About The Lobster
Outside of work, I participate in grassroots animal advocacy. Currently I am involved in a local campaign to protect lobsters from being used as live bait in a game that is popular in my area. It is similar to arcade games that allow players to try their hand at winning a stuffed animal—a joystick controls a mechanical claw and for a couple dollars players can try to maneuver the claw to pick up a live lobster. If they are successful, the lobster will be dropped down a chute and brought to the kitchen; it will be returned, boiled, with a complimentary dish of melted butter. The campaign to abolish this game in my community has lobsters on my mind on a regular basis. I began to research them, but it seems they are not a popular focus.
Part 1 of 3
|Other parts in this blog series:
Part 2: Attitudes Toward Lobsters
Part 3: Do Lobsters Feel Pain?
Lobsters have made few appearances in popular and animal protection culture. I once heard Tom Regan replace the lobster with a cat as a preface to a lecture on the moral consideration of animals. He tells the story of a cat being boiled alive to capture the audience’s attention about the severity of animal suffering throughout the world. 1989’s Little Mermaid got as close as it comes to creating a loveable lobster character with Sebastian the crab. Ariel’s sidekick was not a lobster, but as a crustacean, is the only thing we have in the way of an invertebrate pop culture icon. David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster,” is perhaps the most public attention lobsters have received in some time. In this essay, Wallace explores the Maine Lobster Festival. He was asked to cover the event for Gourmet Magazine and ends up questioning the moral issues of both the festival and the particularly brutal methods used to kill lobsters (boiling them alive or stabbing them through the back of the head with a knife). However, aside from these cameo appearances, crustaceans are rarely addressed, even by the animal protection movement.
Lobsters have, however, made a striking appearance on the plate. The exact number of lobsters eaten in the U.S. is unknown, since the USDA broadly classifies them among all “shellfish.” But shellfish are clearly a popular culinary choice. In 2008 U.S. citizens ate a total 4,861 million pounds of shellfish, amounting to 16 pounds of shellfish consumed annually per capita. According to Wallace, while the animals are now considered a delicacy, they were once the food of the poor, in abundance off the coast in the northeastern United States. Today, lobsters can still be consumed cheaply through the many lobster festivals throughout the country. But there are many animals that are used as food who do not receive such public wrath. While all food animals are subject to abusive circumstances, crustaceans are treated with a level of public objectification unparalleled by other animals—not only are they subjected to games like the one described above, they are the only live animal sold in large U.S. grocery stores chains. Why is it acceptable to treat lobsters in a fashion that would be criminal if it were any other animals?
It seems that lobsters can be so egregiously mishandled because of the public perception that they are “alien” and the belief that lobsters do not feel pain. Since the lobster has received very little attention by the animal protection community to date, I am going to give them my due diligence and explore this “lobster issue” in depth with two additional posts. In the next post I will investigate research on social attitudes toward lobsters and following that I will attend to the “pain debate.”