History of the Lobster

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From low-class food to high-class meal

A lobster – the rich and delicious sea creature that is served at any seafood restaurant. In the U.S. alone, lobster is the seafood version of steak and only ordered if you’re planning on spending those big bucks. Although, this wasn’t always the case. This now high-class meal was literally a low-class food up until sometime in the 1800s. 

“Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace explores how the Maine Lobster Festival has been drawing crowds for 56 years and tells the history of the lobster. He said, “Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats.” 

Shocking right? Who would have thought that lobsters would be compared to rats? 

Now that lobsters are considered a meal for the elite, a question arises that we might not take into consideration. As Wallace put it, “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for the gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does ‘all right’ even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?” 

According to a Test Your Lobster IQ quiz that appears in the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival program courtesy of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council: “The nervous system of a lobster is very simple, and is, in fact, most similar to the nervous system of the grasshopper. It is decentralized with no brain. There is no cerebral cortex, which in humans is the area of the brain that gives the experience of pain.” Even more, Wallace goes on to say that pain is a totally subjective mental experience, and you do not have access to anyone or anything’s pain except for your own. The entire animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is also an extremely uncomfortable topic, so in the end, it really could come down to individual choice. 

Either way, the history of the lobster is one wild ride. Who would have known that these garbage men of the sea turned into such a luxurious meal?

Source: “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace.