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The One Good Way to Keep Your Boiled Lobster from Dying in Agony

The One Good Way to Keep Your Boiled Lobster from Dying in Agony
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Welcome to the August 2013 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, NH.

The One Good Way to Keep Your Boiled Lobster from Dying in Agony

They say lobsters don’t have enough brain for pain. But can we be sure?

     Many people (including me) identify a lobster’s frantic tail flipping as a sign of pain when it’s being introduced to a steaming or boiling pot. But a while back a University of Maine researcher, Michael Loughlin, said that the lobster’s temperature sensors that trigger the wiggling reflex are not a brain and that because lobsters don’t have a cerebral cortex, their ability to experience pain is nonexistent. Nonetheless, he decided to conduct an experiment to see if tail flipping during the initial stages of the cooking process could be reduced or maybe even eliminated. Just in case.

     Accordingly, Loughlin volunteered his services as a chef to anyone on campus who wanted a lobster dinner. He ended up with two hundred takers.

     On the appointed day, he first steamed a bunch of lobsters on racks inside a large pot. He found that the lobsters on the top racks stayed alive—and continued wiggling—much longer than the ones on the bottom. Some were alive twenty minutes after the ones on the bottom were cooked. Yikes.

     Next he hypnotized some lobsters (by turning them upside down and gently stroking their little tails) before dropping them into boiling water. The thrashing about lasted up to ninety seconds. Not good.

     His third experiment consisted of putting lobsters into warm water and then gradually turning up the heat. Bad. All the lobsters feverishly tail-flipped for a very long time.

     Finally, he put a half dozen lobsters on ice for fifteen minutes and then suddenly dropped them all into water brought to a roiling boil. Voilâ! None of them wiggled or thrashed about for more than thirty seconds, and some didn’t move at all.


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