Book Review – Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm

I’m glad Erin Byers Murray spent 18 months working on a New England oyster farm and then writing about it, so I didn’t have to.  While it was entertaining to read Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm,” her memoir about her transformation from the Boston editor of to Hunter boots-wearing worker covered in mud and oyster poop, I’d rather read about it than live it.

While the book reads a little like an ad for Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Mass.–what a wonderful place to work it is, how dedicated evreyone is—I did learn quite a bit about the complex process of cultivating oysters from microscopic seeds to sturdy-shelled bivalves. Now that I know how labor-intensive oyster-farming is, it’s easier to understand why they cost so much.

Byers Murray is an observant writer who vividly conveys what she is seeing, feeling, and experiencing.  Her descriptions of the heavy lifting and the sometimes grueling weather conditions involved convinced me that I’m not cut out to be an oyster farmer, no matter how many oysters I’d get to eat.

She also does a great job of describing the teasing and camaraderie that develops when you’re working long hours as part of a team.  And her day as an apprentice prepping a signature oyster dish at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s pricey palace of food, demonstrates how everyone in that kitchen displays an equal level of dedication and teamwork.

Byers Murray talks about the cost of cultivating oysters, but doesn’t look at the economics of who gets to eat them.  Oysters used to be cheap and plentiful, until disruption of traditional oyster beds and their popularity depleted the supply. While oyster farming supplements the diminished number of wild oysters, they are now an expensive treat—unless you happen to be an oyster farmer. While I have no desire to put on the boots myself, I’m glad to know more about these resilient creatures.

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