June 15th is National Lobster Day.
Oh how we love lobster. Every time our mother broiled lobster tails, we sighed and told her, “We could eat every day.” Her response: “I wish I could afford to make them for you every day.”
Yes, lobster is pricey, although some years, if the catch is abundant, the prices go down.
Lobsters roamed the Atlantic Coast many millennia before the Algonquin natives arrived about 8,000 years ago.
The native Algonquins on the coast depended on lobster as a source of protein. After a storm, hundreds of lobsters would wash up onto the shore.
If they quickly gathered and cooked them before they had the chance to spoil*, the people had a nutritious meal.
But the Pilgrims who arrived in [what is now] Massachusetts in 1620 turned their nose up at the abundance of lobsters, calling them the “cockroaches of the sea.” They used them as fertilizer, livestock feed and fish bait. As the colony grew, they were later fed them to prisoners and slaves.
Lobster was known as poor man’s food because the fact that people who could buy or grow food made it easy for people with no money or crops to eat.
As you may recall, during the first few years in Massachusetts, food for the Pilgrims was scarce. Many died of hunger. The living would have eaten lobster almost constantly, and the smell of thousands of dead lobsters rotting on the beach could have understandably made them see lobster as a wretched food.
Lobster was a subsistence food, something only to be eaten out of desperation.
Prisoners complained that constant meals of lobster constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” [source].
Today, lobster is one of the most common last-meal requests among Death Row inmates. How times change.
Lobster Becomes Popular
However, in the 1860’s, with the advent of canned food that was transported by train, lobster became one of the most popular canned products on the market.
By the 1880s, it was so in demand that restaurants and markets were able to mark up the prices significantly. It became a pricey food.
By World War II, lobster was considered such a delicacy that what was once a poor man’s food became rich man’s food [source].
*When a lobster dies, its stomach enzymes seep out into its body, which makes the meat go bad quickly. This is why lobsters are cooked alive. A dead lobster has begun to rot, and it can make you sick [source]. Once the lobster is dead, harmful bacteria can rapidly multiply and release toxins that may not be destroyed by cooking [source].