With most people feeling like they're getting less for their buck nowadays, it makes perfect sense that folks would be on the lookout for things that buck the trend of rising food costs. Apparently, they'll find it in at least two different places.
The first isn't so surprising. Chain restaurants are revising their menus so that it caters to Americans' wallet worries: Boston Market's rolling out a $5 menu, and Ruby Tuesday was so disappointed with its attempt to go upscale that it actually blew up a restaurant.
The second "economy" food is very surprising. It's lobster.
At least lobster in Maine. In this fascinating article about lobster and how it fits into the scheme of rising food prices, Newsweek's Daniel Gross describes how the forces that have converged to make a trip to the supermarket reason for a mortgage haven't touched the fresh-lobster market in Maine.
For one, without the processing, packaging and global distribution of, say, canned tuna, there aren't as many parties involved in getting a lobster to your dinner plate. That means that there aren't as many people insisting on their cut and thus raising the price incrementally with each handover. A simple supply chain means cheaper food.
Second, there are no speculators involved who benefit if the price of fresh lobsters goes up.
Then there's the fact that lobsters aren't something that are really affected by global demand. You don't see growing economies like China and India competing for the same lobster dinners Americans do. (It's worth noting that some experts strongly contradict George W. Bush's assertion that the blame for the food crisis lies with the growing economies of China and India, by the way.) As a food that still remains significantly regional to Maine, lobster has remained relatively unshackled by the 21st-century global economy.
And lobstermen aren't immune to the current economy, either. They've been forced to unload what they can at what the distributors are willing to pay nowadays. And the distributors, just as affected by the economy as everyone else, are willing to pay less for their lobster.
There's also the argument you can use the next time someone pulls out a bottle of cocktail sauce to go with his lobster. Lobsters are a relatively simple product to harvest. No land, no feed, no fertilizer, which means the rising costs of lobster-eatin' are limited to little more than the rising cost of gas for the boat, and the rising cost of butter for the table. As always, simple is always better when it comes to lobster.
Gross doesn't explicitly say so, but it's hard not to take away the impression that local foods have got a lot going for them from an economic standpoint, and that globalization brought a lot more complications than most of us expected. On the plus side, maybe this means we'll go back to the very old days, when lobster was considered junk meat and given to prisoners and servants. Lobster every Sunday and Wednesday. Is that so bad?
* Lobster photo by Martin Voll, taken from Wikimedia Commons. Image was cropped.
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