Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kobe Beef: The Jig's Up

For years, we've heard the enchanting stories of how Kobe beef is lovingly raised - prancing around lush green fields in Japan, being fed chilled Kirin beer in between grazing, even getting hourly massages - all to create the lush, salty flavor that people pay $175 a pop for.

It really seemed to be the case that, unlike veal, both animal and animal eater (rich ones at least) got the good end of the stick -a culinary and humanitary win-win. Well, it turns out, all the lore about green fields and troughs of ice cold Kirin were horse shit - no more true than the story your parents told you about your wayward cat, Tinkerbell, who 'went to live on a lovely farm in the country' when the reality was Tinkerbell probably got hit by a garbage truck a street over.

But at least Tinkerbell met with death swiftly. Kobe beef, according to the article about the breed in the December article of Gourmet, live in crates so small they end up swimming in their own feces for up to 3 and 1/2 years. The only reason they even get beer is because they become so depressed in the crates (and their insides so worn from over eating) that they eventually stop eating. Feeding them beer is simply the only way to re-kickstart their appetite (kind of like being given an appertif, say, in hell.) Their loss of appetite in these conditions seems proof that no matter how low an animal's IQ, even a cow knows when life's not worth living anymore.

Years ago, on a shoot for some Haagen-Dazs commercials in northern Spain, we ran across a veal barn while location scouting. The townspeople proudly opened the doors to show the prized little baby cows inside, lurking within the pitch black interior. I'll never forget the little eyes, milky and staring at the foreign, bright light no doubt piercing their little virgin retinas.

I made a personal vow to boycott veal that day and haven't touched it since. And if you consider yourself an animal lover, I hope you do the same with Kobe beef and any other meat with an ethically questionable journey from barn to table.

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