How to Kill a Lobster, Redux
To recap: in the name of
Here are the new death machines.
It was designed and built in the UK in response to tightening animal-welfare laws intended to protect crustaceans from torture.
There is a "continuous flow" model, with a conveyor belt, to be used for industrial applications. There is also a small, individualized lobster killer for zapping one animal at a time. Got space on your kitchen counter, between the blender and coffee maker?
The CrustaStun has already received some press in a few newspapers and on a few websites. As gruesome as it sounds, the CrustaStun has received a humane stamp of approval.
But the lobsters processed for Whole Foods will not have the luxury of electrocution.
In fact, no one seems to have noticed the much bigger machine that has already started revolutionizing lobster processing -- the Avure HPP. Yet it is this extraordinary piece of technology that will be used to provide lobster meat for Whole Foods.
The HPP technology was initially developed by the U.S. Army to make better-tasting
You press the start button on an Avure machine. Powerful pumps whir, and inside a narrow tube in the center of the machine, the water pressure is compressed to several times the pressure found in the deepest trenches in the ocean. The microscopic bugs in your meal all die, giving the food extended shelf life, and reducing the need for artificial preservatives.
These machines have been in use for a while already. If you've ever eaten
At the same time, all the muscle flesh inside the lobsters conveniently separates from the shell. For the first time in human history, people have finally devised way to extract the meat of a lobster without cooking it.
And that's what this Whole Foods thing is about. As I write in the Boston magazine
In 2005, the Maine Lobster Promotional Council commissioned a survey on people's attitudes toward lobster. Only 15 percent of Americans, mostly in the Northeast, qualified as 'traditionalists' who wanted their lobsters alive. An equally small number, just 13 percent, objected to the retail sale of live lobsters for reasons of cruelty. For Whole Foods, the smart business decision is to target the silent majority -- the 50 percent or so of Americans who would love to buy fresh lobster if only it were easier to prepare.For Whole Foods, switching to processed, packaged lobster meat will earn them far more money than live lobsters ever did. At the same time, they are presenting it as an ethical choice, which will earn them maximim moral points.
In the meantime, it is this 40-ton U.S.-military-derived crushing machine the company will be relying on, in the name of treating lobsters humanely. To replace its live lobsters, Whole Foods has
According to Avure, the water inside the machine can take from 30 to 45 seconds to reach maximum pressure, and it's unclear how long the animals endure inside -- while they undergo pressurization -- before they die. A spokesperson for Whole Foods told me this:
Whole Foods Market is currently working with a team that specializes in the physiological and welfare aspects of humane slaughter to have this machine evaluated and certified. Pilot studies with this machine suggest that the lobster is killed within seconds (rather than up to several minutes when using the traditional boiling-water cooking method). It is important to us that we ensure this is the case in order to remain consistent with our requirements for humane slaughter that we have established for all of the other species we sell.It will be interesting to see if "seconds" turns out to be 30 seconds or three seconds. If it's more like 30 seconds, then I suspect that the only way to guarantee that lobsters are killed in a humane fashion for HPP processing would be to use both machines -- run the animals through the CrustaStun first, then load them into the Avure HPP.
When the lobsters come out of the Avure machine after a minute or two, the result is arresting. Every piece of meat can easily be extracted from the shell, raw and fully intact, including the leg muscles. After shucking, here is what the lobster looks like:
The company in Maine I referred to above,
Welcome to the future.
- I'm a keen lobster hunter in Florida, and I'm afraid I just grip the lobster firmly in one hand, while twisting the tail off with another. I usually do this at the dock, the minute I get off the boat. (I feel marginally guilty about then reaming the tail with a piece of antenna to remove the vein, but I've gotten over the involuntary twitching). One time after a dive, an interested novice diver was watching the operation, and asked "Does it hurt?" I replied, "Not me!" In any case, I lose patience very quickly with all this "humane killing" mularky. All you need to do is watch animals eat each other in the wild to see how it's supposed to be done!
- We experimented with the HPP equipment to process crab meat but found that while the recovery of meat from the shell was excellent the process completely changed the texture and taste of the crab. The texture was rubbery and the flavor was altered to an inferior level compared to what we are used to. We also tried the machine on a Maine lobster with the same result, rubbery and less flavorful. The upside was that recovery was about one third better than hand picking.