The History Of Lobster (And An AI Lesson)

Lobster wasn’t always a high-ticket delicacy. And I’m not even talking about your fanciest New England friend’s childhood memories. A long time ago, lobster was little more than the Chinese takeout of rural Maine. 

The reason lobster “blew up” was the railroad. 

That’s right. 

No Red Lobster without Big Railroad. 

The story is simple, but the moral of it applies to why blockchain is still more interesting than Bitcoin,* and how AI-adjacent is as important as AI-hype. 

In the pre-Civil War era of America, lobster was regional prisoner and farm animal food. Cheap, kind of gross, and most importantly, edible. Dumb ocean bugs with shells full of protein. 

Then, in the 1860s – when the war was on – there were food shortages. Feeding soldiers and running efficient supply chains for active front lines required canning. Cheap and accessible canned proteins became really, really important. Lobster got called up. Or, canned up, because it was cheap and it was very present off the coast of the north. 

That’s a lot of first-time lobster eaters. Keep this in mind. Even if it wasn’t that good.  

In the early 1900s, trains and travel started to explode. Similarly to the war efforts, train companies (and their profit margins) demanded canned foods for long train rides. If the war spread the acceptability of eating lobster, this took it all across the country. 

Chefs were curious about the idea of “lobster.” The canned stuff kind of sucked, but word of the live-cooked real stuff started to spread. In a can it was a good-enough protein, but cooked fresh – live in a pot (with a lot of butter), it was downright culinary magic. 

A rich man’s delicacy was born. 

Without nationally raised awareness, you couldn’t have had a national sense of scarcity. 

Not for that good stuff. 

There’s a narrative lesson in here. Cheap and accessible is a great starting point for a story. If you can spread the story far and wide, and then find ways to flip its cheap and easy access to expensive and scarce opportunity, you have a lobster moment on your hands. 

There are grifts in these structures. 

There are gifts in these structures. 

The easiest way to tell the difference between a grift and a gift is to look for vulnerable creativity. 

I’m giving the chefs who figured out lobster as delicacy creative-gift points. That’s a gift. Even if I’m not cuckoo for lobster-puffs personally. I respect the art and appreciation of it. I respect the craft of doing it right and how hard it is to scale. 

I’m not fully calling Red Lobster a grift, but I am saying certain things when done at scale are purely profit-driven and bad enough for humanity to deserve the label “grifty.” The 3,600 calorie “Shrimp Combo,” aka the unhealthiest chain restaurant meal in America, is not sane. Red Lobster isn’t vulnerable, but they know their customer’s wallets are (and they should know their hearts are too, because 4 days worth of sodium?! come on!). 

Lobster moments are everywhere. As the tracks are laid and costs come down, watch for what’s spreading. Blockchain, the jury is out but your name is everywhere post-COVID. AI, you’re in excitement phase and we don’t know how to put you in a pot and boil you yet. But the moment is coming. 

Watch the stories. Watch what’s in the can and everywhere now. What for what’s coming as a delicacy later. 

And while you’re at it, mind the sodium intake. Please. 

*See the Epsilon Theory “Crypto” page for more on this

Ps. OK, this is obligatory. If you didn’t see it coming, you don’t know me very well. And everybody who saw this coming from the title of this post – RESPECT.