Sinners in the hands of an angry shellfish-lover.

That’s what I thought the first time I cooked a bunch of crabs. It was a variation on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That was the title of a sermon written by Jonathan Edwards back in the 1700s. I hadn’t thought about that kind of thing much since the revival meetings of my childhood. But the first time I went fishing for crabs and brought them home to cook them, it all came back to me.

Because I didn’t know it would be like this: pick them up as they squirm and try to pinch my fingers, throw them into the boiling water, listen to their crustacean claws banging against the side of the pot. The sound would get fainter and fainter like the last beats of a dying drummer. And then, just the sound of liquid bubbling in quiet triumph over its silent victims. No wonder my vegetarian friends say, “If it tries to get away, don’t eat it.”

It seemed so innocent at first. I went to a wharf on the river with nets, strings, chicken necks, and friends. Of course, it wouldn’t have happened if I had been forced to kill the chickens myself. And also hack them to pieces. And also write letters of condolence to their families. But maybe I’m overthinking it.

So you throw a neck in the water and pull the string along. When a crab comes after it, you slowly slip the net under him. Then you jerk the net up suddenly, pulling him out of the river as if you were unbaptizing him. Throw him into a cooler with all the usual suspects. Put some ice in there. Try to make them as comfortable as possible in these, their last hours. Get the padre to hear last-minute confessions.

Is that humanizing them too much? I dunno; the first time I heard the desperate banging on the Styrofoam walls of the cooler, I began to think that I could hear tiny voices yelling “Lemme outa here!” That was bad enough.

But I didn’t think ahead to how much louder that would sound on the metal of a big pot of boiling water. But sooner or later I had to take the cooler-turned-police van into the kitchen. And then it hit me. I do believe in due process, but these creatures have been denied counsel. I’m not exactly against capital punishment but I’m wishy washy. Yet here I am, forced into physically delivering the death sentence, by my own hand, which would be missing a finger or two if any of these snapping prisoners get their dying wish.

So. The results were delicious. But I somehow hated myself as buttery guilt dribbled down my chin. Even if some of the crabs had been serial killers, war criminals, terrorists, the punishment was still too large for any possible crime. Had I violated lex talionis: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? There is no proportional justice in boiling one of God’s creatures alive. And especially for such a trivial crime: going swimming when I was hungry.

I’m not a vegetarian. I just let others do the killing for me. But still ... I put an apple on the counter yesterday while I reached for a paring knife to peel it. The apple rolled to the edge and fell to the floor.

I decided to have something else instead. Not because the apple was bruised, but because … well, if it tries to get away, don’t eat it.

Contact Bobby Burns at and 329.9572.