Dan Murphy: The Case of Smoked Seafood

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Technically, this story only tangentially involves the consumption of animal foods, the focus of this daily column.

But a news report out of Maine is just too enjoyable not to explore what can only be characterized as a whacky tale that combines contemporary culture with comedic effect.

Seems that a Maine restaurateur, whose main menu item is lobster — naturally — decided to calm down her crustaceans, prior to dropping them into boiling water, with a little of the substance indulged in (presumably) by many of her patrons prior to cracking open a pair of lobster claws: a dose of cannabis.

That’s right. Owner Charlotte Gill of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in the town of Southwest Harbor (man, do Mainers know how to come up with catchy city names, or what?) has been experimenting with using marijuana on the lobsters to be served at her restaurant.

Which led to a spate of headlines editors just couldn’t resist writing, such as:

  • “Baked, then boiled: Why one Maine restaurant is sedating lobsters with marijuana smoke” (The Washington Post)
  • “Half-Baked Lobsters?” (High Plains News)
  • “Maine restaurant’s plan to mellow lobsters goes up in smoke” (The Boston Globe)

(They passed on, “Lobsters on pot while in the pot”)

Of course, one can always depend on National Public Radio to adopt a “serious” take on any development, even when a story like this virtually demands a light touch, headlining their online post, “Maine Asks Restaurant to Stop Giving Lobsters Cannabis Before Boiling Them.”

Which, for a stodgy, protocol-addicted news organization, is surprising, since their headline begs the question: Can the restaurateur provide cannabis while they’re being boiled?

Inquiring Minds Want to Know
Does weed work on lobsters?

As The Portland Press Herald reported, state health inspectors investigating the situation are allowing the restaurant to remain open but have banned customers from requesting lobsters that have been “treated” with cannabis.

Gill, who happens to be a licensed marijuana caregiver, told the newspaper that she started offering “smoked” lobster as a way to make the trauma of being cooked alive a little more bearable.

But does cannabis actually work on shellfish? As an expert at Maine’s Lobster Institute at the University of Maine explained, it’s unknown whether pot smoke can relax a lobster, but it might be worthwhile finding out.

“In a world where use of marijuana is becoming more common and legal,” Richard Wahl, director of the institute and a professor at the university’s School of Marine Sciences, told the Amarillo, Texas, radio station KCIT, “and people are looking for ways to make the transfer of lobsters from life to the boiling pot a little more gentle, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised here.”

Indeed, as explored previously in the space (see, "We feel your pain"), a new law that recently took effect in Switzerland bans the tossing of live lobsters into boiling water, requiring that they be “rendered unconscious” before being subjected to what the law euphemistically labeled “a humane death.”

But given that lobsters don’t exhibit facial expressions, nor emit a range of vocalizations, how can chefs know when their stoned-out shellfish have been properly, shall we say, “prepped?”

Put it this way: You know they’re ready to go when they start lapping up the melted butter meant to accompany them to the table.

[Rim shot]

If nothing else, Chef Gill’s program provides new meaning to the phrase “smoked seafood.”

And creates yet another delicious dilemma for activists opposed to eating meat but equally concerned about animal welfare.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.