Consider the lobster1 (Family Nephropidae, aka ‘$9.99 All-You-Can-Eat’). The term ‘lobster’ includes well over 30-odd species2 of marine crustaceans, all of which have a chiton3 exoskeleton, two pincer claws, five pairs of jointed legs, and like nineteen different recipes.4 And that latter fact is, in a lobster shell, the reason why it’s not such a great deal to be a lobster these days.
Did we all do something or something?
By far the most popular lobster recipes are the ones that involve boiling a lobster alive, and that’s where things really go downhill for the vast majorities of lobsters who take a wrong turn into a lobster trap that was baited with delicious dead herring.5 There are other preparation methods, but boiling alive almost always wins out because it’s about as simple as boiling a pot of water (and then tossing a large crustacean into it) and maximizes the freshness of the meat.6 Moreover, boiling has the added benefit of turning the lobster’s shell bright red from of its natural muck-brown/algae-green hue, which doesn’t seem nearly as appetizing next to liquid butter.
A large amount of thought and argument has already gone into the question of whether lobsters feel pain6, but it seems pretty definite that, at the very least, lobsters don’t want to be boiled alive, since they will attempt to cling to the sides of the container from which they’re being dumped into boiling water, and then will make every effort to get out of the boiling water once in it. So let’s assume that, at the very least, lobsters can’t be particularly jazzed about how humankind has decided to consume them.
This, then, is the great irony of the lobster’s modern existence. For all the technological improvements and conveniences enjoyed by today’s working lobster, it still stands a pretty solid chance of meeting the decidedly unmodern fate of being boiled alive. Thus, the lobster is a crawling, benthic reminder that Fate is a cruel and capricious mistress, because, from any kind of objective standpoint, nobody would ever want to eat a lobster, let alone consider it a luxury. Lobsters are, essentially, giant bugs. They have long, bug-like antennae to find their way around; they have numerous jointed legs; and they live on the muck and the mire of the ocean floor, eating their fair share of detritus. And they are, in fact, members of Phylum Arthropoda, which includes crustaceans (lobsters et al), spiders, millipedes and centipedes, and insects. Indeed, the harder it’s considered, the decision that of all the creatures that live in the sea this is the one to boil alive and dunk in a tank of butter really stops making a lot of aesthetic sense. It is safe to say that if aliens from another galaxy came to Earth, their second question (right after ‘Which way is the bathroom?’) would quite probably be to ask, ‘Why are you eating giant insects?’
‘You humans eat what again?’
And this bizarre reality is, in fact, a modern twist. Until recent times, lobsters were considered low-class fare, partially because they are, quite literally, bottom feeders. Well into the nineteenth century, lobster was the food of the poor. Indeed, some American colonies had laws against feeding inmates lobster more than once a week, as more often than that was considered inhumane.
This man was later released on a technicality for being given too much surf ‘n turf.
But not so now. Fate has turned its back on animals that can not only grow past three feet in length and nearly 50 pounds in weight, but also may live more than 100 years because of their “negligible senescence,”8 and turned them into innumerable mayonnaise-based dishes.
Fate then really put the screws to the lobster, by turning them bright red in boiling water, which suppresses every pigment in their exoskeleton but one (the red one). Now, were it that the boiling suppressed every pigment but lime green, nobody sane would pair that with a steak. And the lobster’s one moment of sweet revenge – the fact that eating a lobster is a bit of a nightmare of juices and oils and strange hammering tools from which neither skin nor clothes soon recover – comes far too late for the lobster to appreciate.9
Grading a lobster is problematic, because it requires consideration not just of both their inherent qualities, but also the giant lobster in the room: they taste good. And potentially more problematic is the fact that in order to enjoy them we usually resort to tossing them in boiling water. These bundles of issues, in turn, raise more issues (for instance: ‘Would a high grade encourage more people to go out and buy a lobster to boil alive at home?’, and if it did, does that make Animal Review culpable in the lobster’s death, not to mention the reader’s potential moral collapse?). Giving it serious thought becomes almost mind-numbing, and so Animal Review has decided to punt, and to pick a grade from a hat.
Thankfully, it’s a moderately ambiguous one.
LOBSTER GRADE: B
DFW GRADE: A+ 🙂
1Lest there be any confusion, yes, this is plagiarized.
2This does not include spiny lobsters, which lack claws and are whence lobster tail comes. Spiny lobsters consist of about 45 species within family Palinuridae (lit. ‘succulent’).
3Chitin comes up fairly regularly in discussing animals, here goes: chitin is a long-chain polysaccharide polymer made up of subunits with covalent β-1,4 bonds, about which bonds it is important to know that this type of bond is found between the glucose monomers in cellulose (crucial to leaves and bark and wood and other relatively hard aspects of Kingdom Plantae), and it is the bonds that give the overall rigidity to the polymer. The rub is that crustaceans have to molt their exoskeleton (which they then eat) every so often as they outgrow it, and between the time they get rid of their exoskeleton and grow a new one, they’re particularly vulnerable to predators, as well as the embarrassment of everyone seeing them nude. Oh, and someone might boil them.
4Just a guess. It’s likely far more than that, and probably right now some student is powering his or her way through cooking school by figuring out how to make lobster quiche. Wait…a Google search has determined that there is out there such a thing already. That student will probably not do as well as he or she was planning. Dude, try lobster pizza. Wait…yeah nevermind. Man, we really undershot it with the nineteen recipes. Maybe more like 1,900 recipes. And try lobster schnitzel…nothing.
5Like you haven’t.
6Some chefs will stab the lobster in more or less the forehead area prior to putting them in the boiling water, but since the lobster has numerous ganglia (nerve bundles) and not a straight-up brain, that might not actually be much help in the pain-negation department.
7Stop what you’re doing right now & cf. www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster You will be much better and happier for it.
8Little or no cellular aging.
9After they’ve been boiled.