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Consider The Lobster

With Meghna Chakrabarti in for Tom Ashbrook

From sea floor to still life to roll. The lobster in science, myth, art, and on the plate.

In this photo made Thursday, August 2, 2012, Maggy Mulhern, left, and Katharine Mead, prepare a lobster bake for dinner on the shore of a small island in Penobscot Bay Maine. (AP)

In this photo made Thursday, August 2, 2012, Maggy Mulhern, left, and Katharine Mead, prepare a lobster bake for dinner on the shore of a small island in Penobscot Bay Maine. (AP)

Writer Nancy Frazier loves lobsters. She sees them everywhere she looks. They’ve crawled out of the pot and onto the canvas. Ventured from the sea floor and into our mythology and prose. Dali painted surreal lobsters. The Dutch masters captured them in still life. Milton wrote of armored underwater sentinels in Paradise Lost. Lewis Carroll had Alice dance a lobster-quadrille.

But why are we so bewitched by a crustacean that we eat? There’s a deep biology and psychology at work here. One that deserves a closer look.

This hour, On Point: Behold, the surprising lives of lobsters.

-Meghna Chakrabarti


Nancy Frazier, author of the book I, Lobster: A Crustacean Odyssey.

Diane Cowan, marine biologist at the Lobster Conservancy.

Bob Baines, long-time lobsterman, he is head of the Maine Lobster Advisory Council.

From The Reading List

Gourmet “There are lobster T-shirts and lobster bobblehead dolls and inflatable lobster pool toys and clamp-on lobster hats with big scarlet claws that wobble on springs. Your assigned correspondent saw it all, accompanied by one girlfriend and both his own parents—one of which parents was actually born and raised in Maine, albeit in the extreme northern inland part, which is potato country and a world away from the touristic midcoast.”

Cape Cod “I can recall tugging my mom down the aisle to the back of our local market, anxious to pay a visit to the curious crustaceans. I would gawk for as long as permitted, transfixed by the extraordinary features. Naively, I thought it were the same six or seven “loppers” I was calling on, week after week. I chose to believe they were protected there, like pet fish, in a tank at a restaurant.”

New York Times “A combination of warm weather and good conservation techniques has led to what could end up being a record lobster harvest across Maine waters. The glut is particularly noticeable here in Stonington, a fishing village on an archipelago by the Atlantic Ocean that has more lobster “landings,” or catches, than anywhere in the state.”



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  • DrewInGeorgia

    “The lobster in science, myth, art, and on the plate.”

    And on the plate….Mmmmmmm, Lobster. I can’t precisely remember what it tastes like but I do remember it was damn good.

    • Don_B1

      And the colder the water it lived in, the better it tastes!

  • arydberg

     The eye of the lobster is cited as example of intelligent design.     
    It’s eye has no lens as ours does but is made of square reflective tubes.  

    see:  http://creation.com/lobster-eyes-brilliant-geometric-design

    • J__o__h__n

      There is no intelligent design.  Why do creationists invade every show on science?

      • AC

        hold up; i like to think everything I design IS intelligent!!!
        ok, so that’s my ego – lol

        • Don_B1

          What J_o_h_n is talking about is that some all-powerful god created every detail of everything we find on earth.

          What actually happened was some small fraction of the millions of mutations that occur in plants and animals give them a slight advantage in surviving to procreate, thus giving their offspring that advantage, so that, over time, even new species arise as a group separates from the others of its original species and more mutations occur, giving them new attributes.

      • arydberg

        I do not promote intelligent design I simply referred to it as it really is a clever design.     

        • J__o__h__n

          The link you posted to creation.com promotes it. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1550427523 Akilez Stamatelaky

    http://www.tastyburger.com/ I can’t help it so yummy

    Best Burger in Fenway.

  • Shag_Wevera

    I just can’t pay that much for an aquatic cockroach.  If tails cost $3.99/lb, it would be a different story.

    • J__o__h__n

      Most of the summer chicken lobsters were selling for $4.99.  To my great surprise, I got a bit tired of eating it.

    • Don_B1

      To “benefit” from this summer’s “lobster glut” you had to buy it as close to the boat as possible. Restaurants did not pass their savings on to the diner.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

    These are gorgeous creatures that i find very hard to cook alive. In fact they are much more gorgeous than many dogs living in my neighbourhood…

    Free the Lobsters! Long live the lobsters!

  • RolloMartins

    Once read an account of the discoverers of Manhattan island. It listed the foods found and one listed five foot lobsters. True?

  • http://twitter.com/georgeolken George Olken

    The Lobster
    by Howard Nemorov

    Here at the Super Duper, in a glass tank
    Supplied by a rill of cold fresh water
    Running down a glass washboard at one end
    And siphoned off at the other, and so
    Perpetually renewed, a herd of lobster
    Is made available to the customer
    Who may choose whichever one he wants
    To carry home and drop into boiling water
    And serve with a sauce of melted butter.

    Meanwhile, the beauty of strangeness marks
    These creatures, who move (when they do)
    With a slow, vague wavering of claws,
    The somnambulist¹s effortless clambering
    As he crawls over the shell of a dream
    Resembling himself. Their velvet colors,
    Mud red, bruise purple, cadaver green
    Speckled with black, their camouflage at home,
    Make them conspicuous here in the strong
    Day-imitating light, the incommensurable
    Philosophers and at the same time victims
    Herded together in the marketplace, asleep
    Except for certain tentative gestures
    Of their antennae, or their imperial claws
    Pegged shut with a whittled stick at the wrist.

    We inlanders, buying our needful food,
    Pause over these slow, gigantic spiders
    That spin not. We pause and are bemused,
    And sometimes it happens that a mind sinks down
    To the blind abyss in a swirl of sand, goes cold
    And archaic in a carapace of horn,
    Thinking: There’s something underneath the world.

    The flame beneath the pot that boils the water. 

    • nancy frazier

       I like that poem too.
      Do you know Bill Holm’s poem “New Religion”?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Who can talk about lobster history without mentioning “Larry the Lobster” from SNL?


  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HWJBCBVUKBLWH7EODSOT6Y6OEQ kym

    My brothers are all lobstermen off midcoast Maine. One of them has a large antique photographic print of several men posing behind an
    enormous pile of hundreds of lobsters  in Belfast Maine. Writing on the
    back of the photo explained that lobster was caught and used as
    fertilizer for the local farmers.

  • Rudy22601

    Has anyone consider the ANIMAL?  The late author David Foster Wallace wrote a wonderful treaty on the cruel & unusual treatment of lobster as food.  We, in our search to quench our palate, BOIL A LIVE ANIMAL!  Oh, how humane we are!?!


  • sbrsb

    I used to be a chef in fancy french restaurants that served lobster, but was never comfortable with the idea of boiling them alive. Later I did research on how to best slaughter them humanely; that’s written up here: http://animalslives.com/lobster/

  • aguystudio

    Yup…”hypnotizing” lobsters works.  I am from the Chesapeake region, originally and it works with blue crabs as well.  Just turn the crab over, put their claws together (they will grasp their own claws, like shaking their own “hands”) and rub the crab’s belly.  Puts them right to sleep.  You can set them down, upside down, and walk away…they will nap away.  Similar effect to rubbing a lobster nose…knocks them out!  (As a Southerner, I know this type of thing ALSO works on gators…rub the belly…but “don’t try this at home”)

    • aguystudio

      P.S.  Blue crabs are tastier than lobsters, anyway…sorry…no regional prejudice, just crab is not a rich (crabs are “sweeter”) and so more palatable!  Just my shellfish vote from Virginia!

  • http://www.facebook.com/clint.cavanaugh Clint Cavanaugh

    I had to stop cooking lobsters because I couldn’t stand to kill them.  One day 4 years ago, I stopped into the Lobster Pound in Hingham.  The lobster that the guy picked out for me was so lively that I almost didn’t get him, but reasoned that SOMEONE was going to cook him, it may as well be me.  So after insisting that the guy put him on ice with wet paper on top of him like a blanket, off I went.  I’d gotten maybe 1/16 of a mile down the street before I turned around, drove to the harbor, took the bands off his little hands and tossed him back into the sea.  No more cooking them for me…but I’m still trying, unsuccessfully, to talk myself out of eating them!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZRPFZVEGPFGW7G4RGF2GI5FONQ Sarah

    Octopodes is the plural you were looking for :-)

    • nancy frazier

       Yes, one of them at least.
      Thanks, Sarah.

  • nancy frazier

    I sure enjoyed my hour on On Point. Questions and call-in comments were lively and interesting, and the time was over before I knew it.
    Many friends and family have been in touch as a result. My eight-year-old grandson couldn’t wait to go to school this morning to tell about the program.
    Many thanks to Meghna and and all.

  • Regular_Listener

    I too have struggled with the most humane method for killing a lobster, and settled on a screwdriver driven thru its heart by a hammer.  This does cause the animal pain, but it is over in a few seconds. 

    It is interesting to see what an important part of the discussion this has become.  Clearly I am not the only one who has wondered about this.  At the same time, on the list of crimes against nature, killing a lobster has to be ranked pretty low.  They are not as developed as mammals – aren’t they big sea insects, basically?  They are not an endangered species, and they also kill other creatures to survive.

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