In A Nutshell
While today it’s considered a delicacy, lobster was once a poor man’s food. Thanks to its overabundance, people quickly became sick of the shellfish and only fed it to animals, prisoners, and indentured servants. However, lobster became a popular luxury food in the late 1800s and remains one to this day.
The Whole Bushel
Visit any five-star restaurant, pick up the menu, and you’ll find lobster. This deep-sea delicacy screams wealth and class, but there was actually a time when this upper-crust crustacean was considered nothing more than garbage.
Between the 17th and 18th centuries, lobsters were plentiful—too plentiful. Colonists often found massive mounds of shellfish along the Massachusetts shoreline (some piled up to a man’s knees), and children could spend a few hours fishing and come home with buckets full of dinner. In fact, there were so many lobsters that people got sick of them. Instead of eating them with butter, people started serving lobsters to their pigs, cows, and cats while Native Americans used them as fertilizer and fish bait.
The crustaceans eventually acquired a stigma, and—according to American observer John Rowan—became “signs of poverty and degradation.” They were only served to prisoners and indentured servants, but even these slaves and crooks had rights. Indentured servants from Massachusetts got so fed up with eating lobster every day that they took their masters to court, and the judge ruled in their favor, ruling the servants would only have to eat lobster three times a week.
Fortunately for foodies everywhere, the lobster’s fate took a lucky turn in the late 1800s. Railway managers discovered if they billed it as a delicacy, passengers who didn’t know of its disgusting reputation thought it was delicious. As the years went by, lobster started showing up in salad bars, and by the 1920s, it had become the food of choice for the world’s aristocrats. The lobster’s popularity took a dive during the Great Depression, once again becoming a food for the poor, but by the 1950s, it was back in vogue and had become the luxury food we eat today.