Sturgeon, the fish most associated with caviar, has been around since before recorded history. Due to its murky natural habitat, sturgeon meat was thought to be the food of peasants--so sturgeon eggs (caviar) received an even worse reputation! Its less-than-glamorous origin story, coupled with the an overwhelming supply and low prices, created a negative reputation for caviar. By 1900, they were, “served in saloons for free, essentially playing the role of modern day bar nuts,” according to caviar documentary filmmaker Brian Gersten.
By the 1920’s, however, opinions were beginning to change. It takes female sturgeons around eight years to be sexually mature enough to produce eggs. On top of that, it takes an extended period of time and resources required to harvest the eggs from a single sturgeon. These facts led to the perception of caviar as a “luxury item” with a finite supply, and prices began to rice due to increased demand. Price and perception began to feed off of each other, and here we are today--with caviar as the item of the rich!
It goes to show that perception plays a huge role in what we view as as edible (and what we view as fancy).
Not unlike caviar, lobster was once seen as peasant’s food. In fact, lobsters were once only served as prison food! Lobsters were so abundant across the coast of colonial America that after a powerful storm, beaches would be piled high with lobster. Due to their abundance, they were an easy and cheap way to provide protein to prisoners. Some early American colonies eventually created laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be “cruel and unusual punishment”.
It wasn’t until the supply of lobster became less abundant that their prices began to soar, and people’s perception began to change. The same exact food with the same exact taste began to be seen as a delicacy. Greg Elwell in the Oklahoma Gazette describes lobster as, “...fancy. If you imagine a lobster talking, it probably has a British accent. Draw an animal lobster and I bet you’ll include a top hat, a monocle, and an opera cape.”
In other words, when the behavior around the product changes, our appreciation of the product changes as well. So much of what we choose to eat and not eat is based on perception.
Sushi is believed to have become a Western phenomena in the late 1960s with the opening of Kawafuku Restaurant in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. The restaurant put sushi on the map and further popularized the concept with the creation of the California Roll. (Crab and avocado were much more familiar a taste to Los Angelites.)
As time has progressed, people have grown to love sushi even more. Other Americanized rolls such as the Philadelphia Roll have been invented, as well. It goes to show that when foods pack a familiar and delicious taste, it doesn’t matter so much the origin of popularity: the power of tasty and nutritious food reigns.
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