Please Santa; Can I Have A Humane Lobster Stunner?
Now I don’t mean to flog a dead horse (metaphorically speaking, of course, I don’t actually want to do anything with dead horses, that would just be in bad taste) but since I wrote my manifesto on the correct way to kill lobsters in the summer, a new gadget has appeared on the animal slaughtering scene that may well revolutionize my methods.
And so to said object of my desire; the Crustastun – the world’s only compassionate stunning system of crabs and lobsters. The boxy device, which looks like a cross between a giant panini press and a photocopier is roughly the size of microwave and works by passing an electric current through the head of a lobster. Killing a lobster by boiling it is said to take up to 10 minutes (depending on whose research you read). It will certainly not be less than 2-3 minutes. Death by Crustastun is only a few seconds. Unfortunately I don’t have the necessary $4072.50 (£2,500) to kit out my shoebox sized Manhattan kitchen with one of these babies. So I’m appealing to Santa or any other kind benefactor (anybody? I make a spaghetti lobster marinara to die for…) who thinks that my insatiable need for humanely culled lobster is a cause worthy of festive philanthropy.
Crustastun was conceived of by British entrepreneur Simon Buckhaven – a former criminal lawyer- in the mid 1990’s after he was horrified to discover on a family trip to the Southwest of France that lobsters are most often boiled alive. When Buckhaven returned home he called up the patent office to see if anyone had patented techniques for electrocuting lobsters. The answer was no and Buckhaven enlisted a team of scientists from the University of Bristol to figure out the best means to stun lobsters in much the same way that cattle or other livestock are stunned.
The premise of Crustastun is simply set out by Studham Technologies, Buckhaven’s company. The lid of the stainless steel unit contains an electrode and a damp electrode sponge. The base contains a tank of salt water, with another electrode. The lobster (the machine works just as well with crabs, langoustines, crayfish etc.) is placed belly down on a tray in the base. As the lid is closed, the shellfish and tray are pushed down by the electrode sponge into the saline solution. A stun button on the front of the machine is pressed and a current passes through the 13 brain centers (brain is a highly contested word when it comes to crustaceans – many believe these creatures don’t actually have a brain at all, much less 13 of them) of a lobster. The current works by instantly interrupting nerve function, so that the shellfish cannot receive stimuli and – if you belong to the camp that believes lobsters can feel pain – won’t suffer. This takes less than half a second. The stun is applied for another 5 seconds or so to kill the creature.
The debate over whether lobsters have sophisticated enough nervous systems to feel pain continues to revolve around in circles. The latest research, published this year in the journal Animal Behavior, emerged from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University, Belfast and fits squarely into the “yes” camp. In the study scientists looked at the reaction of hermit crabs to small electric shocks administered to their abdomens. When shocked, the crabs emerged from their shells, indicating that at the very least, the experience disturbed them. In previous research at Queens, prawns that had acetic acid dabbed on their antennae, were similarly disturbed and seemed to rub the offending parts. When a local anesthetic was applied, the abused shrimp rubbed less.
No doubt the hefty price tag for the Crustastun will be difficult for restaurateurs to swallow, especially in this economy. One can’t help but to wonder whether the typical gourmet eatery that serves ethically dubious fare such as foie gras, caviar and bluefin tuna will be willing to shell out thousands to save lobsters minutes of pain that we don’t actually know they endure.
But, there are other reasons why chefs might opt for the expensive stunning process versus a large pot of boiling water, and these could actually healthfully impact their balance sheets and the number of bums on seats. When an animal is stressed before death it releases a stress hormone known as cortisol. The theory goes that the more stressed they are, the more hormones they release and the tougher the meat when eaten. Buckhaven claims that with his method, the lobsters die stress-free and the result is more tender, sweet tasting meat.
What’s better than a delicate lobster that died a happy death? Shellfish that doesn’t make diners violently ill. A further convenient and profitable consequence of a zap of electricity is that harmful, sick-making pathogens are killed off, along with the lobster. This increases the shelf life of the dead crustacean for an additional 48 hours, provided its refrigerated of course. And we all know that a chef who is saved from throwing out unsold lobsters is a happy chef! As of November this year, shortly after the product was released on the market, Studham Technologies had 60 orders in the UK alone.
If this piqued your interest, check out this YouTube video of Crustastun on Technology Today. My favorite line is when Buckhaven says- in his pompous British accent – of the moment when he learnt that lobsters were boiled alive: “And I thought to myself, only the French could do that. No one else in the world could do that.” No doubt he was most disturbed to learn that his own kinsmen are similarly capable of such uncouth brutality!