Why Is Lobster So Cheap? Why Do You Care?

Have you noticed your grocery bills reaching skyward along with your gas bills? In these tough economic times you’ve got to economize, and that means eating more lobster. Sorry, but you’ll have to buckle down and do it.

An article yesterday in Slate takes a look at why lobster, one of the classic luxury goods, is in the middle of a price slump, especially compared to staples such as grain, meat and olive tapenade. Turns out — at least for coastal denizens — the ugly, delicious sea-cockroaches are kind of the original locavore food:

What explains this crustacean mystery? Food inflation derives from several sources. The price of food can be driven upward by consumer and commercial demand, by speculation in the futures markets, and by producers successfully passing on the higher costs they incur (for gas, fertilizer, labor, processing, packaging, distribution) to buyers. The longer and more complex the supply chain (i.e., olives that are picked in Tunisia, shipped to Italy to be turned into tapenade, and then shipped to Dean & DeLuca to be turned into hors d’oeuvres for yuppies), the greater the opportunities for marking up prices and passing along costs.

The point here is that when the supply chain is as short as the walk to the end of the dock, or even a ride in a truck to the local supermarket, prices can avoid the global jump happening in most nationally and globally marketed foods, such as grain.

Ok, so we don’t all live in New England, or even near an ocean, but the economic logic driving this anomaly may just transfer over to other hyper-local products. In San Francisco this winter, barring another oil spill, Dungeness fans could be in relatively flush shape, financially, as could stone crab fans in Florida. Inland cities, obviously, don’t have the luxury of dockside seafood sales, but according to this article in the Chicago Tribune, they have fun playing at lobster fishing anyway.

Meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where these crustaceans are cheap and plentiful, you’ve got to get to work. We’re nearing the end of both cookout season and New England lobster season, so if you haven’t thrown some lobster on the grill, maybe this weekend is the time to do so. We found a really easy recipe on Barbecue Web if you want to give it a shot.

The Great Lobster Mystery [Slate]
Lobster is meaty subject [Chicago Tribune]
Lobster Clam Shrimp Recipe

[Photo: Lobsters for sale at Woodman’s, of Essex, Mass. via Paul Keleher/flickr]

Why Is Lobster So Cheap? Why Do You Care?