The everyday foods that could become luxuries

Everyday foods such as coffee, meat and spices could become luxury items due to global climate impacts and changing tastes.O

Ordering lobster in a restaurant or serving it at a party is considered the height of gastronomic sophistication.

But that hasn’t always been the case – lobster has worked its way up from humble beginnings to become a gourmet delicacy.

In the 18th Century, lobster was considered a highly undesirable food that wealthy families steered clear of. The crustacean was so abundant along the east coast of the US that it was used as fertiliser and served in prisons. Kentucky politician John Rowan quipped: “Lobster shells about a house are looked upon as signs of poverty and degradation.”

It was the development of railways in the US, which transformed lobster into a luxury. Train operators decided to serve lobster to their wealthy passengers, who were unaware of the seafood’s poor reputation. They quickly got a taste for lobster and brought it back to the cities, where it appeared on the menus of expensive restaurants. By the end of the 19th Century, lobster had cemented its status as a luxury food.

What determines which foods are luxury items? Scarcity and price both play an important role.

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Like lobsters, oysters have long been associated with fine dining and special occasions, largely due to their high price. But they haven’t always enjoyed this status. Oysters used to be eaten by the poorest in society in the 19th Century. “They were so plentiful and cheap they were added to stews and pies to bulk them out,” says food historian Polly Russell.

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