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Bookends: The voice of the lobster

In existence for over 250 millions years, lobsters come in two distinct varieties, ‘clawed and clawless’. Human predators tend to the flawed and clueless as they overfish and — since lobsters must be cooked live — kill them heartlessly.

21 May 2011

12:00 AM

21 May 2011

12:00 AM

In existence for over 250 millions years, lobsters come in two distinct varieties, ‘clawed and clawless’. Human predators tend to the flawed and clueless as they overfish and — since lobsters must be cooked live — kill them heartlessly.

In existence for over 250 millions years, lobsters come in two distinct varieties, ‘clawed and clawless’. Human predators tend to the flawed and clueless as they overfish and — since lobsters must be cooked live — kill them heartlessly.


Part of ‘the Edible Series’, dedicated to the global history of one type of ingredient, Lobster by Elisabeth Townsend (Reaktion Books, £9.99) considers the creature that inspired mosaic artists in ancient Pompeii, reclined like a cardinal in still life paintings, gave Salvador Dali a telephone handle, fed the indigent poor and later the spoiled rich and became a partial success in shellfish farming.

Reading its 128 pages inclusive of recipes will leave almost anyone considerably more clued up about lobsters than they were before. Did you know they can grow to the size of a large child? The spiny ones have navigation capabilities; they were once used for pig food; Mary Tyler Moore offered $1,000 to a Californian restaurant to ‘free’ a lobster called Spike — the LLF (Lobster Liberation Front) continues her work but more radically — and, interestingly, they might be ‘the last food that non-hunting humans routinely kill themselves and then eat’.

Scientific studies have yet conclusively to prove that lobsters feel pain, but it does seem they get distressed in a lobstery, insectish way when boiled or stabbed. Freezing them beforehand helps. Restaurants can invest in a machine, a Crustastun or Big Mother Shucker. But they cost — and maybe soon there won’t be enough lobsters to jusify it.


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