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'Ethical' or Not, Is Caviar Still A Relevant Food?


Caviar has always been a ruse. It was fed to Middle Eastern and European royalty to boost the image of the higher classes (who seemed unfazed by the gross factor of eating fish eggs); 19th century U.S. saloon patrons were given free gobs of it because the salt content increased their beer consumption; in the late 1800s, U.S. production dominated the world caviar market so much that exports to Europe were sold back to the U.S. as more expensive imported "Russian caviar," when in actuality, as much as 90 percent of it was American until production pushed stateside resources to the brink of extinction making real Russian imports the dominant option; Hollywood's booming golden era of the 1920s and '30s delegated caviar as a decadent must-have food for anyone interested in increasing their glam-appeal and quasi-wealthy appearances. By the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s though, even many self-respecting billionaires let their taste for fish eggs sink. But a resurgence in caviar, now with an ethical twist, is bringing this food back into fashion despite the one question no one seems to be asking: Do we really need caviar?

Traditional caviar is sourced from Beluga sturgeon, a magnificent fish that can grow larger than some shark species and live to be more than 100 years old. To source fish eggs, sturgeon are typically killed, which has devastated the species into virtual extinction and led to bans on fishing sturgeon for caviar in countries including Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria.

Latvia's Mottra Caviar is now farming sturgeon, which employs a "sustainable" method rather than killing the fish, according to an article in the Independent: "The sturgeon are "milked" by human massage along their body to produce eggs." But despite the appearance of ethically raised sturgeon, the fish still live in captivity—a waterlogged prison for the migratory species. Exporting Latvian fish eggs around the world presents sustainable transport issues as well, and not to mention the excessive cost of the decadent food while global economies collapse. As the Occupy movement and Arab Spring have demonstrated, modernity is demanding a world without classes or castes, a world where everyone eats, not just those who can afford "ethical" caviar. Food in any price range is indeed food not to be wasted, but when it serves as a symbol of decadence and greed while an estimated 1.2 billion people go hungry around the world each year, does it really feed any of us?

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