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October 12, 2000
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: No More Caviar!

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What I am about to say will not endear me to many chefs and restaurateurs . like anyone who loves his work, I try to be simpatico with my brothers –in-arms on most food issues. But when it comes to conservation and world ecology, I must part company with those who profit at the expense of one of the world’s great animals. Too often, in my quest for the best of everything, I take for granted the abundance of raw materials that make eating such an enjoyment for me. Such is the case with caviar. For thirty years I’ve devoured all the caviar in sight whenever I could find or afford it. that enjoyment—and the ability to pay for it—now threatens the existence of the species that makes it possible.

According to the World Conservation Union, there are 20 species of sturgeon, all but two of which are threatened with extinction. Some of these magnificent fish can be over ten feet long, live to be 200 years old and can weigh over a thousand pounds. I’m not exaggerating.. , But since the breakup of the Soviet Union, poaching has increased to such a degree that the sturgeon's highly prized, and therefore costly, eggs are now extracted from the captures (and killed) females at unprecedented numbers.

What we now see is more high-end restaurants (especially in our biggest cities and especially in Las Vegas) featuring the Iranian variety which, they assure you, is bigger, better and rarer than anything you have tasted before. This means they can charge ever increasing prices that were outrageous to begin with. To be fair, they paid a dear bounty for this booty, but only because the rich and famous will respond in kind. They pay it to freewheeling un-regulated poachers fishing the Caspian Sea for all the profits they can haul in in the shortest time. Pure capitalism to be sure--- but a death knell to the king of freshwater fish.

Truth be told, I haven't tasted Iranian Beluga and don't intend to. But I have greedily savored these briny pearls of decadence for decades—from moscow to malibu--- without considering the consequences. There is nothing better with champagne and no other food brings a smile to my face as quickly. But pleasure—and consumption--must stop when another species' survival is threatened. There will be no jokes or sarcasm, puns or double entendres this day -- only a beseechment for others to follow suit.

Caviar, I will eat thee no more, forever.

This is John Curtas.

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