Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lobster Economics: It used to be cheap

Did you know that before 1950, lobster was considered "trash food" for the impoverished, so undesirable that prisoners and military troops were forced to eat it, while regular citizens had job contracts making their employers promise not to serve them lobster more than 3 times a week?

Yep, according to Pacific Standard: "Lobsters were so abundant in the early days—residents in the Massachusetts Bay Colony found they washed up on the beach in two-foot-high piles—that people thought of them as trash food. It was fit only for the poor and served to servants or prisoners."

And you can thank railroads for making lobsters expensive: "when the railways started to spread through America, transportation managers realized something interesting: If no one knew what lobster was, trains could serve it to passengers as if it were a rare, exotic item, even thought it was very cheap for those running the railroad to procure it. Inland passengers were intrigued. This lobster was delicious. Passengers, who didn’t know lobster was considered trash food on the coast, started to love it and began to ask for it even after they left the train."

Chefs started to realize that lobster was tastier if cooked alive at this time, and from there prices really took off.  Prices rose and lobster populations dwindled until the Great Depression, when no one could afford to buy lobster in restaurants anymore and it went back to being cheaply canned and served to military troops for World War I and WWII.  But as food grew short in WWII, Lobster wasn't rationed, so it became popular again, and prices went back up.

So, there you have it.  A cheap abundant food, that people thought was gross because it resembled giant insects, became expensive because of railroad marketing and war-induced rationing!   Funny how economics can change things like that.

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