I've just returned home from Maine where I was directing a tour for 50 people from Pennsylvania.
Maine can certainly entertain its visitors without my help. It doesn't have to do much but shine its sun and thrash its waves and wear its boldest colors. When in Maine, it's best to just look out the window and let the craggy cliffs and the little fishing villages and the dotted islands speak for themselves.
But amid all of this idyllic journeying, we stopped at the 66th Rockland Lobster Festival to participate in the town's yearly celebration of the local crustacean.
Here is what I have to say about the lobster festival: If I were a lobster, I'd mark that date on my calendar and swim as far away as I could weeks in advance-maybe even all the way to Nova Scotia.
When we pulled up to the festival gates, a volunteer hopped onto the bus and proudly announced that we would be bibbing up to eat 50 of the 25,000 lobsters to be served at the festival this year.
"And look down there!" the volunteer said, pointing out the window to a brick oven-like structure that was bigger than my garage. "That is the biggest lobster steamer in the world!"
No one had any doubt that it was, in fact, the biggest lobster steamer in the world.
The tourists on my bus were giddy with anticipation because they had, without question, come to Maine to eat lobster. Sure, they looked at lighthouses and stood in the spray of the pounding surf, but their unspoken goal was to eat as much lobster as they could in five days.
And eat lobster they did.
They ate lobster for lunch and they ate lobster for dinner. One woman ordered a lobster for breakfast.
At the festival, their pre-purchased tickets allowed them a 1 lb. lobster each, but if they had enough cash, they could sit in the food tent all day.
I've boiled a few lobsters in my time, but I have to say, my status as a lobster lover is now in question.
People were walking the fairgrounds wearing lobster antennae on their heads, and they were buying lobster prints from local artists and key chains and T-shirts and baseball caps-all featuring the lobster. Also available to eat was lobster Caesar salad, lobster rolls, lobster wraps, lobster bisque and deep-fried lobster dumplings.
I started feeling sorry for the little red insects of the sea. They were the prey - the hunted prize - because the only way they could be enjoyed is if they were no longer alive.
I saw one of my passengers walk by with three lobsters piled on his plate.
"You're going to need more butter," I said.
I walked over to the world's biggest lobster cooker to take a look. There, right next to it, were thousands of live lobsters in big plastic tanks quietly awaiting their fate.
Maybe it was just me, but they didn't look happy.
In years past, PETA volunteers have come to the festival to pass out flyers that read, "Being Boiled Hurts." I'm not sure that's true for the lobster, but the festival attendees weren't distracted by the propaganda. Let's face it: In an average year, the U.S. industry produces around 80 million pounds of lobster, and Maine accounts for more than half that total.
Somebody is eating lobster.
But lobster wasn't always on par with caviar. When the Europeans began to colonize New England, they talked about an ocean so abundant with lobster that nobody wanted them. It wasn't uncommon to see 30 lb. lobsters swept up onto the beach after a storm. (Lobsters that big are rare these days because we so often eat them.)
Native Americans never fished for them, but rather used the meat for fertilizer.
The colonists fed lobsters to their indentured servants daily-people who couldn't afford their passage to the New World so they had to work it off by laboring for their sponsors. The servants went on strike and were thereafter promised to be served lobster only three nights a week instead of seven. It was poverty food.
Lobster didn't become a luxury item until the advent of the railroad when it could be shipped alive across the country. And as it stands today, it is the only food most people execute themselves before consuming.
It's not that I placed a moral value on the meal, but I decided to skip lobster at the festival. I'd been up to my ears in it all week, methodically cracking lobster tails for the novices on my tour. The smell of lobster was wafting from my pores, quite honestly.
And here's the real kicker: When I got back from the tour, my husband returned home the next day from a fishing trip in New England.
I'm sure you can guess what was in the cooler.
When I told him about my newfound dismay for eating lobster, he said, "I wouldn't worry about it honey. They would be happy to eat you if they could."
And he's probably right.