The Crab Paradox
Depending on where you are, and what period in history you are looking at, definitions and characterizations of wealth are always going to look different. Despite this, there seems to be one longstanding consensus that has pervaded almost all cultures on earth and stood the test of time: the performance of physical labor is beneath the wealthy. This has even spilled over into academia in recent times, where development theorists such as Seymour Martin Lipset, W.W. Rostow, and Kurt Mandelbaum, to name a few, all share the same underlying assumption that industrialization, and its consequent reduction of manual labor, is absolutely essential to the economic development that leads to democracy. Put simply, there is an overarching narrative that being wealthy means no longer having to get your hands dirty — manual or physical labor being something that is reserved for the un-wealthy, and looked down upon as ignoble.
This belief is so persistent and widely spread that, even to this day, it is not uncommon for women in East Asian cultures to go outside clothed in such a way as to minimize any contact with the sun, as tanned skin is still associated with working outside on the farm fields, and the consequent poverty of this vocation in those cultures.
So where does crab fit into all of this?
At first glance, crab would be the last food one would expect the rich folks of today to be consuming in such large quantities. It’s dirty (how many other adult foods need to be eaten with a bib), it’s difficult to eat (what other foods do we eat with construction equipment), and it does not have much caloric reward (83 calories/100g, compared to ground beef which has 332 calories/100g). Something like a hamburger would have a much easier time fitting into this narrative where the wealthy are meant to avoid physical exertion or labor. Hamburgers are wrapped in cellophane so it is rather clean, as there is no food spilling on the eater’s hands; it can be eaten with ease, that is, no cutlery and further preparation is required once the hamburger is served, one has only to begin eating; and lastly, there quite a high caloric reward, which leaves the eater feeling satisfied.
Looking at the history of the hamburger, though, as well as its current standing, we get another picture entirely. While the question of who exactly invented the hamburger is still hotly debated, it is generally agreed that the dish had its origins in the industrial revolution, where it came about as the best solution to meeting the nutritional requirements of an expanding working class. Ground beef was now available in unprecedented quantities and, in the form of a hamburger, it provided an inexpensive and tasty meal to the growing working class, which also provided enough calories to sustain them through their long and labor-intensive working hours (Ozersky, 2009).
So, what are we to make of all of this?
I propose that it is exactly the difficulty to eat, the dirtiness and the messiness of the crab that makes it an such an embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit, which leads to the inventions and innovations that bring these people to their wealth in the first place. Crab is served to those who like getting their hands dirty. Furthermore, crab entices and appeals to those who want to stand out, be that by design or because it is truly who they are. One has only to consider the uncommonness of crab. Hamburgers are ubiquitous, readily available in any city or town, but a restaurant that offers good crab is much more difficult to come by. In the same way that the innovators and inventors see things differently from everyone else, it stands to reason that those who have become wealthy by virtue of their own merits, like unique ideas and entrepreneurial spirits, would also see and be stimulated by food differently.