When I first came to Maine to visit my sister decades ago, she was excited to prepare a lobster dinner. We stopped at a local fish shop for a couple of very fresh crustaceans. On our way back to her house we stopped along the coast and scrambled down the rocks so I could let mine go. When she plopped hers in a pot of boiling water not long afterward, she assured me that they didn’t feel anything. She enjoyed her dinner immensely. I don’t recall my salad.
A few years later at a Maine family reunion of course we celebrated with a lobster feast. I remember the hiss of them steaming in the pot. A delightful meal and family time ensued, but I was still uneasy about the prospect of being boiled alive. Could it really be that they don’t feel anything, or is that just something we tell ourselves to lighten our conscience?
Here on Seguin we watch lobsterman making their living, setting and hauling traps around the island. Good folks caring for their fishery while harvesting what they can, supplying many a happy eater. We’ve enjoyed time with Captain Ethan in particular, a lobsterman who – among other things – provides weekly transport for F.O.S.I.L.S. (Friends of Seguin Island Light Station).
When family came to visit us on Seguin a couple of weeks ago Ethan supplied the lobsters. We rowed out in the dinghy to pick them up. I’d spent time researching how to cook lobster humanely, so I was feeling great in the whole experience thus far. From the variety of suggestions I found online there seemed to be general consensus on two key points: 1) put the lobsters in the freezer first, causing them to fall “asleep” as their metabolism slows, and 2) kill them quickly before tossing them in the pot by knifing them through the cervical groove in their carapace.
My sister would have boiled them alive as usual but – always open to learning something new – she obliged me. We put four lobsters in the freezer and after about 10 minutes they were mellow. I split their heads on a cutting board…careful to penetrate both sides of the shell fully… completing the deed as instantly as possible. My sister rushed them into the steaming pot. It was brutal to be sure, but maybe more humane? A couple of minutes later we heard at least one of the lobsters flopping around in the hot water despite all it had already been through. Sorry man!
It was a special dinner. Cousins from Connecticut and Washington bonded while tasting lobster together for the first time, almost communion style. Thank you, lobsters. Your lives becoming our lives in the sacred act of eating.
How to cook a lobster humanely?
Unless we’re made with chlorophyl we have to eat other beings to survive, be they plants or animals. Maybe the best I can do is to honor those foods in their living and in their dying. The chicken I buy at a grocery store has been manipulated since birth on the way to my plate. But the lobsters around Seguin live free until that moment they crawl into a trap. Maybe the best I can do is to welcome them to my body and my life, while I have it.
How to cook a lobster humanely?
With gratitude, with praise, with thanksgiving, with honor, with welcome. With deep appreciation for the other lives that feed ours. With the knowledge that we too are temporary. With the hope that our lives likewise might nourish others.
BTW – Next time I think we’ll go straight to the boiling water.