Butter, Lobster & Bugs

Time Magazine’s cover of this week is dedicated to the butter and, more broadly, to fat. A Caravaggio-style elegant slice of butter occupies all the cover with just a little space for the title: «Eat butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong». Basically it doesn’t surprise me that much. Actually history is a continual refusal of past discoveries that nowadays appear passed. But this time my thought is not toward to past, or to present. It is toward to future.

Let’s start from the beginning. I love eating shellfish. I’d eat tons of shellfish. All kind of shellfish. Lobsters, crabs, shrimps. A couple of years ago, while I was rolling down from Chicago to New Orleans with my wife, we pulled over along a road, and we ate in a tiny restaurant specialized in shellfish (and all kind of crocodiles recipes)*. I’ve never eaten so many shrimps and crabs. Amazing. In Boston, as well, I ate great lobsters. Or in Cuba (even though it is not so easy to find them). Once in Lebanon I ate hand’s width crabs. And say nothing of Normandy or Croatia. Everywhere good shellfish are, I eat them.

And every time I eat them (or better, every time I pay them) I’m used to thinking when back in the early 17th century William Wood, a British historian visiting Canada’s Newfoundland, used to say of local lobsters: «Their plenty makes them little esteemed and seldom eaten [except by the Indians who] get many of them every day for to baite their hooks withal and to eat when they can get no bass». And that’s incredible if we just think of the price for one lobster today.

Incredible, true. But not so incredible. It’s not a matter of taste. I rule out that lobsters taste has been changed during the last three centuries. It’s just a banal matter of supply and demand, and therefore a matter of market. It was the abundance of lobster that made it boring, a function of its overwhelming numbers off the Atlantic shores of Canada and New England and the ease with which they were caught. So the supply was high and the demand was low. Nowadays it is exactly the opposite scenario. And so the taste followed. It is not changed. It is just been shaped by the market turning what once was food for the slaves into an exquisiteness for the lords.

But that’s all about past (lobster for the masses) and present (lobster for the niches). Let’s try to think about what today we have in abundance and it is considered (especially from the western people) awful and disgusting. Bugs. Who’d eat them? Nobody. Yet, maybe, one day, they might be considered in the same way as lobsters today. On January I was in Cambodia, and along the road there was plenty of stalls selling all kind of food including bugs and reptiles. I don’t like reptiles (I can’t even stand to look at them alive…) so I tried bugs (cicadas, to be exact). Not that bad. And it was just fried (I guess) with no spices.

The story goes on but the moral (or, better, the question) is: Is the taste that changes the market or the market that changes the taste? What is nowadays awful will one day turn into valuable? And, last but not least, why don’t we try to actualize tomorrow’s tastes so that we could enjoy today what today we have in abundance?

*For those who can, this is the address: B&C Seafood Market & Cajun Restaurant, 2155 Louisiana 18, Vacherie, LA 70090.