I’m no stranger to fishy scandals on this blog.  But this one’s a little more high-brow than “does Subway’s tuna have tuna in it.”

Passmore, a prestigious Californian fish raunch that prided itself in its sustainability, has found itself in hot water after it was revealed that much of the fish- and all of the caviar- they sold in the past 2 years were actually sourced from elsewhere, due to their inability to keep up with demand.  The founder, Michael Passmore, claims that he has only been purchasing fish and caviar that lived up to his own standards, but did not transparently disclose what any of that means. 

At the time of writing this (the day after the scandal broke), a 250 gram tin of Passmore Select sturgeon caviar costs $1,285 (it’s unclear whether the scandal has affected the price), while Russian Food USA Dot Com has the same size tin, without the claims of being ethically superior, for $209.

My favorite part of the article that broke the scandal is where they say, “He plans to apologize to all of his customers,” which is just a fun way of saying, “Yes I’ve been caught, no I’m not actually apologizing yet.”  Passmore also went on the record as saying “It sucks to feel like [I] let [my friends] down,” in reference to lying to his customers.

I’m conflicted.  On one hand, I do agree with the concept that paying more for food is worth it when you know that it’s been sustainably farmed and workers involved were treated well, and that claiming a product meets those specifications when it blatantly doesn’t is fraud.

On the other hand, I love seeing rich people suffer.

Like, can we revisit that $1,285/tin price tag?  Like, I’ve dropped a pretty penny on a few, once-in-a-lifetime meals here and there, but dropping that kind of money on a single ingredient is unfathomable to me.  

How did fish eggs become such a hot commodity for rich idiots with nothing better to spend their money on? 

I had to do a lot of digging, and ultimately each website I went to only had a small fraction of the story.  But the basic gist is this: Caviar was traditionally sourced from sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, so it originally could only be available in countries bordering the Caspian Sea.  Russia, being one such country, would serve it to foreign dignitaries (who would have had no other way of having caviar before) at banquets for the sake of flaunting its exoticness.  It continued to be relatively unknown outside of Russia until the 1920s, as Russian royals and elites settled in Paris after fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution.  Homesick Russian merchants would then use their knowledge of harvesting caviar on the natvie French populations of sturgeon, and caviar would begin to slowly work its way into French high society as French socialites assumed that if the Russian nobles held it in such high regard, it must be worth it.  And the fickle bitch that is supply and demand has been working its magic ever since, almost bringing every species of sturgeon to the brink of extinction.    

tldr: it’s a trend that should have died with the Romanovs in that Siberian basement.

One thought on “Why is Caviar Even That Big of a Deal?

  1. Myra Tallerico says:

    As the GM for a sturgeon aquaculture farm–also harvesting & producing caviar- in northern California, running a sturgeon farm is a very expensive and labor-intensive endeavor. It takes 7-10 years from spawning to full maturity the high expenses are due to the feed, electricity, oxygen, and the day-to-day care and maintenance for 7-10 years before harvesting the roe for caviar. In addition, the guidelines and restrictions in the U.S. are far more strict than a lot of countries who are exporting their caviar to the U.S. Hence, the reason for the price. Our 250g retails for $423.50 to $1339.80 — depending on the grade. Also, Chinese farms are supplemented by the government which accounts for their cheaper price. But buyer beware . . . you don’t know what those sturgeon fish were fed and most caviar imports from China contain borax, a preservative. Yes, it’s borax! Wholesalers/distributors importing caviar justify the lack of transparency of the caviar source with the cheap price they’re paying. And truth be told, consumers are not well-informed enough to ask the probing questions. Even the largest producer of caviar in the world (approximately 60%), Kaluga Queen, doesn’t even like to market the fact that it’s caviar from China! When dining out and you’re wanting to order caviar, ALWAYS ask to see the tin, read the label, and ask questions. If they refuse to show you the tin, DO NOT order that caviar!

    It’s shameful and disgusting that Passmore continued this deceit for several years and his excuses are lame! I’m hoping for Passmore is No More!

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