Twelve raw crabs, Miss Seafood - and Tammy, the girl who won't be held by Pensacola

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It is the Pensacola Seafood Festival, northern Florida. Pretty soon, they will hold crab races beforecrowning the Seafood Queen. After that, a band will sing songs with words changed to relate to theevening. "Oh What A Beautiful Prawning", and so on. But first, we guests are urged to sample a unique dish entitled "crab-by-the-dozen".

There are four of us around the table, and three, including me, accept this intriguing offer. The fourth, to much cat-calling, opts instead for fried chicken wings.

Now, it didn't cross my mind for a moment that "crab-by-the-dozen" would consist of a dozen very large crabs. Had I examined the dish's name more carefully, I admit that the clues were there. But I'd assumed that I'd receive, perhaps, a single crab in "dozen sauce", or a crab with a dozen new potatoes. The notion of being served 12 large, raw, ungutted, dead crabs, was so alien to my experience that it simply didn't enter my mind. But then 36 crabs turn up - for the three of us - and we are faced with something that transcends the concept of a meal. We are faced with a shoal.

"I'll swap you seven crabs for one chicken wing," I suggest to my companion.

"No," he replies. "You ordered them all. Eat them all."

In Pensacola, it seems, life is cheap if you're a crab.

But tonight is a night for celebration, and even the crabs (thosestill scuttling around) look happy. When the crab race begins, they scurry off, boosted by the cheers of the crowd, to their final destination: a white chalk line followed quickly by a short drop into a bucket of boiling water. I am torn between an ethical reluctance to participate in this loathsome shellfish blood-sport (even though crabs don't seem to bleed), and the opportunity to win some money. After much conscience-searching, I eventually opt for the latter. God, however, seems to be frowning upon my choice, for my chosen crab appears to stand, shivering, on the spot while its opponent rushes jubilantly towards impending doom.

Among the crowd, I spy a pretty woman who, I discover, is a finalist in the Miss Seafood contest. Her name is Tammy.

"Are you keen to win?" I ask her.

"Of course," she replies. "It would be a great honour to be crowned Seafood Queen."

"What would it entail?" I ask.

"Oh," she says, "attending official functions, visiting local fisheries and bringing a bit of glamour to the factory floor."

"Will you be obliged to eat a lot of seafood?"

"Certainly," she says. "I love seafood. All sorts. Shrimp, king prawns, um, crabs, crab-cakes..."

There is a pause, while Tammy attempts to remember the names of other sorts of seafood.

"Scallops!" she eventually exclaims. "I love scallops!"

Finally, the big moment arrives, and the three finalists - Tammy, Sue, and Alison - take the stage. The MC, a large man wearing a crab T-shirt, makes the announcement.

"And the winner is... Sue!"

There is a resounding cheer, and Tammy looks crestfallen. Sue parades, a crown on her head, while everyone sprinkles raw seafood in her path. I catch up to Tammy.

"How do you feel?"

"Disappointed," she admits.

"What are your plans for the future?" I ask.

"Well," she replies. "Miss Florida is coming up in October, and then there's Miss World."

"It's good to think big," I say.

"I know," she replies, wistfully. "Pensacola can't hold me."

And, with that, she is gone.