About 200 years ago, the lobster was regarded by most Americans as a filthy, bottom-feeding scavenger unfit for consumption by civilized people. Frequently ground up and used as fertilizer, the crustacean was, at best, poor people’s food. In fact, in some colonies, the lobster was the subject of laws—laws that forbade feeding it to prisoners more than once a week because that was “cruel and unusual” treatment.
This is the opening paragraph of Josh Schonwald’s Slate piece that discusses insects as a viable source of nutrition for human beings. As someone who does not like lobster, I love this paragraph. The food that people are willing to pay six dollars a pound to eat, basically because it’s become scarce, was once considered unfit for human consumption because of the ease by which it could be acquired.
And probably because it’s disgusting.
Despite how much you might profess your love for the taste of lobster, taste is not the only factor at work here. If lobster were as plentiful as it was two hundred years ago, it would cost a penny a pound and you would be feeding it to your least favorite dog.
Should we be surprised? Name another food that is almost always dipped in butter. If lobster were really so tasty, why the near-ubiquitous need for melted butter?
I love mentioning this fact to lobster lovers and watching their reaction. Some simply ignore my statement entirely, while others attempt to rationalize this unfortunate fact by explaining that the way we prepare lobster today (dropping a living creature into a boiling pot of water) is different than how it was prepared two centuries ago, therefore changing the taste entirely.
For these folks, I have some unfortunate news:
It was previously believed that the lobsters were incapable of feeling pain, and this allowed chefs to drop them into a boiling pot of water while still alive without any moral conundrums.
It turns out that not only do lobsters feel pain, but they are capable of learning to avoid pain.
Unless, of course, you drop them into a pot of boiling water. Then there’s no avoiding the agony of death. Just a horrific boiling of flesh and eyes until the lobster is dead.
I have no problem with people eating lobster. While I don’t love lobster and haven't eaten it in years, I’ve enjoyed it the few times I’ve actually eaten.
Of course, I’m not please to learn that the animals are capable of feeling pain as they are boiled alive. But I’m even less pleased with the way that scarcity and price have changed the perception of lobster. This is not a food that human beings inherently find appetizing. It is essentially an insect that crawls on the ocean floor that must be soak in butter in order to be made palatable.
Eat all the lobster that you want, but please remember that this was an animal once served to dogs and servants because people despised its taste and because it was cheap and plentiful.
At least acknowledge that you probably like lobster because you were told to like lobster, and you were told to like lobster because it costs a lot of money.
And it’s an effective conveyance vehicle for butter.