Maine Chef Explains Why She Gets Lobsters High

By David Jenison on September 28, 2018

Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound was already a popular destination in Maine, but this past week the restaurant became legendary around the world. The buzz came from chef-owner Charlotte Gill, who announced that her team developed a way to sedate lobsters with cannabis. She claims cannabis-induced sedation creates a less-traumatic situation for the lobsters that translates into superior tasting meat. Moreover, cannabinoid receptors are found in all manner of life from the sky, land and sea, and Gill believes this practice can be applied to a whole range of consumer meats.

In addition to being a local lobster legend, the chef-owner is also an advocate for organic food, humane animal treatment and cannabis-based wellness. She grows her own organic cannabis plants and holds a medical cannabis caregiver license, which is all the more interesting when one learns she started the decade as a legalization opponent. Despite all the painfully pun-heavy reports to the contrary, the cannabis-sedated lobster meat is not currently available to the public, but Gill says it'll debut on the menu in early October after she's finished the final series of tests. PRØHBTD spoke with Gill to learn more.

What originally inspired you to sedate the lobsters with cannabis?

This wasn't just a fluke like, "Let's get a lobster high and see what happens." We did a lot of research. One of my crew members spent hours finding great [clinical] articles on cannabis receptors in invertebrates. They have the receptors! That's absolutely mind-boggling. We knew that it would be effective, but when we actually went through the process, the difference in the lobster was literally night and day within just a few short minutes. It certainly has a dramatic impact.

I know the goal was to reduce the stress for the lobster, but are you suggesting this technique makes the lobster taste better as well?

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And there is no additional charge for this. Some people say, "You're just trying to make a buck from us." No, actually, we're not charging anything for that at all. It will be something that people can feel better about [on many levels]. This type of thing should transcend into the various animals that we're using for slaughter. Even human beings. If we have somebody on death row, why not give them cannabis first? Why not offer it? Life is sacred. If we're going to take life, do it in the most humane fashion possible.

When I first read about sedating the lobsters, I thought about the techniques Japanese ranchers use to produce Kobe beef, which can include giving them beer. Do you see similarities between the two?

That's interesting. I wasn't aware of that. I would say this method is better because cannabis has about the highest frequency of anything. Whatever you're ingesting into your system, you are literally raising your frequency and vibration. I just think this is a better way. Again, it's not just to get an animal high. It's to do it right.

Tell me the story of Roscoe, the first lobster.

Ah, Roscoe. That was interesting in so many different ways. We created a prototype that we called the bake box, which is only about six inches tall, a foot and a half wide and two feet long with a plastic lid. We put in two inches of saltwater and retrofitted it with a straw that we put all the way down to the floor so it was touching the bottom, below the water level, and then pumped the smoke into the box. The smoke saturated the water completely, and when the water was saturated, the smoke rose and filled the air space.

We put the lobster in there for between four and six minutes—it was not very long—and without his [protective claw] bands. He was all fight when he went in, but when we took him out, it was miraculous. He was very clearly sedated. We were touching his claws and putting our fingers right in the openings where he can just snap you in a second. No aggression. Very calm.

Then I put Roscoe back in the tank with the other lobsters, and I wanted to see if he'd run and hide in the corner or fight with the other lobsters. There was none of that. He was so completely active and I would say outgoing. He was just walking among the other lobsters with his claws completely unbound. They're very predatory creatures—they will eat each other—and he could have done anything, but he didn't. We kept him for three weeks. We were hand-feeding him scallops during that time. A lobster with the big old claws, and you can still hand-feed it? That's pretty neat.

What I didn't expect was for his attitude to transfer over to the other lobsters. His section of the tank probably has between 16 and 20 lobsters, and they all went from an anxious state to [acting] very calm simply by being in his presence. Because he had done such a great service for us, we released Roscoe back to the sea. That's what he's doing now.

What kind of tests have you run on the lobsters?

I monitored all of this in every way. We conducted urine tests for people who were consuming the meat to make sure nothing transferred over into their system that might show up on a [drug] test. We tried [cooking the lobster] at various heat temperatures, and we still had the same effect where the person wasn't showing any symptoms or registering any level of cannabis in their system. Lobster is very high in fat content, and that's where the stuff is stored, so you would think that it would certainly show. We're already several days into the [final testing] process, and [it looks like] you can eat as much as you want, and you're not going to test positive.

I also wanted to make sure that there were no bad effects like paranoia. I was betting that there would be because I think, when we have paranoia with cannabis, it's an adjustment to our ego. It can really be uncomfortable. You don't realize what it is sometimes in the beginning. I don't think lobsters have that problem because they don't have an ego they need to overcome.

What will be the process for sedating the lobsters now that demand will certainly go up?

I don't want to be reaching into the tank 50 or 60 times during the day to pull one out because they see your hand moving over the surface and they get anxious. I don't want that happening to them constantly throughout the day. Instead, we're going to be prepping these lobsters every single morning. We've found a much larger tank that will be able to hold at least 20 lobsters at a time. My plan is to do about 40 daily. Every morning we'll [sedate the lobsters] and then three-quarters cook them, and we'll just do a simple reheat when somebody orders it. We have an area right next to the restaurant itself where we'll be doing everything so it's all contained in this one little space. People are welcome to come over and be part of it if they want to.

What prompted your concern for the comfort of the lobsters?

Back when I was in my mid-20s, I was in a psychology course that did a piece on Fyodor Dostoevsky. He wrote this really profound paragraph: "Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last. Imagine that you are doing this but that it is essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature… in order to found that edifice on its unavenged tears. Would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me. Tell the truth."

My answer to that is not me. I've made enough mistakes in my 47 years, and I want to make sure that every action I take moving forward is one that I can really live with, and it's important to show my son that his mom stands up for what she believes in even when it's scary to do it. This world has enough pain and enough suffering as it is. It's time to make it a better place, and that's what we're doing here. We're starting with this one thing, and it so profoundly makes a difference to the lobster.

You could say, "Well, just don't do it to begin with. Don't eat meat. Don't boil lobsters. Don't do any of that." That's fine and great, but if you take it all the way to the base, it's like, "Well, what about grass, what about lettuce?" Studies show that grass has reactions when it's cut. It experiences things that are unpleasant. Where do you draw the line? If you can't draw the line, then you have the obligation to make it the best experience possible. Life is sacred. It doesn't matter if it's a lobster or a blade of grass. This isn't about getting lobsters high. It's about making the transition better, and if this can be done to a lobster, hopefully it can be done across the board.

If everything is energy, every cow that is slaughtered, whatever he's going through in those last few minutes, enters into the tissue. It's in his blood. It's the fear broken down into adrenaline and other [chemicals]. People are eating that, they're consuming that, and then their bodies have to break it down. If you can take that out of the equation altogether, or at least reduce it as much as you can, it's better for the creature, and the meat is phenomenal. It's sweet. It tastes like lobster meat, of course, but like the best lobster meat you've ever had. It truly makes a difference across the board.

When did your views on cannabis start to evolve?

I was dating a man who was very familiar with cannabis, so I thought, "I'm going to give this a whirl." The little analogy I like to use is, you go into a sports stadium and there's only one little tiny light down at the end, and then somebody throws the switches and suddenly all the lights come on. That was the feeling. It was so absolutely profound that I decided in that moment to research cannabis and look at what I'd been putting into my system my whole life.

Since my early 20s, I had depression. It was just a general mental fog. I'd see people around me that were happy and humming, and I wasn't happy, and I didn't hum. I just kind of existed. I went to the physician's office and said, "Hey, everybody else is happy, and I'm not. I don't know what it is." They said, "You probably have depression. We're going to put you on this thing that just came out called Zoloft." I had that in my system for, oh god, a long, long time. After this experience with cannabis, I moved to get everything out of my system that wasn't organic. It was just really, really, really incredible.

Also, starting from age 17 or so, I was a heavy drinker because it was the only way that my brain felt like it was awake. I've been sober now for a little over three years. I just put it down and walked away. Having the cannabis in my system was something that alerted me to that. It was like a slow awakening.

There's a lot of misinformation about cannabis out there. It's just page after page of people writing really uneducated... that's probably not a good word, and they're probably not mean at heart, but they just don't know. It's been demonized for so long that it's really tough to overcome, and I get it because I was that way too for a long time. I'm 47 now, but up until about six years ago, I was completely the other way. I bought into all of it. I was raised that you don't do that, and I wouldn't even associate with people who associated with people who did it. I was that convinced of what I'd been told. I'm now such a believer that we have been so misled, and intentionally misled, and I'm just glad that people are starting to see and have these conversations.

How long have you been growing, and what originally motivated you to get a medical cannabis caregiver license?

I'm relatively new at [growing], about six years, and it started a few months after I had that experience. I got seeds, and I grew plants from the seeds, and they were spectacular. I loved doing it myself because it's all organic. I know everything that's going into it. I get to talk to the plant every day.

As for the caregiver license, what happened to me was so profound that I wanted it to be something that everyone could experience. I believe that I'm a good example of the change that can happen from really believing everything [false] that was ever said about cannabis to literally going in the other direction. I can tell my story a little bit, but the idea is also to be able to put something in people's hands that makes life better, that brings their bodies back to equilibrium, that allows them the opportunity to get these other [unhealthy] things out of their system. Yeah, that's it. I want people to know. I want to really join that discussion about why it is so important.


Update: After posting this interview, chef Gill sent us the following email:

After being contacted by the state yesterday and asked not to move forward (which then allowed us and others to scrutinize the laws and codes as they stand), and then making a few adjustments to our process and operation, we are completely confident that we WILL proceed mid-October as well as being in compliance with them. Keep in mind this meat is presently not available, and we will make ABSOLUTELY sure we have all our ducks (lobsters???) in a row before it is. I imagine we will still have pushback from the state on our hands, but we are confident that we will be able to field any issues they may have with us and do it with grace. We want to work together with them on this. These are important issues and ones that can also benefit not only the lobster, but the industry as well. Truly we are not trying to go against the state's wishes and would love to work with them in order for us ALL to make this world a kinder place. Remember, there is no up-charge for the service as we are doing it for the animals benefit NOT our own.

Further note: Honestly, I have been so busy this past week fielding questions that I haven’t had any time keep up with what the responses are in public forums. I only found out today that PETA had commented on us. I say this to them: PETA, as one of the largest euthanizers of animals on the planet, maybe you should consider taking a page from our book and incorporating cannabis into YOUR practices as well. It’s far more ethical.

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