Lobsters were so plentiful that people fed them to their cows and pigs or put them in their garden as fertilizer. The dislike of lobster wasn’t just the surplus at the time colonists arrived in New England. It may have had something to do with the fact that they were cooked when they were already dead. This was before people had learned to prepare them fresh out of the water by steaming them just until done, producing the moist, succulent meat we think of in a hot boiled lobster or on a lobster roll.

Lobsters have gone from being the food of indentured servants (there actually was a law in Massachusetts that prohibited feeding servants lobster more than three times a week) to a delicacy that now brands Maine across the world.

But it wasn’t until the late 1800s that lobster shifted from being poor man’s food to a status symbol of the wealthy.

Tourists from big cities like New York and Boston came up to Maine for their summer vacations and developed a taste for lobster. It reminded them of their seaside summers and they were willing to pay top dollar for it. Canning factories popped up to satisfy the demand, creating a way to preserve and ship the abundant crustaceans to other locations. Then, people discovered they could serve a whole smaller lobster to these tourists for a large price, and the shift from pig food to delicacy was complete.

These days, people pay a lot of money to buy a lobster for dinner, more to eat it in a restaurant, and even more to ship live lobsters from Maine to arrive fresh in places like Nebraska, far from the cool, salty waters of the Atlantic. It can sell for up to $50 per lobster!

The point is that lobsters are now considered a treat. When my six-year old daughter developed a taste for lobster, her desired summertime lunch out went from a $3 grilled cheese to a $12 lobster roll, something we only occasionally indulge her in.

There are few who would argue that, in these times, Maine lobster isn’t a special indulgence. It’s a symbol of a certain kind of decadence that is fun to enjoy when you can.

One group has worked hard to honor a group of veterans in Maine by providing them with this seaside delicacy at their weekly summer dinner. Every Tuesday night this summer, the Maine Chance Lodge and Retreat in Belgrade Lakes needs 40 lobsters to provide a tasty dinner for these veterans. They’re looking for lobstermen and community members in the Midcoast to donate crustaceans through August.

The Travis Mills Foundation, which runs the retreat center, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help veterans injured in combat. It was founded in 2013 by United States Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne.

Mills was injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device and lost parts of both his legs and both arms. There are only four other quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who survived. Despite his continued struggle to recover, he started this non-profit to help others injured in the line of duty. The foundation operates entirely on donations and volunteers who support veterans through providing a space for their recovery, as well as planning special events such as these lobster dinners.

Significant efforts were made to restore the lodge and retreat, which just opened this June. It has a beautiful view out over the Belgrade Lakes and an interesting history. It was built in 1929 by cosmetics pioneer Elizabeth Arden on 1,200 acres and employed hundreds of staff during the Great Depression. It was Arden’s personal retreat but also functioned as America’s first elite spa for celebrities, including actress Ava Gardner, singer Judy Garland, writer Edna Ferber, and former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. You could imagine these stars of their times eating fresh Maine lobsters on the patio.

What a neat transformation for this property that was once a symbol of wealth and opulence to now be a peaceful and beautiful place of respite for veterans and their families. A volunteer group, Patient Airlift Service (palservices.org), flies vets to the lodge.

The retreat is actively seeking volunteers and donations to help make this a place for families to relax and recuperate. They offer therapy to amputees including kayaking, swimming, fishing, camping, and waterskiing skills, so donations or gift cards for items that help support these efforts are needed.

Donating your time, equipment, or lobsters for these dinners can help change the lives of these veterans, as you can see in the smiling faces of those able to spend time at the retreat during its first magical Maine summer.

If you are interested in donating lobsters for the Tuesday night dinners this month, please contact Gerry Morin at 576-6947 or [email protected]. You can learn more about the foundation, as well as other opportunities to donate or volunteer at travismills.org.