Even if you don’t enjoy lobster (and I don’t, particularly), more than perhaps any other food it’s synonymous with a certain kind of luxury. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, for a long time it was just the opposite.
In response to a piece on surprisingly common things that used to be status symbols, a discussion kicked off about things that had just the opposite trajectory. Particularly lobster, which just a few generations ago, often had a much less luxurious reputation:
Lobster is the exact opposite of this. It used to be considered peasant food, now it is a symbol of swankiness.
My grandfather grew up in pokunk-nowhere maritime Canada, and hated lobster. He said one winter they were so glad he shot a bear, as they could eat that instead of lobster finally. He was one of 12 kids and they were dirt poor, and lived off lobster until he was big enough to head to a logging camp in north Ontario.
When my grandfather was growing up in Nova Scotia, kids always went to great pains to hide the fact that they had a lobster sandwich for lunch. It meant your dad was a fisherman and you had run out of any other food and had to eat lobster. Because that stuff was cheaper than bologna. It actually hit that point again out here if you bought it from the guy who caught it. It only became a status symbol when people started bringing it inland.
So what changed to turn lobster so far around in just a couple generations?
It took a worldwide shift, and not just in food — it took a war. In a look at the history of lobster’s rise, Pacific Standard pinpoints the real shift in attitudes towards lobster to World War II, and the new rationing practices that people had to get used to. At the time, lobster didn’t even have the status to make it into the rationing system, which proved the key to its success:
During World War II, however, lobster wasn’t rationed like other foods, and so people of all classes began to eat it enthusiastically, and discover its deliciousness. By the 1950s lobster was firmly established as a delicacy; lobster was something movie stars ate when they went out to dinner. It was the sort of thing girls from new-rich families ordered for their weddings, something the Rockefellers served at their parties.
Of course, lobster is far from the only food to make the climb up the prestige ladder from a humble place. Food prices are not only reflections of the costs of production, but also reflections of changing tastes and trends. You only have to look as far as the (sure to be nearby) bunch of kale to know that food, just like everything else is susceptible to trends and fashion. Sometimes after the fad has gone by, the food goes with it, and sometimes it sticks around for the long haul.
But, just like a food can be swept upwards by a quick quirk of fate into the upper echelons, its time there can also be brief. Lobster may have undergone a transformation since our grandparents’ generation, but it could just as easily cycle back down again in the next one.
Image: Andrey Starostin / Shutterstock