Wagyu, Kobe and more: Food Scam Alert
Last week, I drove by an Arby’s fast food chain where the sign read “Try Arby’s New Wagyu Burger”. It made me laugh because of a book I read by Larry Olmsted called Real Food, Fake Food (2017). The chance that Arby’s would be selling a truly Wagyu burger is zero. But I’m sure many people are attracted to the fancy reputation of Wagyu. They fall for it. Pay the higher price, unaware that the beef is really no better or different than the standard Arby’s sandwich.
Kobe and Wagyu are names for Japanese beef. Wagyu means “Japanese cattle” and refers to four main Japanese breeds, one of which is Kobe. Either way, true Kobe beef requires a pure lineage of Tajima-gyu breed cattle that must be born in Hyogo, Japan, raised only on the local Hyogo grasses, water, and terrain. There are only about 3000 head of certified Kobe beef cattle in the world, and they live in Japan. That’s nowhere near enough cattle to serve the Arby’s food chain much less other restaurants around the world. This is a very exclusive, very limited supply beef. With rare exception, Kobe, or Wagyu on the menu in America is a scam used to charge you more because you expect to pay for its reputation. At its best, it is a very successful marketing ploy, and at its worst, a pure scam.
Our government allows vendors to use these types of labels and names without proof of authenticity. The vendor steels the reputation of these unique Japanese cattle, and puts the name on their often very ordinary, or even cheap beef.
So be aware. Most labeling is oriented toward charging you more and/or getting you to purchase by using key words you believe are good, i.e. that it is somehow better or healthier. The primary goal is profitability through volume sales and repeat business. However, what a label says may not be true at all. Words such as natural, cold pressed, fermented, aged, healthy, local, grass fed, and farm fresh are popular right now, but you should take no assurance that they mean what you think they do! All of them can be used on anything. There are no regulations which validate or verify their truthfulness.
Honestly, it is often hard to know the truth when it comes to food and personal care products. I find it often revealing and helpful to check webpages, read mission statements, see who the leaders are, and see if they explain their processes and ingredients. Who owns the company and who are the shareholders? Sometimes I will submit a question or call to see if anyone will communicate or talk to me personally about their product. People with nothing to hide who have pride in their product are happy to communicate! It is also noteworthy that many small, honest companies who are successful are often bought out by larger companies. These companies then reduce the quality for greater profits. That’s worth paying attention to as well.
Here’s one of Larry Olmstead’s articles about how this stuff works if you are interested in learning more.
Be wise, Not fooled, Eat Well
 Mr. Olmsted is a Senior Contributor at Forbes magazine. He specializes in Travel, Food, and Leisure. Because of his investigative nature, he began to suspect some false statements made about foods on American restaurant menus. So he began investigating laws, traveling to the source of many foods such as true Japanese beef, and learning about the true meaning of brands and names. What he found were a myriad lies, scams, twists, and misleading uses, especially here in America. You can read more about his findings about seafood, olive oil, cheese, beef, and more in his engaging read, Real Food, Fake Food.
By Nancy Mehlert, MS