a confined animal (safe, with a well defined territory, and a regular supply of food/beer) be more satisfied than a “wild” one, constantly battling intruders and predators. And could we, by selective breeding or even gene therapy, breed animals that have literally no desire to run free. If so, would there be any moral objection to that treatment?
    I’m asking, not lecturing.

  10. #10 Luna_the_cat
    November 28, 2007

    Get a freezer chest so you can store meat in bulk, and order online:

  11. #11 Jack
    November 29, 2007

    Jonah said, “Grass fed beef can easily be twice as expensive as the normal corn feed beef in the supermarket.”

    Um, dude, corn isn’t a normal food for cows. It’s not like they’re out they’re grazing in corn fields. Anywhere. It’s normal for cows to eat grass. It’s abnormal for them to eat corn, standing in the exact same spot all day…that’s the cheap stuff. Ick is an understatement.

  12. #12 Anne-Marie
    November 30, 2007

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma book definitely made me think twice about the contents of my refrigerator, especially with the inside look at organic production/industry…I think that book should be required reading for every household. I don’t usually buy new books (student budget) when they first come out, but I’ve already got his next book on pre-order from Amazon!

  13. #13 dnyu
    December 1, 2007

    Seriously, what’s so bad about American beer? I love Bud Light. I’m having one right now. It’s delicious, also tastes great and less filling. Also, doesn’t cost like $14 a can. Seriously, relax.

  14. #14 Lizzie
    December 1, 2007

    RNB- To answer your question- you’re right that life in nature is probably no picnic by any stretch. The thing is that life for most any factory farmed animal is more consistently, ceaselessly torturous for animals throughout their lives than nature would be. It is difficult to overstate the suffering that these animal go through. Most Americans have no idea… Once we do learn of the suffering, though, the question is, do we care, or do we want to make excuses to justify that the suffering isn’t so bad or doesn’t really matter….

    To learn more here’s a website

    BTW It is awesome that you are willing to ask this question. I also applaud Jonah’s thoughtful consideration on how to reduce his support of suffering. Yes, more humanely raised animal meat might cost more- much of the suffering induced is brought about by an interest in savings pennies per pound of product. But even the most dedicated meat lover would be utterly horrified if they saw what these animals go through behind those very locked warehouses of incubation beds and slaughterbelts.

    It’s not the issue of death/ killing that’s the problem (death is an inevitable part of life, of course) it’s the suffering surrounding the killing that can and should be prevented.

  15. #15 Lizzie
    December 2, 2007

    Correction- I should have said

    But I think even the most dedicated meat lover

    ( I can’t really speak for them, of course….)

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