“— just a more humane way of killing lobsters.”
September 20, 2018 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Is there a humane way to boil lobsters alive? One woman thinks it’s by getting them high. [Vox] “Charlotte Gill, the owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor, Maine, is getting lobsters high before boiling them alive, according to a report by the Mount Desert Islander. “I feel bad that when lobsters come here there is no exit strategy,” Gill, who has a state-issued medical marijuana license, told the publication. “It’s a unique place and you get to do such unique things but at the expense of this little creature. I’ve really been trying to figure out how to make it feel better.””

• Is it wrong to boil lobsters alive? [The Guardian]
“The usual argument against them feeling pain is that their brain structure is so different to ours. “The argument is: we know the areas involved in pain experienced in humans; if you don’t have those areas, you can’t feel pain. But it’s quite clear that, in evolution, completely different structures have arisen to have exactly the same function – crustaceans don’t have a visual cortex anything like that of a human, but they can see. Given the evolutionary advantage of experiencing pain, there is no reason to assume they should not have this protection against tissue damage.” The accepted wisdom about crustacean behaviour in response to stimuli was that it was a reflex, not a reaction to pain. “Again and again, we found that these animals were responding outside a reflex,” says Elwood. “For example, the first experiment we did was to put a weak acid on to one antenna of a prawn. The animals then engaged in prolonged rubbing and scraping of that specific antenna. If you wound a crab, they guard it – they put their claw over the wound – if another crab is nearby. These things are consistent with the idea of pain.””
• Does Getting Lobsters High Before Boiling Them Alive Reduce Suffering? [Motherboard]
“ But Michael Tlusty, a lobster biologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, wasn’t convinced this method was much more than a gimmick to sell seafood. Tlusty told Motherboard that lobsters experience the world very differently than humans, so it’s hard to make comparisons. “They do stuff that we can’t even imagine like losing the lower half of the body and then eating within 30 minutes of that,” Tlusty said. “They’re set up for a totally different life. I have no idea, maybe THC works on them. That I don’t know about them.” But, Tlusty noted, there’s a chance that having a lobster in a shallow pool being forcefully doused in smoke could be seen as inhumane as well. He said that what we do know about lobsters is that when their bodies get very cold, they move slower and respond more slowly to stimuli, which is why many chefs traditionally ice their lobsters before tossing them in the post.”
• The Swiss Consider the Lobster. It Feels Pain, They Decide. [The New York Times]
“Still, even the scientist who conducted the foundational research for the government’s decision said he’s not 100 percent sure that lobsters can feel pain. But he’s concerned enough that he’s only cooked a live lobster once and doesn’t plan to do it again. “There’s no absolute proof, but you keep running experiments and almost everything I looked at came out consistent with the idea of pain in these animals,” said Robert Elwood, professor emeritus of animal behavior at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “There should be a more humane approach with lobsters.” Dr. Elwood’s position — and the Swiss government’s — is outside the scientific mainstream, said Joseph Ayers, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University in Boston. “I think the idea of producing such a law is just a bunch of people anthropomorphizing lobsters,” Dr. Ayers said, adding that there were other possible explanations for Dr. Elwood’s findings. “I find it really quite remarkable that people attribute to these animals humanlike responses when they simply don’t have the hardware for it.””
• Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace [Genius] [.PDF]
“Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that the questions of whether and how different kinds of animals feel pain, and of whether and why it might be justifiable to inflict pain on them in order to eat them, turn out to be extremely complex and difficult. And comparative neuroanatomy is only part of the problem. Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own; and even just the principles by which we can infer that others experience pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics. The fact that even the most highly evolved nonhuman mammals can’t use language to communicate with us about their subjective mental experience is only the first layer of additional complication in trying to extend our reasoning about pain and morality to animals. And everything gets progressively more abstract and convolved as we move farther and farther out from the higher-type mammals into cattle and swine and dogs and cats and rodents, and then birds and fish, and finally invertebrates like lobsters.”
posted by Fizz (43 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Alternatively, split their heads in half right before dropping them into the water. It really is not necessary to boil them alive.
posted by MissySedai at 9:35 AM on September 20, 2018 [19 favorites]

Maine lobster: baked, then steamed.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:37 AM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

Clove oil.
posted by zamboni at 9:38 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did an extensive (ok, two minutes) literature review and found that the spiny lobster Jasus edwardi has cannabinoid receptors (PDF). In case anyone was wondering.
posted by exogenous at 9:39 AM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

I love Charlotte's. Best lobster rolls on the island!
My son was sad that their goat was no longer there this summer.

Very interesting strategy to try putting the pot in the lobster before putting the lobster in the pot.
We'll see how it goes.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2018 [13 favorites]

The French Chef: The Lobster Show [YouTube]
“When you put the lobsters in you want to put them i head first, that's because all of the lobster's brain's parts and feelings are right here in the head. Plunging them in head-first, upside down they're immediately killed.” ~ Julia Child
posted by Fizz at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2018

I'm not sure about icing a lobster before boiling it, seems to me that it'd take a while for the low body temperature to come up to a point that'd kill it, thus prolonging the amount of time the thing is alive in boiling water.

At home I use a cleaver through the head but I realize that this may not be desirable for presentation in a restaurant, which is maybe why I rarely order lobster when I go out?
posted by mikesch at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2018

I don't think getting high would make the experience of being boiled alive much better for humans, why would we expect it to be better for lobsters?
posted by BungaDunga at 9:52 AM on September 20, 2018 [26 favorites]

JFC why do stoners not understand that their magical herb is not some fucking universal cure? You are filling this animal's breathing apparatus with particulate, you horse's ass. Just because something has cannabinoid receptors doesn't mean it enjoys the experience.

The Julia Child method actually, y'know, makes sense.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:54 AM on September 20, 2018 [20 favorites]

A different option:
posted by poe at 9:54 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

As someone who just cried because I stepped on a preying mantis (and not just because it was gross the way it felt and my feet were bare and I felt it crunch and there were guts sprayed everywhere) I salute this lady.
posted by jenjenc at 9:55 AM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

On thoroughly reading TFA, the article I linked is mentioned:
Chef Dave Arnold, who detailed the myriad ways to kill a lobster in a 2012 piece for Cooking Issues, wasn’t just concerned with ethics but also with taste. According to Arnold, boiling or steaming is among the worst ways to kill a lobster, and giving the creature a quick death by putting a knife through its head is one of the quickest ways to do so while preserving its flavor.
While technically correct, it leaves out eugenol/clove oil anesthesia entirely, which is the main conclusion of that article.
In the tests that Nils and I ran, lobsters killed the knife-through-the-head way had a pure, clean taste that was superior to the flavor of lobsters killed with a standard boil, which tasted muddy by comparison. BUT when compared to lobsters that had been anesthetized and boiled whole, the knifed lobsters lacked flavor.
posted by zamboni at 9:55 AM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

The best way to avoid causing it pain is to NOT BOIL AND EAT IT. That is an option.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:02 AM on September 20, 2018 [41 favorites]

So you think sashimi is the way to go?
posted by howfar at 10:04 AM on September 20, 2018 [10 favorites]

Her solution: sedating the lobsters by blowing weed smoke into their enclosures. (It’s unclear whether Gill blew the smoke in the tank herself or used some sort of device

Her process is pretty clear to me.
posted by peeedro at 10:04 AM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

My mom sent my wife and me two live Maine lobsters for Valentine's Day one year. (My wife doesn't like seafood.) The poor lobsters were groggy from the ice packs they came with so they were thawing out a bit as the water was boiling in the pot. I looked up a video on putting a knife through their heads and I was too squeamish. I was having a little crisis of confidence so I called a friend. He said, "they were convicted of the crime of deliciousness." I put them in the pot head first. And they were delicious.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

How about just not eat them?
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2018 [11 favorites]

Just rubberband a knife to a claw, and you can sling it in the pot declaring 'self defense'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

Get me high and feed me lobster. You will never get rid of me.
posted by Splunge at 10:29 AM on September 20, 2018

It probably enhances the experience. Personally I'd rather not get high before being boiled alive.
posted by Kosmob0t at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like this is also somehow relevant:
Scientists gave MDMA to Octopuses.
posted by Uncle at 10:33 AM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Besides pain, there is also suffering, which is not the same. Pain might be a biological and quantifiable thing; suffering is a larger question. As someone who eats and enjoys lobster, I am intrigued by people who declare boiling "the least brutal, the most humane" method when the underlying motivation seems to be their own squeamishness about sticking a knife in the critter and ending it quickly.
posted by Hypatia at 10:37 AM on September 20, 2018 [17 favorites]

Given that lobsters engage in cannibalism in the wild (tho more often than usual thanks to human activity) this is just going to give lobsters social anxiety and a heightened craving for lobster flesh.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

"I was really bummed out when I realized forcefeeding geese for foie gras was cruel, so I started forcing heroin down their throats too! thank god there was a solution!"
posted by kingv at 11:22 AM on September 20, 2018 [15 favorites]

I bet they haven't even considered hiring Anton Chigurh to solve this. I bet they haven't.
posted by goatdog at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2018

Nitrous oxide is legal, available to chefs, and (I expect) more likely to anesthetize a lobster than THC.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

why do stoners not understand that their magical herb is not some fucking universal cure

The worst part is that if this gains traction, you'll be able to choose your lobster and your strain of weed, and there will be awful people talking about how Under The Sativa-infused lobster is clearly so superior to blahblahblah.

Scientists gave MDMA to Octopuses

Eights arms + hug drug= what can go wrong?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:27 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

They definitely don't seem to *enjoy* being in there.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2018

I feel weirdly disgusted whenever someone suggests that various living creatures "can't feel pain", ofc they can fucking feel pain, pain and the urge to mate are the most primal survival tools living creatures have. I am pretty confident that even plants can feel pain.

People always qualify it by saying something ridiculous like "they just have an instinct to get away from dangerous stimuli" like wtf do you think pain is? Living creatures aren't machines! People used to say shit like that about horses too. Now we know that yes, of course, they can feel pain, obviously when they look and act like they are in pain it is because they are in pain.

In conclusion, no lobster for me.
posted by windykites at 12:40 PM on September 20, 2018 [22 favorites]

If you're worried about the agony you cause the animals you boil alive, you are at least aware of the problem even if you are totally missing the answer in front of you.
posted by pracowity at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

But have you ever really, like, looked at your claws?!
posted by jetsetsc at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

Folks may be interested in following along with the Twitter feed or blog of Dr. Zen Faulkes, who studies pain reception in crustaceans. He has thoughts.
posted by pemberkins at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

The pain argument is a dumb argument no matter how you split it. A paraplegic with CIP can't feel pain and his legs don't work anyway, that doesn't mean we saw them off and let him get on with it. A Golf Polo can't feel pain but I'm assuming you don't want somebody to smash yours to bits with a sledgehammer. The Mona Lisa can't feel pain, nor could the Library of Alexandria. Debates about pain are just debates about which party is the biggest asshole. The real issue is: don't be an asshole.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:33 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Very interesting strategy to try putting the pot in the lobster before putting the lobster in the pot.
We'll see how it goes.

"Fridays TV Show" (1981) [Show J-03] "Nat E. Dred, The Rasta Gourmet" #3 [04 of 09] ( fish )
posted by mikelieman at 2:58 PM on September 20, 2018

I grew up here. This is not more humane, just a gimmick. But, if it makes you sleep at night knowing that your lobster was high just before being dropped into boiling sea water while your cow was marched down into feeder lines before getting a bolt to the head and summarily hoisted into the air - whatever floats your boat.

Also, Beal's in Southwest is legendary... In Bernard, Thurston's is legendary. Trenton has a few spots at the head of the island that are legendary... I couldn't tell you the lineage of Charlotte 24 years after leaving there... this feels way gimmicky.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:15 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

" The real issue is: don't be an asshole."

We don't eat paraplegics, golf polo's, or Mona Lisas. We do eat other living things. There's always an arbitrary point you have to draw of where you start considering it to be hard assholery. No people care to draw that line after plants, or microorganisms. Surely they'd feel us assholes had their whatever it is you need to be able to express or communicate that. I think a debate about pain is a reasonable step in the process of reducing assholeness.

I'd like to see some blind tests of the taste of lobster being boiled alive vs. killing its brain first. I bet anything ultimately it's the same slimy seagarbage flavour you have to dip in butter because butter flavour is actually good instead.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:23 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not being a huge lobster eater I want to clairify - the reason they’re boiled alive instead of killed with a knife first is because it’s prettier to boil them alive?

And because people have decided they somehow don’t feel pain?

For fucking real?
posted by supercrayon at 5:31 PM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

As David Letterman said some years back about the phrase "Amish terrorists," humane and killing don't really seem to go together. Anyway, as Nanukthedog points out, Legendary is just part of the name of that relatively new lobster shack. Beals Lobster Pier (since 1932), the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound (since 1956), and more recently, Thurston's (a family company since 1946) are the places locals recommend. I've lived on MDI for over 30 years and never heard anyone mention Charlotte's until that article appeared.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2018

@LeiLiLo, not to go too far off-topic, I have been to Beal's and Thurston's and both are amazing, but I'd never order a roll from them (do they even make lobster rolls there?); they're more of the sit-down-and-crack-open-a freshly-boiled-lobster kind of place. In my experience, you go to different places for "the best lobster" and "the best lobster roll". And Charlotte's checks that second box for me.
I'm admittedly more of a repeat tourist than a local; my family owns a rental property there so we spend a few summer weekends on MDI and a lot of that time is about the food. :)

I do agree that the whole THC thing sounds gimmicky, and not their only gimmick (e.g. the aforementioned pet goat). But we'll be back there next year either way.

Also, previously on the subject of lobster rolls.
posted by jozxyqk at 2:40 AM on September 21, 2018

Nitrous oxide is legal, available to chefs, and (I expect) more likely to anesthetize a lobster than THC.

If you've ever worked in a commercial kitchen, you'd know this was a brilliant terrible idea.

And as someone who has, keeping cannabis around to anesthetize lobsters might work, as long as you keep the staff distracted with free cocaine, which does neutralize the agony of fryolator spatter on your arms, or so I've heard.
posted by spitbull at 3:22 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know I'd sure like to smoke a little grass right before being boiled alive. /s

The best words (sacred words) on animal suffering; from Shaw I believe: the question is not whether an animal lacks the capacity to reason; it is whether it has the capacity to suffer.
posted by little eiffel at 5:26 PM on September 21, 2018

I'm trying to convince myself that we're more than just social animals. However, the nowadays society built a safe jungle for all of us, where we don't have to literally go wild and procure food as our ancestors did. We simply hit the closest supermarket, fill in the basket, without thinking that the food we just bought was "prepared" by someone else. Don't we all should have a part of guilt to all the animal sufferings? Why are we unconsciously putting meat on the table? Eating a steak "obtained" by others isn't the same as eating a lobster "prepared" by you?

Oh, and a lobster can't shine under black light. It's the scorpion which can do that! Now, try to catch and cook a scorpion. I bet you would not think twice when putting it to boil. Not the same story, isn't it?
posted by pseudonymus at 6:42 AM on September 26, 2018

The pot lobsters (as opposed to those being cooked in lobster pots) were back in the news this week as Maine state health authorities showed up in Southwest Harbor to make sure customers weren't being served any meat that had been "adulterated [by marijuana smoke] and therefore illegal."

The lobster pound owner said that no lobsters in her experiment have been sold over the counter, but only "consumed by employees and family in order to conduct their own evaluations. 'We’ve tested the individuals that have eaten it,' [she said, adding] there was no evidence found of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana."

The article also notes that "Other lobsters have been recruited for the experiment at the restaurant..."
posted by LeLiLo at 5:51 PM on September 29, 2018

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