In Strange Food History, we're hitting the books -- to find you the strangest, quirkiest slices of our food heritage.
Today: A glimpse back at lobster's humble roots.
Lobster is a food that's by and large reserved for special occasions: celebratory dinners and summertime coastal vacations. It's a rare enough treat that you're willing to tie on bibs as adults and get your fingers soaked with butter in polite company.
Hundreds of years ago, lobsters were so plentiful in North American waters that they washed up on the shoreline in two-feet-high piles. Native Americans primarily utilized the shellfish to fertilize their crops and as bait to catch other, more valuable fish. Then, during the colonial period, lobsters were so cheap and abundant that they were fed to prisoners, slaves, and apprentices. Servants grew so sick of the meal that they protested and demanded that they only be fed lobster three times per week, at most.
In the mid-1820s, there was an increased demand for lobster from the higher classes in -- where else? -- New York and Boston, paving the way for lobster to become the delicacy it is today.
Aside from a brief period during World War II -- when it remained unrationed, providing a cheap protein-rich option that America craved -- lobster continued to crawl its way up the desired-food chain.