A juicy steak (avec frites, pls). A thick, medium-rare cheeseburger. An elegant af miso salmon with a side of mashed potatoes. A summer lobster roll freshly caught from the sea. What do all these dishes have in common?
To a meat-eater, they all sound pretty damn good.
But how good does it sound when we think how it got to our plate? What happens to our conscience, that thing we like to think we have when purchasing organic, non-GMO food locally, when we consume meat?
Well, if you’re like me, you try not to think about it. And if you do, you like to imagine the animal was killed humanely and lived a long and beautiful life on a farm filled with farm friends.
But… probably not.
Put the red meat aside for a sec and think about lobsters. Yes, that summer delicacy that everyone puts on a roll and Instagrams. How are the lobsters killed? How are they prepared? How did they get to your plate? Why don’t we think about this more?
If you know, you probably don’t think about it (or try not to). But maybe you should.
Lobsters (for the most part) are boiled alive, which is one of the quickest and easiest ways to prepare ’em. If you’ve ever made lobster in your home before, you know the drill. Buy the lobster in your local fluorescent-lit grocery store, where its claws are clamped closed. Take it home, boil it while it’s still alive, and then eat it. Yum.
The alternatives include: cutting a knife between the lobster’s eyes, slicing the lobster in half, microwaving it alive (ew ew ew), and placing the lobster in cold water while bringing the pot to a slow boil.
I know some people say that this is natural and part of the food chain. But why do we need to viciously kill the food we eat? Why can’t we give it a humane death to provide for ourselves? Is eating ethically while still eating meat a concern for other people?
Am I the only one thinking about this?
Gourmet magazine was a celebratory publication, and this article stirred the pot (hah) with its highly informative, controversial, and thought-provoking piece considering, well, the lobster.
If you’re a meat-eater like me who doesn’t think much about the process behind getting meat, then Wallace will definitely make you feel a bit uncomfortable in “Consider the Lobster.” Sorry (not sorry).
Not too preachy and not too casual, David Foster Wallace successfully started a discussion 11 years ago about lobster, a sea creature that is oddly celebrated while simultaneously tortured by those who love it across the country. The scene of the article is at the Maine Lobster Festival (this year’s festival is July 29-August 2), where tourists flock to see the giant lobster cooker in action.
People witness the catching of the sea insect to the boiling of it alive without even blinking an eye. Make sure to bring your lawn chair for the entertainment.
Does this sound weird yet? It’s pretty weird.
The Maine Lobster Promotional Council justifies it all in a single sentence. “There is no cerebral cortex,” they said about the lobster’s brain, “Which in humans is the area of the brain that gives the experience of pain.”
Ahhhh. An explanation for why this totally okay: lobsters can’t feel the pain.
Wallace counters that the human cerebral cortex controls emotions, like reason and self-awareness, and that pain itself is a more primitive (aka we all deal with it) function. He raises an excellent point that pain is subjective to a single being, and can only be described by that being to another. We simply do not know the amount of pain another being can be in.
So, um, who are we to say that lobsters can’t feel pain? Also, there are physical signs that they at least know of pain.
Like when you’re boiling a lobster alive and it grasps to the side of the pan to hold on for its life. The lobster obviously knows it is experiencing something that it does not like, and it wants it to stop ASAP.
But does ethical eating even concern a lot of meat-eaters? How do we (humans), once we have decided to eat animals, differentiate between the ethical way of killing animals versus an unethical way? Or do we just not think about it and pretend it’s not a concern? Is it a concern?
I’ve got to give us some credit where it is due, though. The farm-to-table movement has brought a ton of ethical concerns to light, and has influenced many eaters to shop locally and organically. This has awarded some with a pat-on-the-back for cutting down on fossil fuels (think: how you get fresh tomatoes in December?), and to think you’re eating safer when excluding GMOs.
However, I just can’t ignore this lobster issue. Like Wallace, I want to avoid getting too preachy here, but these are my genuine, somewhat mortified-at-the-process, concerns. And no, I am not going vegan after thinking about all of this. But I do want to consider what Wallace put on the table.
Who are we to decide whether or not to torture an animal for consumption based on its capacity for pain? Why are we so accepting of masquerading around with lobster rolls when the process of getting that roll is just not okay? Is eating lobster even worth it, knowing how it’s made?
Maybe it helps more to imagine instead of a lobster, that you boil alive a rabbit. Or a duck. I don’t even want to mention another animal. You’ll think of your pet.
Lobsters aren’t the only ones suffering. The amount of animal cruelty still happening in this day and age is ridiculous, and we have to be aware. Most recently, #CecilTheLion was hunted illegally in Zimbabwe by an American doctor with a bow and arrow. And he paid to hunt him.
Also, Jane Birkin (the singer and namesake of Hermès Birkin bag) askee Hermès to take her name off of the iconic Birkin bag. Birkin learned about reptile killing practices from PETA – not only are the crocodiles killed inhumanely, but it takes up to three of them to produce one Hermès Birkin bag.
It is crazy important that us college students, millennial foodies, think deeper about what we eat, where we get it, and how we are using the earth’s resources. We need to address how we find our food, prepare it, and eat it. What’s the point of being so invested in our food if not being invested in the total process? And animal cruelty is not acceptable. Sure, a lobster roll can rack up the likes on Instagram. But at what cost?
I thank the late David Foster Wallace for writing a challenging article to read. It takes guts to write something like that. He asked questions and provoked a larger idea about ethics and morality that needs to be addressed more. So let’s address it.
I’d like to create a larger dialogue about this issue. Share your thoughts and ideas on Twitter using the hashtag #LobsterTalkWithSpoon. Let’s get talkin’, everybody.