As Whole Foods empties its briny tanks, a lobster lover reflects.

September 2006

Growing up outside of Boston, I learned a strange thing: The best lobsters come out of a trash can. Not any old trash can—a brand-new, galvanized-steel can, filled with a few inches of water and placed over a wood fire at my parents' annual summer clambake. When it was time to eat, the can was opened with a gush of steam, and out came the best food I've ever eaten. First we devoured corn on the cob and chicken pieces—both tasting impossibly of the sea. Then there were steamers, clams whose stringy neck skins caught under my nails as I pulled them free of the sweet, orange meat. This was all a prelude to the main course, the Maine lobsters, whose steaming shells were so red they seemed to glow from within. Following the procedures I was taught when I first learned to hold a knife, I'd unlock the jigsaw puzzles of their bodies, revealing the soft meat that tasted of brine and smoke and summer, a flavor that would linger on my fingers and lips for days—and one that, if I try, I can still taste today.

I never pondered what, if anything, these lobsters thought or felt as they were lowered into that hot, dark can, their fate sealed with the snap of the lid. But lately I've had to, ever since Whole Foods stopped selling live lobsters on the grounds that their storage and cooking procedures were inhumane. It turns out Whole Foods isn't alone. The Canadian government nearly passed a law that would have made cooking a live lobster punishable by up to five years in prison. Lately, lobstermen along England's southern coast have been attacked by the so-called Lobster Liberation Front. And in 2004, the Italian town of Reggio Emilia outlawed the "useless torture" inherent in what I've always considered the golden rule of seafoodatarianism: Buy and cook your lobsters live.

For a longstanding lobster lover such as myself, the crustacean conflagration brings up all sorts of troubling questions. Does a bottom-feeding, oversized insect really have thoughts and feelings, and, if it does, should it be considered part of the Red Sox Nation? What ethical developments will be next at Whole Foods: free-range escargot, pre-shucking therapy sessions for oysters, unions for grocery workers? But most importantly, where can landlocked East Coasters now go for their drawn-butter-dipped fix?

Thankfully, there are still many independent markets around Denver not afraid to draw the ire of the Lobster Liberation Front. A selection is listed below. Most can special-order the real deal with advanced notice and have them in stock for special occasions such as Thanksgiving. And for first-time lobster cookers, here's a tip: Keep your lobster on ice for 15 minutes, then slip a sharp knife between its eyes to ease its pain before placing it in the pot. To ease your own, remember that what you'll be eating supports mom-and-pop fishermen, is free-range in the truest sense of the word, and hasn't been processed by anybody. If that doesn't work, your first bite will melt all your troubles away.