Thanks to Kobe Beef Surplus, School Lunches in Japan Are Getting a Serious Upgrade
If you think back for a second, what were the best-ever meals you had in a school cafeteria? Maybe a square slice of pizza, inexplicably served with a side of corn niblets? An ice-cream scoop's worth of mashed potatoes and gravy? Or chicken nuggets which were also served with corn niblets, because my school district must've bought them by the ton.
Kids in almost all of Japan's prefectures will have slightly better memories of their school meals, because their hard plastic trays are being filled with Kobe beef. Yeah, that Kobe beef. According to Asahi, around 1,250 public elementary and middle schools throughout Hyōgo Prefecture are serving or have served Kobe (or wagyu) beef to their students.
"This is the best meat I’ve ever eaten. Without a doubt,” one 12-year-old raved, after eating wagyu and rice for lunch. "I'm gonna brag about it to my parents." (Even our always-anticipated pizza days weren't that good.)
The city of Kobe—which is the capital of Hyōgo Prefecture—decided to serve wagyu to public school students in October, and they'll continue serving Kobe beef stew, Kobe beef sukiyaki, and other five-star meals until early next year. Wagyu beef has been served at schools in 46 of Japan's 47 prefectures, and students in 42 prefectures have had seafood dishes as well. The upgraded cafeteria choices are a result of the pandemic: with decreases in restaurant dining and a tourist drought, beef and seafood suppliers have been left with surpluses of some of their prime products.
In April, Japan's central government decided that it would cover the prefectures' costs of buying wagyu and seafood to serve in schools, which has helped some struggling suppliers. "Some stores had no customers to sell meat to. They had so much in their inventories that they could not store it all in their fridges," a spokesperson from the Hyogo Prefecture Meat Industry Co-operative Association said. "We appreciate the stable consumption."
In April, the Financial Times reported that the Ministry of Agriculture was trying to find ways to encourage residents to eat more wagyu. One idea that was considered—but ultimately rejected—was to issue coupons that could be redeemed for wagyu beef to each Japanese household. Instead, school kids are getting Kobe beef lunches and some supermarkets have discounted these coveted cuts of beef by 20 to 40 percent compared to last year's prices.
Suddenly, getting that extra scoop of mashed potatoes doesn't seem like much of a bonus anymore.