Caviar is the ultimate badge of conspicuous consumption. And, for most of us, the lovely presentation of this food is so far removed from the fish from which it comes that I was utterly captivated when I began to look into its history and the current state of the caviar economy.
In my adult life, I have had the occasion to consume caviar a dozen or so times. It is something I would enjoy once a year at best, when I join my friends and family in South Carolina to quail hunt. It was just a treat of the week, an anachronistic moment where we all dressed up beautifully for dinner and we ate caviar on toast points for hors d’oeuvres, along with southern fried shrimp, crab dip, and other wonderful Southern style dishes. I thought then, as I have up until recently, that it was something wonderful from some foreign spot…a treat, a luxury and a rarefied moment of glamour. I had no clue about its origin and no clue about the fish from which it came or the fishermen who brought it to market.
But, much like sparkling diamonds that tell you nothing about their place in the world, but only dazzle you with their implied value, based on a sort of collective fiction, the little eggs on my toast point has a story to tell. All food does. And when I started learning, it was, simultaneously, an awakening and the greatest story I’d ever read about food. No one really likes to look under the skirt of their favorite luxuries because too often it seems there are unpleasantries like blood diamonds, force fed geese, and in this case a very homely and goofy dinosaur of a fish family named sturgeon, which we have enjoyed, feted and toasted, to the edge of extinction over and over throughout the years. But, the upside is that there is always a better way of doing things and when the disinfecting rays of sunlight have their way with something, we often end up with a better system…to wit: