An unnatural history of the McLobster

From Robert Steneck’s home in South Bristol, Maine, his view reaches past the pale granite headlands at the mouth of the Damariscotta River to be swallowed by the open Atlantic. The word “pristine” tends to pop into the heads of visitors, he said, but he prefers a more objective description. “The Gulf of Maine is a highly simplified and arguably domesticated ecosystem,” Steneck, a marine ecologist with the University of Maine, explained. “If you put it that way, are you surprised that we have McLobsters?”

Steneck was referring to what is more properly called the McDonald’s Lobster Roll, a limited-time offer that was plated across New England this summer. Back in 2013, James Surowiecki noted in this magazine that, despite a steep decline in the wholesale price of lobster, it had not become a mass-market staple. Since then, the toothsome crustacean has gained beachheads in Walmart (Sea Best Lobster Tails with Butter), Quiznos (Lobster & Seafood Salad sub), and Subway (Lobster Salad Sandwich), while Panera Bread is just now winding down its own fast-casual lobster promotion.

It seems that consumers are growing accustomed to lobster’s ubiquity; this is the first time in a decade that McDonald’s has tried to pitch lobster in the U.S. (a roll truly called the McLobster, or, in French, the McHomard, has become a summer tradition in Atlantic Canada, and was tested nationwide this year). At the least, buying it from a chain outlet no longer raises the deep, uptown-gone-slumming suspicions that it did in 1992, when McDonald’s failed in its original play at putting lobster on the menu.

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About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 13 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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