It doesn’t matter how lobster is prepared (fully steamed, buttered in a roll, squeezed into ravioli), it’s going to cost a pretty penny when you order it off a restaurant’s menu. I recently ordered lobster bruschetta, and while it was divine, it cost me $18 for four pieces of crostini and basically just as many chunks of lobster. For an appetizer.
And, c’mon now -- I live in New England! You can’t tell me that there’s a shortage of lobster around here and that every bite should be considered precious. There’s plenty of shellfish to go around. Even Luke’s Lobster, the breadwinner of fast-casual seafood, serves a lobster roll for $17 at most locations. Why, then, do we continue to grin and bear it when we go out for lobster fra diavolo or a lobster roll in the summertime?
Funny story, actually: It was all inflation! (Not that funny, really.)
Back in the day, lobster was considered trash. Yes, garbage food. So much so, in fact, that it was the go-to dinner option in prison. Lobster was thought to be so bottom-of-the-barrel that it’s what they resorted to feeding inmates. Prison food now, to compare? Burgers, hot dogs, chicken, lasagna. Basic, cheap stuff.
Like I said, there was so much lobster to go around during the original settlement of the United States -- to the point where they’d pile up two feet high on the shores of Massachusetts -- that it became literally embarrassing. Dubbed the “cockroaches of the sea,” the colonists took some tips from the Native Americans and would use the lobster that didn’t go to prisons as fish bait and fertilizer. You know what we use for fertilizer now, right? Makes you think.
Fun fact: The way the Native Americans prepared lobster for themselves (covering them in seaweed and steaming them over hot rocks) is likely how clambakes became a thing.
Because there were so many lobsters washing up, it was easy for the poverty-stricken to get their protein. Thus, it was a poor man’s dinner.
Cut to the 1800s, when canned food became possible and the Industrial Revolution took off. When everyone figured out they could can lobster, among other things (though it doesn’t sound that appealing, I know), people from across the country gained access to the inexpensive, abundant seafood. That, and more people started visiting New England once train tickets became cheaper. Obviously, cheap, delicious meals were attractive to these new tourists, so prices increased across the board. And never came back down, apparently.
By World War II, lobster was basically a delicacy and has remained at the top of the elite food chain every since.
Restaurants get away with keeping these prices so high because apparently lobster farming isn’t an overnight process. Lobsters reportedly grow slowly despite eating a lot, plus they’re pretty susceptible to disease. As a result, fish markets rely on crustaceans that are fished on site (usually Maine) and shipped out to the rest of the country. Keeping the lobsters alive and healthy on board -- nine times out of 10, a lobster you’re eating was cooked alive, for various important reasons -- requires a very specific environment, and it ain’t cheap.
So, restaurants are most likely already paying high shipping fees to get their lobster, meaning once they put it on the menu, you’re not going to see the retail price.
But we’ll keep paying, right?! It’s too good not to.