I heard about the lobster glut just weeks before my fiance and I had planned our annual summer trek from our home in New Jersey to Maine, where I grew up and where my parents still live. The burgeoning urban foodie in me thought: score! More delicate soft-shelled deliciousness for less money. But I should have been more sensitive. The lobster-price crash, supposed to be due to the overfishing of cod, one of the lobster’s natural predators, is not good news for the lobstermen of my hometown. They cannot physically catch enough lobsters to cover the costs of gasoline, traps, labor, boats. There’s talk of shutting down the industry entirely in protest. On Mount Desert Island, Maine, eating lobster has become a working-class issue.
Class in coastal Maine has always been complicated. Exiting my city condo on a recent 100-degree day, I ran into a neighbor who, when I complained about the heat, said “Well I hear you have a place in Maine to go to…” I stumbled to answer. Yes, technically, I do have a place in Maine, actually two, my mother’s house and my father’s house, which neither of my parents actually live in anymore but are doing their darnedest to hold onto them for the sake of my brother and I, though there’s always the threat that they may need to sell to balance their own finances. But I did not want my neighbor to associate me with that “1 percent” old-money types who retreat to their mansion-size cottages on the coast for three months and don’t seem to notice how far they are away from the rest of the world. I’m a freelance copy editor, for Christ’s sake, I’m uninsured!
We didn’t eat lobster growing up. Even though both my parents were “from away”, they had adopted the distaste for luxury that fishermen and others who make their living on the coast of Maine take pride in. My father was allergic to crab, shrimp, and lobster, an affliction which is fortunately lifting in his advancing age. My mother, who ran a local bookstore, had regular customers, an elderly couple from New York, who would come up every year and have a lobster for every meal for a week before returning to a presumably crustacean-free existence on the Upper East Side. We thought they were crazy. Now that’s exactly what my fiance and I do every summer. Only this summer, we could feel righteous about it. My former high-school English teacher, one of the most well-adjusted Mainers I know, declared her joy at the opportunity to alleviate the suffering of the local lobster(wo)men “So nice for a conscience-afflicted Puritan like me to have pleasure and duty coincide.”