Today, lobster is a high-priced, gastronomic status symbol. But as recently as the mid-nineteenth century it was thought barely edible, fit only to be consumed in times of dire need. And lobster is not the only food that has been successfully rebranded. In fact, many of our modern luxury foods were once considered anything but.
Caviar: Just like lobster, caviar was served to prison inmates in the nineteenth century—a practice that resulted in several riots. One man incarcerated at the New Jersey Penitentiary House wrote in his diary, in 1843, “Cannot survive long in here. Caviar is so bad, even when served with blini and crème fraîche. Doing another riot to-morrow.”
A Big-Ass Steak: Until only a few decades ago, eating a big-ass steak was a major faux pas for members of high society. People would instead eat a dozen tiny steaks, fitting as many as possible into their mouths at a time, as mouth width was considered a sign of prosperity. And the bias against big-ass steaks goes back further than that—in the Pharaonic period, of ancient Egypt, having to eat an entire big-ass steak with French fries was a humiliating punishment for poorly behaved children.
Chicken Wings Dipped in Gold Leaf: It wasn’t long ago that chicken wings dipped in twenty-four-karat gold leaf was a dish exclusively consumed by dirty peasants. Now they’re sold in some weird hotel in midtown because of Instagram.
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Johnnie Walker Blue Label: Interestingly enough, during the Renaissance, Johnnie Walker Blue Label ($179.99 per bottle today) was given to servants, while royalty sipped on Johnnie Walker Black Label, now thought to be the second worst of the Johnnie Walkers, after Red Label, which used to be medium-good. Confusing, we know.
Truffles: Truffles, formerly known as “stupid mushrooms,” used to be incredibly cheap. In one famous incident, Napoleon almost lost control of his army after serving white-truffle ravioli with shallot foam on a bed of microgreens at every meal for a month, as a cost-cutting measure. When his captains complained, he quickly switched up the menu and went on to conquer Italy.
Parsley: Today, parsley is considered, while not a super-luxury item, kind of a waste of money, since you just use a tiny bit and let the rest go bad in the fridge. But, in the third century B.C., nobody gave a shit.
Mysterious Gelatinous Cubes That Celebrities Eat to Make Them Never Age: You have to be pretty rich and famous to be able to locate—let alone afford—those weird cubes of glowing purple jelly that celebrities eat in order to freeze themselves in a state of perpetual youth. But in the fifties people ate them all the time. And they hated it!
Old Bagels: Since all this other stuff was bad in the past and is now the best, it logically follows that some food that we currently consider bad will be a delicacy of the future. My money’s on those discounted bagels that you can get at 5 P.M. because they’re slightly stale. If a future person could see how many of those things I eat, they sure would be jealous.
Small-Plate Tasting Menus: In the past, poor people frequently ate small plates of food.