100–150 years ago, lobster, formerly known as the “Cockroach of the Sea” was so abundant on the East coast of the US that they would wash up on Massachusetts shores sometimes piled 2 feet high. They were used as fish bait, dog food, even fertilizer. When eaten, lobster was a cheap source of protein canned and served to indentured servants, prisoners, shipped to soldiers overseas, and to the very poor. Lobster shells or empty cans of lobster meat strewn around the house was a visible sign of extreme poverty. Think empty cans of cat food strewn around a house where there are no cats. 100 years ago, cans of baked beans were 5 times more expensive than canned lobster. Lobster was a dirt cheap low class trashy food.
As the railroad expanded West, railroad managers found that they could buy lobster at extreme low cost on the East coast, and serve it to unfamiliar diners in the interior of the country. The railroad chefs found that if they cooked lobster when alive, the taste improved greatly. Railroad diners enjoyed the food so much that they began to ask for lobster at local restaurants and spurred demand. As demand surged, the supply diminished. By the 1950’s, the cost of lobster completely changed the demographic of those who could afford to eat them.
Lobster now holds one of the loftiest positions on any menu on par with Foie Gras and just a notch down from Caviar. Lobster is often paired with one of the most expensive cuts of steak, Filet Mignon and colloquially labeled “Surf and Turf”. Today’s strong demand and weak supply cause the price to fluctuate so much that it is not uncommon to see “market price” on the menu for lobster.
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