The Truth About Caviar
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Her Deepness, legendary ocean explorer and marine scientist Sylvia Earle about the state of our oceans, and the conversation took an unexpected turn: we talked about caviar.
While we enjoy reveling in all things luxury here at Luxist, occasionally, it's a good idea to step back and take responsibility for our impact on the world around us. Luxury doesn't have to mean unsustainability, and those of us in more privileged positions have the opportunity to effect change and set a good example for future generations. That's why I want to tell you the truth about caviar. As Earle herself said, "Not knowing that you have a problem is the worst problem of all."
Luxist: Is there a certain kind of caviar the eco-conscious should choose?
Sylvia Earle: Well, consider what caviar is; fish eggs. Some people are raising sturgeon to extract the caviar, but it takes about 20 years to get an egg; to grow a mature female sturgeon that can have eggs of her own. And we don't raise 20-year-old chickens to get their eggs. Sturgeons can be 80 or 100 years old when they are taken out of their natural systems and carved up for caviar. The reason that caviar is increasingly rare is because the sturgeon are increasingly rare. There are very few remaining, even in the coastal waters of the United States. Chesapeake Bay used to have sturgeon. There was native sturgeon in Florida. There are precious few remaining.
L: Wait. They "carve them up" to get the eggs? They don't lay the eggs?
SE: Oh no! They take the adults and slice them up and remove the eggs. And sometimes they eat the fish, too, but it's ... it's like cutting old growth [such as centuries-old trees in the rainforests]. It doesn't make any sense. And the big, old fish are the ones that are the best reproducers. Only an old sturgeon will have eggs, and the older they are, the more eggs they produce. It's just kind of insanity, it shows how little we appreciate the investment that it takes.
While having access to something difficult to get can feel like a luxury, as Earle points out, "It doesn't make any sense." We've come to appreciate that ivory, for example, is not necessarily the height of luxury. While it's rare, it's often perceived as being in extremely poor taste, as our elephant populations dwindle. Perhaps it is time to adjust our thinking about caviar, as well, and to consider why things become so expensive and exclusive -- sometimes, it's because the way the product is being created isn't sustainable. Is it really worth carving up a 20 to 100-year-old sturgeon for a ten-minute appetizer? Other caviars are no different.
Our intention in publishing this is not to guilt trip anyone, but to provide the tools for all our readers to make informed choices. Now you know.