Is Caviar Vegetarian?

zfisheggs.jpg
baue.org
It all started with a tweet. In touting a pleasing omnibus collection of bread dips at Balkanika, I described it as: "My favorite vegetarian (and nearly vegan) meal of the last few months," having forgotten that the small bowl of taramosalata in the center contained fish eggs.

Luckily, Michael Hoffman (@Hoffm) called me on it, firing back: "Vegetarian carp roe? What is this place, WD-50? ;) (Looks delicious, btw.)"

I thanked him for pointing that out, but then caught myself and tweeted: "On the other hand, if hen eggs are considered vegetarian, why not fish eggs?" Reasoning that both chicken eggs and fish eggs are animal products, not the animal itself, and hence acceptable, vegetarian-wise.

Fellow critic Ryan Sutton (@qualityrye) chimed in "EXCELLENT POINT!"

But several other twitterers disagreed with me.

Jesse Sheidlower (@jessesheidlower), etymologist and author of the book The F-Word, replied: "Because you don't cut open a hen to get its eggs." Making the point that fish are killed to get at the eggs, hence the eggs can't be vegetarian.

I could think of two refutations of this argument, both of them not very satisfying and only semi-convincing.

1. Hens we gather eggs from are destined to suffer just as cruel a death as the fish, though not so immediately. Hens that stop laying eggs are invariably sold as stewing chickens, and die a non-natural death.

2. Just because the fish is killed to get the eggs doesn't necessarily make the eggs non-vegetarian, even though the death of the fish may seem cruel to vegetarians.

But then I began to wonder, do fish have to die just to harvest their eggs for human consumption? After doing some quick web searching, I came up with an article from the Gourmet website by sustainable food activist Barry Estabrook called, "Killing the Fish That Lays the Golden Eggs."

In it he describes how a Latvian company uses ultrasound to determine when the eggs are ready in the sturgeon from which the best caviar are gathered, then massage the eggs out of the fish, first producing a tiny incision that makes the process more comfortable for the creature. From the way he describes it, it sounds like chickens never had it so good.

So, if the fish is not killed and the harvesting is humanely done, is the caviar vegetarian? I'd say yes, but this doesn't address another fundamental vegetarian objection, which was succinctly stated by someone whose tweet has now gone missing (I'm paraphrasing here):

"Slimy fish eggs give me the creeps, and don't seem very vegetarian at all."


zfisheggs3.jpg
dfg.ca.gov


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8 comments
NeuroNull
NeuroNull

@vegetarianview If I'm not mistaken, an egg would not become a chicken whilst caviar would become fish. #amirite?

ovo-vegetarian
ovo-vegetarian

Isn't it true that not all chicken eggs are fertilized (capable of being hatched)? If the chicken was treated humanely, I would say that chicken eggs are a better prospect. You are not depriving a life and you are not harming an animal. On the other hand, for caviar, every egg is capable of being hatched even if it was harvested without killing the fish.

beccastareyes
beccastareyes

@nkjemisin Huh. I didn't know they usually killed the fish to get the eggs. Otherwise... well, my veg. sister eats chicken eggs.

Teddy
Teddy

It's not the animal? It is the animal in it's embryonic form... in the case of caviar, hundreds of animals. Only savage bastards eat embryonic food, and yes that means all eggs.

egglabelling
egglabelling

@thoughtfuleater As long as the fish aren't killed in the process of securing the eggs...I guess it is a lot like hens laying eggs.

ericinnyc
ericinnyc

I believe that a vegetarian would eat vegetables, and since a fish is not a vegetable nor are it's eggs, then the argument is moot. There are also 2 strangely realistic caviar replacements made from seaweed. Same feel of popping roe but with a more subtle/enjoyable taste, at least for me. One can be had at IKEA and the other is from Denmark and imported to the US. Both are far more affordable and environmentally friendly. Just to give you another side.

dancesara2
dancesara2

I'm a vegan but I had never even thought of this discussion before for vegetarians. Very interesting. Thank you for posting!

mhoffm
mhoffm

The semantics of vegetarianism are more complex than they appeared! It's always thrilling to pull back the curtain on the arbitrariness of human categories. Thanks for the post.

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