Why caviar is so expensive

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Caviar is one of the most expensive foods in the world. Selling for up to $35,000 per kilo, it’s revered and relished by aristocrats across the globe. But it’s an acquired taste. Turns out, caviar wasn’t always so valuable. In the 19th century, sturgeon species in the US were so common that there are accounts of caviar being offered in saloons for free, like bar nuts. In Europe, fishermen were feeding the eggs to their pigs, or leaving it on the beach to spoil. What changed?

Similar to true champagne, caviar doesn’t come from just anywhere. This, for example, is not caviar. To get the real thing, it has to be eggs from a sturgeon. There are 27 species around the world in North America, Europe, and Asia. But probably not for long. 

Arne Ludwig: In this case, sturgeon will die out because humans are over-harvesting their populations and destroying their habitats.

In 2010, the International Union for Conservation of Nature placed 18 species on its Red List of Threatened Species, making the sturgeon the most endangered group of species on Earth. But lists like these are bittersweet. On the one hand, they can help protect the sturgeon from further population decline.

On the other hand, the rarer that caviar becomes, the more we can’t get enough of it. There’s actually an economic idea that explains this. It’s called the rarity value thesis and it describes how "rarity increases the value of the item." Sturgeon can weigh up to several thousand pounds, and produce hundreds of pounds of roe at a time. The world record belongs to a beluga sturgeon that weighed 2,520 pounds and yielded 900 pounds of roe. Today, she’d be worth about half a million dollars. 

It wasn’t until around the 20th century when these freshwater fish and their eggs became a rare commodity. Pollution poisoned their waters and dams blocked their spawning grounds upstream. They had nowhere to reproduce and continued to be overfished for their meat and roe. On top of that, it takes 8-20 years for a female to sexually mature, depending on the species.

She can produce millions of eggs at a time, but odds are that only one will survive to adulthood. In the end, the sturgeon population couldn’t keep up with demand and their coveted eggs became the jewels of the luxury food scene. Today, caviar imports and exports are closely regulated in the US., which is partly why it’s so expensive. 

Deborah Keane: People forget that every single egg, every one of these eggs is taken off by hand. Now, remember that we’re dealing with a raw seafood endangered species. So it is basically like eating and dealing with edible elephant tusks. It is that heavily regulated.

That’s why today, the majority of caviar comes from sturgeon farms.

Deborah Keane: Little did I know that by 2011, all wild caviar would become illegal on the planet. When I started there were six farms in the world and only two producing caviar in the world and that was in 2004. Now, there are 2,000 farms.

One farm, in particular, in China called Kaluga Queen produces 35% of the world’s caviar. Caviar there is harvested with the classic Russian and Iranian technique, which involves killing the fish and then extracting the eggs. Other farms are exploring a different technique, which doesn’t involve killing the fish. It’s called stripping. 

The fish are injected with a hormone that triggers their urge to release eggs. Farmers have been doing this for many years, but not to get caviar — just to produce more fish. It wasn’t until recently that people started canning this stuff and selling it as caviar.

Dmitrijs Tracuks: The biggest thing is that yes, fish stays alive. You have really small impact on the fish because you do it really fast. You take the fish out of the water, you put it on the special holding facility. The fish has already started to spawn and so all that requires is to press on the belly, massage the belly and the caviar will just flow out of the fish.

The idea behind no-kill caviar is a commendable one, but it has yet to catch on. Either way, with caviar farms in place, this gives the wild sturgeon population a chance to recover. But whether or not, that happens is largely up to us.

 

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‘Altered Carbon’ is more than just a ‘Blade Runner’ ripoff

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Altered Carbon is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. The show, adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from Richard Morgan’s novel, isn’t exactly well written. And, like most Netflix joints, it goes on for way too long. But it’s gorgeous, it’s filled with charismatic actors and its cyberpunk aesthetic feels like a ’90s anime brought to life. (That’s a good thing — to me, at least.) Altered Carbon is simply a lot of fun. And while it owes an obvious debt to Blade Runner, I was surprised that underneath the ultraviolence and gratuitous Cinemax-esque sex scenes, it’s also an intriguing exploration of where digital consciousness could take us.

Minor spoilers for the first few episodes of Altered Carbon ahead.

In Altered Carbon, death is obsolete. Physical bodies are merely containers, or "sleeves," used for hosting "cortical stacks," futuristic storage devices that hold your memories and consciousness. If your body dies, your stack (assuming it hasn’t been destroyed) can easily be moved over to a different sleeve. They plug into slots at the back of your neck, in a nod to the Matrix.

While this new technology is certainly miraculous, it also introduces an entirely new set of social issues. Anyone technically can be immortal, but only the rich have access to high-quality bodies, while everyone else has to make do with what they can afford. If you’re poor, a hospital might just stick you into an old and decrepit sleeve. The richest of the rich, or Meths (a shortened reference to Methuselah, from the Bible), naturally end up living the longest. They’ve built a paradise in huge skyscrapers above the clouds, far above the rain- and smog-filled surface world.

Humans being humans, the introduction of practical immortality also means that the rich inevitably end up with more power and influence than before. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of Takeshi Kovacs, a former rebel who’s awakened, 250 years after his last sleeve died, in a new body (played by Joel Kinnaman). It turns out one of the very wealthy, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), needs help solving his own murder. Trippy, I know. At that point, we see yet another advantage of the super-rich. Bancroft can actually back up his consciousness to a secure satellite, which means it isn’t game over if his stack is destroyed. Going a step further, he can also download himself into clones of his original body. Voilà: true immortality.

In Blade Runner, we explored our humanity through cyborgs with limited lifespans. Blade Runner 2049 went even deeper, giving us a cyborg lead who might be more human than he thinks. I didn’t expect Altered Carbon to add much to the conversation, but its rendering of a world where humans no longer fear death seems just as meaningful. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil theorize that we’ll eventually be able to upload our consciousness to computers, which would grant us a sort of digital immortality. Of course, doing so requires us to fully understand how our minds work, which we’re nowhere near grasping yet.

Katie Yu/Netflix

Naturally, not everyone is cool with the idea of living forever. Religious groups in Altered Carbon consider the practice unholy, and their followers opt out of having their stacks rebooted. The show brings up the obvious counterpoint: Couldn’t something as astounding as living forever be considered a miracle? Unfortunately, it doesn’t spend much time delving much deeper.

For something so rooted in questions of identity, it’s a shame that Altered Carbon doesn’t have much to say about obvious representation issues in its narrative. We’re introduced to Kovacs in his original Asian body, but he never comments on being rebooted into the body of a white man. Still, at least we get a decent chunk of time with Kovacs’ two Asian sleeves, played by Byron Mann and Will Yun Lee, and the show has a diverse supporting cast as well. From what I’ve read, the show also seems to do a better job of focusing on Kovacs’ Asian bodies than the book does. The issue is certainly less egregious than the whitewashing controversy in the recent Ghost in the Shell remake.

Katie Yu/Netflix

If this sort of body swapping were actually possible, you can be sure there’d be philosophical explorations about what it means to hop into the shoes of other races and genders. The show gives us glimpses — we see a young girl who ends up being rebooted into the body of an old woman, and a grandmother who finds herself in the body of a tattooed gangster bro. But there’s definitely room for more nuance in future seasons.

Altered Carbon’s take on VR is, not surprisingly, reminiscent of The Matrix. Since your consciousness is fully digitized, you end up perceiving virtual worlds just as realistically as the physical world. That opens up entirely new avenues for guilt-free adult recreation, but it also means you can actually get hurt in VR. Virtual torture ends up being as effective as the real thing — even more so, since you could go through the experience of being killed over and over. VR could also be seen as a form of prison for any conscious being. One subplot in the show involves a character who goes through the trauma of being killed and whose digital psyche ends up being broken in the process.

Katie Yu/Netflix

While I didn’t expect much from Altered Carbon at first, the show ultimately won me over. It’s cyberpunk in the truest sense — it’s a dirty, sometimes excessive exploration of technology’s impact on society. It’s no work of art, like the Blade Runner films. But it will make you think amid the mayhem.

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L.L. Bean Scraps Generous Return Policy After 106 Years Because People Suck

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l l bean return

L.L. Bean has earned loyal, passionate fans with their beloved products and top-rated customer service. The center stone of their customer service, since 1912, has been L.L. Bean’s “100% satisfaction guaranteed” return policy.

Unfortunately, like too many things in life, a bunch of assholes ruined it for the rest of us. Yes, after 106 years of L.L. Bean’s famous lifetime return-and-exchange guarantee, the company has updated its policy after seeing an increase in customers abusing the generous deal.

L.L. Bean announced the updated policy on Facebook with a letter to its customers from Shawn O. Gorman, L.L. Bean Executive Chairman:

Following the announcement, leaders from L.L. Bean has addressed the driving causes for L.L. Bean’s need to update the policy. For clarification, L.L. Bean cited an increase in two unfortunate situations:

  1. Customers returning and exchanging items after years of regular wear and tear. Consumers were claiming product issues with no signs of defect, just to upgrade or renew their goods.
  2. Consumers were getting L.L. Bean products from places like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or yard sales then exchanging them for new L.L. Bean products, without any proof of purchase.

L.L. Bean’s CEO, Stephen Smith, went on to explain that consumers were misinterpreting the intent of the policy:

“What we have seen, and it has come to the point where we had to act upon it, is a small but growing group of customers who are interpreting the guarantee as a lifetime product replacement program, and that was never its intent… The satisfaction guarantee and the intent of the guarantee is very much still intact. We make great stuff and we stand behind great stuff but we have had a huge growth in abuse, and fraud, and a misinterpretation of that guarantee.”

Smith also stated that around 15 percent of recent returns abused the generous policy, approximately twice as many cases than L.L. Bean saw just a few years ago. In respectful and cool fashion, L.L. Bean partially blames itself. More specifically, L.L. Bean cites social media and the brand’s own marketing promotion of the policy as reasons for the increase in policy-abuse.

While L.L. Bean’s policy became a loophole for technically qualifying as a lifetime replacement program, it was created to instill confidence in their products and reassure that customers will always be given a defect-free product. Now, L.L. Bean will only replace products purchased within the past 12 months and require a proof of purchase.

Of course, as you’d expect, fans of L.L. Bean we’re less than hyped to hear the news. Here are some reactions to the announcement:

 

 

h/t Portland Press Herald

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New Horizons probe captures images at record distance from Earth

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Voyager 1 has held the distance record for a captured image for the past 27 years thanks to its legendary "Pale Blue Dot" photo (3.75 billion miles away from Earth), but that milestone just got smashed. NASA’s New Horizons probe took pictures of Kuiper Belt objects at a distance of over 3.79 billion miles from our cosmic home on December 5th. They weren’t technically the first images to break the record, though — an image of the "Wishing Well" star cluster from two hours earlier (below) has that honor.

The kicker? That record is likely to be broken again within a matter of months. Voyager 1’s achievement lasted as long as it did because the mission crew shut off the camera shortly after capturing the Pale Blue Dot image. That won’t be happening with New Horizons. The spacecraft is slated to swing by another Kuiper Belt object (2014 MU69) on January 1st, 2019 and record more imagery in the process. So long as the mission goes according to plan, New Horizons could hold on to its lead for a long time.

Wishing Well star cluster captured by New Horizons

Via: The Verge

Source: NASA

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