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Considering the Lobster

The wage earning side of my domestic arrangement came home enthused by a solo American diner who was reading a novel entitled Consider the Lobster. Being a smartarse I said it would rather be a collection of journalism, (by David Foster Wallace), as the title in question was an essay. It pricked her interest because I kept lobsters as pets before my ignorance killed an unconscionable quantity of them. Having them as pets rather than food is in itself not so strange, the poet Gérard de Nerval did just that in fin de siècle Paris, going so far as to take Thibault - for that was his crustacean's name - for daily walks in the Palais Royal, attached to a blue ribbon. Nerval would later contend: 'Why should lobsters be more ridiculous than a dog? I like  lobsters. They are serious creatures and they know the secrets of the sea'...with which I heartily concur.


I don't have the space nor acuity to attempt a response to Wallace's essay (from 2003's Gourmet magazine) on this page, for that I commend you to their website to read it in its entirety - don't miss the footnotes; he's a genius on footnotes. Instead I offer some titbits to whet the appetite (or maybe not!).


As with oysters, lobsters were originally so plentiful that they were regarded as fodder for the poverty stricken...penal colonies were banned from feeding them to prisoners more than once a week as it was deemed unnecessarily cruel, tantamount to feeding them rats.


Do lobster have brains? Indeed they do, in the form of a cerebral ganglion connected to the nerve ends...which could/should mean they are sentient.


Americans, in a hurry, poke holes in their carapace and microwave them live.


Lobster comes from the old English loppestre, a corruption of the Latin for locust and the Middle English for spider, loppe. They are essentially large sea insects.


He writes, shockingly, of lobsters trying to hook their claws onto the edges of a boiling pan like a person trying to cling to the edge of a roof, the lid clanking and rattling as the lobster tries to push it off - behaving exactly as you or I would if pushed into a vat of boiling water. Which, crucially, is to say the lobster's behaviour suggests a preference...a preference not to spend up to 45 seconds dying.


As ever the rigorous Wallace is careful to point out there are many counter explanations. Read him, and decide for yourself.




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