Real beef

As opposed to the previous post, this is about real meat.

First, I got an email from one Tony McNicol, a Tokyo based photographer and journalist (he's originally from the UK). On his site, he has several fascinating photo essays depicting some off-the-beaten-track slices of Japanese life. One of them is about Kobe beef, which is a very special (and expensive) kind of beef.

[Kobe Beef, June 2009 - Images by Tony McNicol. Used with permission.]

Kobe beef is (as Tony says) not just wagyuu, and it doesn't mean beef from the city of Kobe. It is beef from a particular kind of cow, in a particular place, in a special way. Only about 2000 of these specially raised cows are slaughtered every year, and it it sold at retail (if you can get a hold of it) for $500 a kilo.

Read more about Kobe beef on his blog, and check out his portfolio here.

Now, it is quite obvious that Kobe beef is not some kind of happy accident of nature. It is a manmade product in all senses of the word. The cows were bred to be a certain way, and they are raised with plenty of human intervention. It is really agriculture - which is, after all, the process of growing food for human consumption - taken to its extreme.

This reminded me of another manmade meat product, which for various reasons has been the center of controversy, especially in the U.S., for a few years: fois gras. A few people object to the method of producing a duck or goose with a fatty liver, called gavage, which involved force feeding food into the bird's gullet with a tube. These few people have been very vocal, and in some places successful. The anti-gavage movement has even spread in a small way to Europe, though most people here (from my very unscientific observations and conversations - though some EU countries have started the procedure to ban gavage) shake their heads at the very notion of the government trying to ban its consumption.

The best observations on the fois gras conflict in the U.S. that I have read is in from Incanto, an Italian restaurant in San Francisco (via Elise's Twitter). Note that I think it's the best partly because I wholly agree with the opinions expressed there. (It's also quite well written, as are their past newsletters, which you can also read on their site. It's the first time the quality of writing on their web site or newsletter has made me want to visit a restaurant!)

The point made there that I agree with the most is this: I think there is far too much preaching and pushing of ones opinion on other people going on in the food world. It is one thing to decide for yourself, and possibly for your family, how and what you eat. It's quite another to try to force others to do so, particularly through government legislation. I tend to be sort of left of center when it comes to politics, but some of the tactics used by people and organizations who have a particular food agenda makes me want to shy away from them - even if I actually share their particular stance on a food issue.

As humans, we have to eat to survive, and except for a very few people, we rely on other people to grow or make the food for us. It is good to keep a vigilant eye on the process by which food reaches our tables, but "your way" is not always the "right way" for everyone. We all have to make our own decisions, and hopefully we can continue to do so.

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