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Boiled Alive
August 25, 2013 6:02 AM   Subscribe

'There’s more lobster out there right now than anyone knows what to do with, but Americans are still paying for it as if it were a rare delicacy.' Also, from 2004: David Foster Wallace goes to the Maine Lobster Festival. Via)
posted by zarq (62 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this earlier, it explained why some supermarkets Suddently had two different
Lobster prices.
posted by The Whelk at 6:05 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


( also, ack those poor fishermen).
posted by The Whelk at 6:11 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Obligatory link to Rock Lobster.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:15 AM on August 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


It also explains why the price has not gone down in restaurants.
If you're used tpo the surf-n-turf being priced at 'market' or $49.95 and suddenly it's only $43.95, maybe you're wondering if the lobster or meat is of a lower quality?
posted by Shrek77 at 6:15 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Relevant: In case you missed it, it turns out lobsters do feel pain when boiled.
posted by dry white toast at 6:15 AM on August 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


Lobsters: why settle for the Giffen when you could have the full Veblen?
posted by rongorongo at 6:32 AM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


2.50 a lb in Maine for soft shell last week. Mom butterflied them and poured garlic butter before broiling. She's a heartless denizen of the upper floors of the food chain, but they wouldn't stop moving. It was good, but never again.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:34 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


And so it begins. Their fishy associates have begun planting stories in popular media, casually alluding to their existence... and soon they shall clamber from the oceans in droves, to rule the land with their spiny claws, to stomp on our puny faces with their malformed human feet. Soon, very soon, the entire planet will know the crabby, salty wrath... of the lobstermen.
posted by oulipian at 6:38 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


*zoidberg screech *
posted by The Whelk at 6:44 AM on August 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


The wholesale cost of food in a restaurant is only a minor component of the retail price.
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


No way to work Bukowski into this post?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:06 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pour out some melted butter for our lobstermen homies.
posted by phunniemee at 7:10 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't a large component of the price of lobster transporting it fresh? That's why the New England supermarkets (The Whelk - at local legend Market Basket you can get the lobster fresh for one price and steamed for a second, that might also explain two prices?) have great deals but the midwestern ones presumably don't.
posted by maryr at 7:21 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


At our supermarket in seacoast NH, they were going for $3.99 a pound, and the store will steam them for you. That's half the cost of deli ham or turkey. I've never thought of lobster as an impulse buy before.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:21 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a Chowhound thread discussing local deals in the much greater Boston area (mean all the way to schoolgirl report).
posted by maryr at 7:24 AM on August 25, 2013


Obligatory link to Iraq Lobster.
posted by darkstar at 7:38 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that there's also a price issue with size difference: that large lobsters are significantly more valuable to the restaurant market, where they're brought out in the shell, than little ones. But little guys are still tasty made into lobster rolls and the like. (I knew lobster was cheap this summer when I started seeing a seasonal fast-food lobster sandwich at Quizno's.)
posted by immlass at 7:42 AM on August 25, 2013


We'll know the price has floored when we see the McLobstah roll.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:46 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obligatory link to Rock Lobster.

Rock Bottom Lobster
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:49 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


We'll know the price has floored when we see the McLobstah roll.

The McLobster launched in Ontario about a month ago. It's always been available in Atlantic Canada.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


But little guys are still tasty made into lobster rolls and the like. (I knew lobster was cheap this summer when I started seeing a seasonal fast-food lobster sandwich at Quizno's.)

Also lobster shell disease (Warning: Contains Images Not Safe For Lunch) ensures that there's a supply of cheaper lobster meat for use in lobster rolls and the like.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:53 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lobster will always be a luxury for me. I live two thousand miles from Maine, and go there most summers. Our extended family sits by the ocean, breaking lobsters open with rocks, eating corn on the cob and potato salad. By the time we toss the shells into the ocean and watch the gulls fight over them, it's time for another beautiful Maine sunset.

Buying lobster in a supermarket or ordering it in a restaurant would just be weird to me. I can live fifty weeks without it. As you can see, I've conflated food, emotion, place and season into something without a price tag. But food is weird that way.

Now, give us this day our daily bread (or rice): well, that's different.
posted by kozad at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maryr - the different prices are listed by size , which I never saw in a NY market before, so i guess they have a lot on hand.
posted by The Whelk at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2013


We'll know the price has floored when we see the McLobstah roll.

I've got a photo of a McLobster Roll sign from Maine in 2003.

I spent a long time in the restuarant industry, and I was always pretty skeptical about the whole [Market Rate] thing you see on menus - because though it was ostensibly a protection for the restaurant in the case of sudden cost rises in a certain kind of fish, it never varied much at all. The only exception would be a chalkboard-menu type of place where they really were buying and pricing daily - but most places that serve seafood aren't starting from scratch each day with that day's market conditions. I came to believe that the appearance of [Market Rate] on the menu was mostly to encourage people to believe that the chef was up at 3:00 AM bidding for fresh, locally landed fish down at the docks.

Lobster has also stayed expensive because it makes other menu items, particularly seafood dishes, look more reasonably priced.

This is another big reason. At a classic type of seafood place, the priciest item will be the surf'n'turf, with filet or prime rib, or perhaps twin lobsters. The lobster dishes establish the upper range of the menu. If they are suddenly $17.95, people might start to wonder why their sword, tuna and salmon are $24.95. Of course they should, as those are much more threatened fisheries.

the restaurant business is not, at heart, a commodity market.

This nails it. There's much more going on in restaurant pricing.

Lobsterman do have a challenging gig. But of course not all their catch is wholesale. They get a premium for big lobsters (2# and up) and really big ones can be sold for many hundreds to banquet halls and the like. All the fisheries are undergoing a lot of change and economic strain. The glut of lobsters is part of a complex systems issue going on with the North Atlantic, and we are still far away from figuring it out. THey're all also caught in the market bind - the more successful they all are at extracting protein from the ocean, the lower the market rate. Costs only rise to a premium when we have fished a species to scarcity. The entire model is broken.
posted by Miko at 8:06 AM on August 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Wait until the 1000 pound fukushima lobsters start hitting the market.
posted by orme at 8:07 AM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Our extended family sits by the ocean, breaking lobsters open with rocks, eating corn on the cob and potato salad. By the time we toss the shells into the ocean and watch the gulls fight over them, it's time for another beautiful Maine sunset.

Buying lobster in a supermarket or ordering it in a restaurant would just be weird to me. I can live fifty weeks without it. As you can see, I've conflated food, emotion, place and season into something without a price tag. But food is weird that way.


It's the same for me (although I will eat the occasional enormous lobster roll while in Maine). I've had a hard time taking seriously the several expensive-casual "New England-style" lobster joints popping up around me in New York. If you're not surrounded by family, debating the merits of lobster liver and roe, and occasionally accidentally squirting each other with lobster juice, all for about $5 each for a huge bug that came out of the ocean that day, you're really missing out.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:08 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The McLobster has been available in Maine for years, long before the recent price drops. I remember it from my childhood. (And I wondered if I was making it up, but no; it shows up on Google Books in a 1990 issue of Down East. "During August and September, thirty- five Maine McDonald's began offering their interpretation of a classic Maine dish: the lobster roll. 'The response was overwhelmingly favorable," says the man behind the McLobster, Al LeClerc".)
posted by pie ninja at 8:09 AM on August 25, 2013


the different prices are listed by size , which I never saw in a NY market before,

Really? That surprises me. That's been the norm at places like Market Basket as long as I can remember. I love when the guy comes on the mic and announces a special on "chicken lobster". The 1 1/4-lb lobster seems to be the most popular. It could be that we just have a steady enough supply that rather than selling by the ounce at one price, we sell them in categories, so that a better price can be gotten for the larger lobsters. Also, we may export fewer small lobsters than we eat here in New England (seems likely).
posted by Miko at 8:09 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait until the 1000 pound fukushima lobsters start hitting the market.

Literally. It'll be a pummeling. Toho has already signed the rights.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:17 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This might explain the sign my grocery store has had a sign up for the last 3-4 weeks advertising "live lobster".

It does nothing to explain why there's no actual lobster, alive or dead, inside the store.
posted by DU at 8:26 AM on August 25, 2013


"People fed lobster to their cats." How Lobster Got Fancy
posted by oulipian at 8:36 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obligatory Teenagers From Outer Space screencap.
posted by TedW at 8:51 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


torture! <>
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 AM on August 25, 2013


I've always been curious about the "scarcity" of lobster as it's essentially a bug (crustacea, not insecta, I know) that lays eggs by the tens of thousands (yeah, predation, weather, yada yada, but still).
posted by sourwookie at 9:42 AM on August 25, 2013


We'll know the price has floored when we see the McLobstah roll.

Years ago, I heard this would be a thing by now, since it turned out the lobster was easily adapted to aquaculture. Nothing ever came of it, however.
posted by Rash at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2013


I spent last week near Boston for work. Having a mild-to-moderate shellfish allergy, any trip to New England is a dietary challenge for me, but with lobster prices in a trough right now, last week's trip was an absolute minefield. Every single restaurant I ate in had lobster in the dinner special, and they were also working lobster as an added protein into menu items not normally associated with seafood - like a Caesar salad with lobster meat.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:46 AM on August 25, 2013


I've always been curious about the "scarcity" of lobster as it's essentially a bug

I'm pretty sure we can destroy any fishery given half a chance, bug or not.
posted by ryanrs at 9:51 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


But little guys are still tasty made into lobster rolls and the like.

With Maine lobsters, smaller lobsters yield tastier meat. I used to be a greedy fuck, asking for the biggest size available and relishing the occasional three-pound lobster when I could splurge. And it is sheer fun attacking that monstrosity (I'm sure there are much bigger, but that's what we had), but the taste was always slightly disappointing compared to a sweet, tender little 1.25 lb critter.

There's a buffet in Rhode Island that includes all-you-can-eat Maine lobsters. (There used to be two, but one closed.) Their lobsters are relatively small, which I'm sure works best for the restaurant on various levels—cheaper to buy; people eat less—but it makes me happy because they taste better. You get two hours to gorge, and as of a couple years ago it cost $70-something. Once I ate four-and-a-half lobsters. That is my confession and I am ashamed but okay.

If you enjoy lobster rolls and you live in New England, and especially if you're enough of an aficionado to distinguish between Maine and Connecticut styles, then I happily present you with Lobster Gal: "One gal's quest to sample every lobster roll in New England...and maybe beyond."
posted by cribcage at 9:52 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I understand the lobster glut has been caused by the collapse of cod stocks in the north Atlantic and cod are the biggest predators of lobster larvae. Remove the predator and more juvenilles are surviving to maturity.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:53 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Wait until the 1000 pound fukushima lobsters start hitting the market.

Literally. It'll be a pummeling. Toho has already signed the rights.


Guys. Ebira. You're about 50 years late to this party. Fortunately, Godzilla was on the job.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:58 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Lobster was pretty cheap last summer, too. Maine has a conservative approach to the lobster catch - the minimum size for a legal lobster used to be a little bit bigger than neighboring states. I think NH caught up. There's also a maximum size. In all states, egg-bearing females must be marked returned to the water. So the lobster population should be reasonably stable, though with Maine waters warming, it's hard to predict. As Keith notes, lobsters have fewer predators these days.

Lobster can be killed humanely before cooking.

The best way to support Maine lobstermen (and a few lobsterwomen) is to buy more lobster. Maybe I'll serve lobster for Labor Day.
posted by theora55 at 10:03 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lobster is surprisingly low in Weight Watcher points, if you can keep the butter and mayo away. There's a place in Mystic, CT that puts it in grilled cheese and that's just deadly.

I have a lobster story that we truck out often when the kids are all together. Years ago we took the boys to Block Island for a few days. They were 8, 6 and 4 and I was pregnant with the newest model. My stepson Sam, who was 6, decided one night that he wanted Lobster. This kid lived on hotdogs, but there he was, loudly demanding a full lobster dinner, at market price. Now, nobody could throw a fit like Sam. He did this pouty thing with his lips and would cross his arms and thrash from side to side making these awful sobbing noises. It became one of those awful battle of wills situations. We were NOT going to get him lobster, though I'm sure the other diners were considering taking up a collection just to get him to shut up. Finally he gave up and we got him something more reasonable and peace was restored to the family.

On the way home the next day we stopped at McDonalds. They had a lobster roll on the menu for something like 4.99. "Look Sam!" I said "They have a lobster sandwich on sale! Would you like one?" He looked at me with these big blue eyes and said to me "I don't like lobster." I could have killed him.

He's 20 now, and doesn't throw fits any more. As far as I know he still doesn't like lobster. And he has no idea why he wanted it so badly that night. It's fun to tease him about it, though.
posted by Biblio at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


Obligatory Leroy the Uninterrupted Lobster.

Avoid the cage!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:30 AM on August 25, 2013


Wait until the 1000 pound fukushima lobsters start hitting the market.

We will have to develop giant robotic claw crushers to defend our shores!
posted by elizardbits at 10:34 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


After you have feasted on the lobster, put the shells to a creative use.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:45 AM on August 25, 2013


This is great news for the job market.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2013


Lobster can be killed humanely before cooking.

That's only humane if your technique is good. Last time I tried it I ended up with a wounded but very much alive animal limping away from multiple stab wounds and trying to escape. It was horrible.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:10 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't particularly care about the barbaric cooking methods for a creature upon which I would immediately drop a phone book if it menaced me in my home, but I am thankful that it is somewhat of an ethical issue because this has successfully allowed me to forbid the cooking of gross awful smelly lobster ever in my presence.
posted by elizardbits at 11:14 AM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I spent a couple weeks this summer on an island of the coast of Maine with a substantial lobster fishery. At a meeting of the local historical society, one of the speakers was the guy who runs the local lobster fisherman's co-op. About the current state of lobstering he said that the seafloor is "rotten with lobster," but that the quality had decreased over the years. He wasn't sure why, though he wondered about changing sea temperatures. He also said that these days the "premium" lobsters were always set aside for shipment to high-end restaurants around the country (at a high price per pound). I guess the rest of us are eating the dross.

Side fact: Maine used to have a substantial bait-fishing industry to support the lobster industry (every lobster trap needs to be baited, of course). This industry has basically died due to overfishing. He said there was a single herring fishing operation that he knew of in Maine, and they had to travel 400 miles off the coast to catch any fish. He said it's not uncommon now for Maine lobstermen (and women) to get their bait from places as far away as Vietnam. Crazy.
posted by baseballpajamas at 1:36 PM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


So it's exactly like diamonds and just as cruel.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:55 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


baseballpajamas, thanks for that info on the bait-fishing industry. I'm bummed out that even the little fishies are getting overfished.

elizardbits, I once saw a crayfish lying peaceably in the streets of Bombay and let out such a shriek that half the street came to see what the tourist was hollering about. I hate crustaceans. They are my forever demons.

As for the rest of you, slathering hellspawn in butter and garlic, I can't tell if I'm glad and grateful you are smashing their carapaces and devouring their limbs because that means there is one less for me to fight in the final battle, or just deeply disturbed that you are eating the vanguard of an interdimensional invasion. Both I guess. Carry on.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:04 PM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


also this is the best thing
posted by elizardbits at 4:51 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just heard a radio ad about D'Angelo's lobster sandwich.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2013


McLobster rolls have been a seasonal and regional McDonald's option for decades. I remember going to McDonald's in North Conway, NH, as a kid and my dad getting the McLobster which was no longer available in VT.

And yeah, the D'Angelo's lobster sandwich isn't new either. I'm not sure if it's available year around, but it's been at least seasonal for the last 10 years. My dad always picks one up on his way back north/inland from Boston.
posted by maryr at 9:15 PM on August 25, 2013


I spent last week near Boston for work. Having a mild-to-moderate shellfish allergy, any trip to New England is a dietary challenge for me

I'm not sure where you're eating on these trips, but there are PLENTY of restaurants that don't serve shellfish in Boston. Also, large portions of New England (Western Mass, most of New Hampshire, all of Vermont) are not fishing oriented.
posted by maryr at 9:18 PM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


it turns out lobsters do feel pain when boiled.

I’m not sure that a guy in England giving electric shocks to hermit crabs proves that lobsters feel pain. There's a more interesting look at that question here [via The Straight Dope].

Also more information about current Maine lobster prices here, and a more detailed look at lobster shell disease in the Gulf of Maine here.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:39 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anesthetizing lobsters is more humane and results in a sweeter taste. Dave Arnold does note that the flavor effects of the killing method are often overshadowed by other factors, however.
posted by bfranklin at 6:43 AM on August 26, 2013


And in Quebec, McHomard.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:06 AM on August 26, 2013


deadmessenger: "I spent last week near Boston for work. Having a mild-to-moderate shellfish allergy, any trip to New England is a dietary challenge for me, but with lobster prices in a trough right now, last week's trip was an absolute minefield. Every single restaurant I ate in had lobster in the dinner special, and they were also working lobster as an added protein into menu items not normally associated with seafood - like a Caesar salad with lobster meat."

I'm highly allergic to shellfish. Quite a few restaurants in the Boston area don't serve it. In addition, there are a handful of restaurants, including Legal Seafood at Legal Harborside, whose kitchens do apparently maintain strict rules of separation, and where the servers will work with you to make sure you're not put at risk. I've had three dinner meetings at that location and not had a problem.

I always speak with my server and if I'm not comfortable with their answers, I speak with the manager. They can alert the kitchen to be careful about cross-contamination, and can warn you away from dishes where it might be an issue.
posted by zarq at 9:44 AM on August 26, 2013


I always feel like I shouldn't like Legal as much as I do. They've expanded into a sizable chain with grocery items but the restaurant itself is still quite pricey. It's synonymous with business suit dinners in my head. The restaurant should be soulless. But every time I go there I have a very good meal and excellent service. It's impressive. And I don't even like fish!
posted by maryr at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I distinctly remember seeing lobster rolls on the menu of a Cambridge, Massachusetts McDonalds in late August of 2005.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:57 PM on August 26, 2013


boiling lobster is roughly as difficult as boiling an egg. Cracking and eating a lobster is a fun, almost zen process that provides a proper protein serving size over enough time for your stomach to feel satisfied. It's about $3.99 per pound (obviously that's mostly inedible), so a 1 or 1.25 lobster and some veg and a little butter gives me a delicious, balanced meal for less than the price of a fast food value meal.

All hail late summer in New England!
posted by es_de_bah at 1:30 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


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