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Once upon a time, lobster had a rather humble reputation, far from the luxurious delicacy it is today. Surprisingly, lobster was widely regarded as food for the less fortunate during the colonial era and beyond. In fact, it was so abundant and inexpensive that it found its way onto the plates of prisoners, apprentices, slaves, and even children.

In those early days, lobsters were so plentiful that they were served as regular fare in correctional facilities and to those with limited means. However, not everyone welcomed this crustacean cuisine with open arms. Some indentured servants protested against being served lobster and managed to negotiate a compromise, limiting their consumption to three times a week.

Across the American colonies, lobster earned the dubious nickname of “garbage meat,” reserved for those who couldn’t afford the more esteemed fare. It became a staple for the less privileged, including indentured servants, prisoners, and impoverished families.

Even among indigenous tribes residing along the coast, lobsters were not highly regarded as food. Instead, they were often utilized as fertilizer or bait for fishing, reflecting their low status in the culinary hierarchy of the time.

‘Protein of the bad man’

Back then, lobsters were everywhere along Massachusetts Bay, so much so that they would form heaps up to two feet high on the beaches. But despite their abundance, lobsters were seen as lowly creatures fit only for the lowest of the low. In fact, they were considered so unworthy that they were only fed to servants or prisoners.

In the early 17th century, when William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Plantation, had little else to offer newcomers except lobster and a cup of water, he was embarrassed. This humble meal was hardly a warm welcome. In response, some residents of Massachusetts were so dismayed by the thought of being served lobster that they revolted. They insisted on limits, forcing the colony to sign contracts with indentured servants and restricting their lobster consumption to thrice a week.

Back in the 18th century, lobsters were treated like any other meat – cooked after they were dead. Unlike today, where we know that lobster is best when cooked alive for freshness, people back then didn’t follow the same practice. When a lobster dies, its stomach releases enzymes that make the rest of its body deteriorate rapidly, leading to spoilage. This likely contributed to the belief that lobster was only fit for the poor or slaves.

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