Second thoughts about lobsters


I love eating animals of any kind -- there's no such thing as an "unclean" animal that Christians can't consume (c.f. the book of Acts). And whether it's jellyfish in China or lamb brains in Kuwait, when I'm in an ethnic restaurant or foreign country, I love to try new animals, or parts of animals I've never eaten.

That being said, I have some sympathy for Whole Foods' decision to end the sale of live lobsters and crabs. Maybe you will tell me they did this because their management is a bunch of secular left-wing pinko commies, and they are trying to appeal to the pale, squeamish upper-middle-class yuppies who patronize their stores. I'll take your word for it.

Have you ever stuck a metal skewer through the length of a lobster's body? In one of the restaurants where I was employed, that was part of my job. I did it a few times, and the things reacted...pretty much as you would expect: they tried to curl up and defend themselves, but their claws were banded and there was little they could do. So I had to pry their tails down, ram the skewer as straight as I could up their bodies, and out through their heads, with bits of their innards oozing out through their faces. Then I threw them into a steamer where they cooked for a while and died at some point. We served their tails cold and with three kinds of sauce on the side.

Unhappy with this cooking method, I thought I would euthanize the lobsters before skewering them. I did some research, and found out that if you stick a knife between two of the plates near the head, it would sever something important (I forget what) and the things would die instantly. I tried this a couple of times, but botched it and ended up with pissed-off crustaceans.

After that, I refused to use the skewer. Patiently, the sous chef explained that a straighter tail made for a better presentation. I politely told him that I didn't care if people ate lobsters, but I saw no reason to make another living creature suffer just to make its lower half look better on a bed of ice. He shrugged and said he'd get somebody else to do it, and that was the end of it.

I am not the least bit squeamish about the use of lethal force against human beings. If someone broke into my house tonight, I wouldn't think twice about shooting him (it would fill me with disgust, but not remorse.) But there is something uniquely repulsive about causing unnecessary suffering to an animal when the end is the carnal pleasure of consuming its flesh. Lobsters and crabs are luxury foods; practically nobody relies on them for sustenance. Even if these creatures were a significant part of the food supply, they could be killed and their flesh preserved through refrigeration or freezing, just like other animals.

Crab meat doesn't take that well to freezing, and lobsters even less so -- true gourmands would shudder at the thought of eating a frozen lobster tail (though the Safeway near my house sells them). The only reason to sell them in tanks is to keep them completely fresh. If catching, processing, transporting, and displaying live animals causes pain, then it isn't necessary to preserve human lives, and the practice should be abandoned.

That's where the case against Whole Foods' prior practice breaks down. Kids tapping on the lobster tank glass is not torture (except perhaps in Mark Shea's world.) The CEO's comment about "the importance of humane treatment and quality of life for all animals" is risible. What does "quality of life" mean to a lobster or crab? Maybe they prefer being in a big glass tank with no predators.

But even though the management of Whole Foods is probably made up of morally silly people, avoiding pain in animals isn't morally silly per se.

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Glad to know that I'm not the only person who has problems with eating lobster for that same reason.


Yet another reason for me (besides the prices) to avoid shopping at Whole Foods.

Et tu, Eric ... et, tu?

[DELETED: if you want to broadcast your message, get your own blog. -- Eric]

I enjoy eating lobster, and I have never heard of the practices you describe. We normally drop the critters into a pot of boiling water and wait 15 minutes.

Lobster is normally shipped live because the meat will become poisonous very quickly after the animal dies. You might enjoy frozen lobster meat however if you believe in freshness no other way is possible.

You may want to read "The Secret Life of Lobsters : How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean " by Trevor Corson

I came away from the story with something of a different take and feel a little disappointed at how it was resolved in the end. If you had said to the sous chef, "I've read that there's a quick way to properly euthanize without spoiling the meat but I can't get the cut right" any good hearted man would have looked over the instructions and figured out a reasonable way for you to practice until you got it right. The result would have been properly killed, skewered lobsters. Your result was improperly killed skewered lobsters but somebody else was doing it.

Proper animal stewardship isn't fobbing off the improper killing to somebody else but rather getting a proper kill so there is no unnecessary suffering no matter who is doing it.

Why shove a skewer in a perfectly good lobster??? What a way to ruin the meat!

We always just boil them at a roiling boil -- the extreme heat kills them almost instantly.

Please keep in mind that until the early 70s, lobster was the food of the poor and working class in Atlantic coast communities. My father's family grew up eating lobster because they couldn't afford meat from the butcher.

In Atlantic Canada, lobster are still relatively cheap if bought from a fisherman right on the wharf. (Only way to get rid of any lobster caught over-quota.)

Quite frankly, this strikes me as middle-class nonsense -- if these people ever experienced fishing village hunger, they'd be happy to eat lobster!

They're two steps away from a cockroach. I don't feel any remorse in killing them.

I've heard that you can tie up their tail with a chopstick, and that does the same thing as the skewer.

I have no problem with eating lobster. I had a lobster roll last Friday.

It is true that animals should not suffer. I would never want to see and, certainly, cause pain in animals. A lobster, however, does not have the same nervous system as a dog. It is a crustacean, not a mammal. Regardless, when any irrational animal feels pain, it doesn't say to itself, "I hurt!" It just reacts to the pain by instincts and tries to defend itself. As a Cape Coddah, I have been eating lobster all my life. When you cook a lobster, you drop the lobster head first into the pot. That ensures a very quick death. Lobsters live in very cold water in the great depth of the sea and cannot survive in warm water. Hot water and steam ensures their death. It is also important to know that you must cook them alive to prevent meat from becoming poison.

You could give your same arguement with veal. Putting a calf in a box isn't exactly very appeling. Yet, it is my favorite food and I eat it on special occasion. Once people realize that lobsters and calves are irrational animals, the problem with eating them becomes a non issue.

Maybe you will tell me they did this because their management is a bunch of secular left-wing pinko commies, and they are trying to appeal to the pale, squeamish upper-middle-class yuppies who patronize their stores.

According to Rod Dreher, their CEO is a libertarian.

To be honest, knowing the latter part of the statement is a common belief that exists is the primary reason I reacted the way I did below on Mr. Schultz's post. I both hunt and fish. Hence, I have no problem killing animals for human use--fish die slowly from suffacation when you throw them in the ice chest, but I catch all I can within the limit.

I really don't have a problem with lobster either. Coming from the Gulf Coast of Texas, we eat a lot of crawfish, which are really nothing more than miniature lobsters. You "purge" them by sticking them in water, dumping a whole lot of salt over them. That results in them vomiting so they'll have empty stomachs when you boil them alive due to them ingesting so much mud.

I do draw the line at eating veal, but that hardly makes me an animal rights activist. Even many gun toting, Republican voting cattle ranchers from Texas will admit the way veal is raised is absolutely cruel.

Many people shop at Whole Foods simply from being conscientious about what they put in their bodies, and for no other reason.

There is a curious and primitive tendency among certain of us to treat the pain of non-human life as though it were meaningless and to see our relation to it solely as exploitive. The Church's own official teaching on vivisection is strangely vague and lacking in self-assurance. Many make the case that this attitude stems from a deficient theological anthropology, which is almost certainly correct, one which places man at the pinnacle of creation and over against it rather than with Christ at the center of creation and responsible for it. Surely, God Himself provides in the end for the redemption of all life that does not specifically exclude itself from His loving embrace. And that includes Fido, quite justy. Given the sin of man and what it costs God, a decent case could be made for the moral superiority of animals in any case. In light of God's love for the world and not for man alone, to find entertainment or pleasure in the pain or death of an innocent animal - here on this forum or elsewhere - is to join in the very crucifiction of God the Son. The time's come for something more than arrogance when considering this question.

John Lowell

a decent case could be made for the moral superiority of animals in any case

Well, as non-rational (no soul) creatures, strictly speaking they are amoral - in that sense, they really cannot be morally superior or inferior, they simply are not judged in that category. Sort of like saying the color red is taller than Bob. Height is simply not a characteristic ascribed to color, so Bob and red cannot be compared by that characteristic.

Humans can be morally superior or inferior to one another based upon their conduct, including that directed toward animals.

Greetings to whomever it was that posted the comment above and which is restated below for convenience:

"Well, as non-rational (no soul) creatures, strictly speaking they are amoral - in that sense, they really cannot be morally superior or inferior, they simply are not judged in that category. Sort of like saying the color red is taller than Bob. Height is simply not a characteristic ascribed to color, so Bob and red cannot be compared by that characteristic."

With all respect to you personally, to hold that animals are non-rational, is to force a definition onto the term "soul" that confines it to human life alone as reason is presupposed in this instance to be the unique possession of humankind. And all of that is more than a little dubious, of course. A more accurate measure of the truth of things here would seem to be quantitative rather than qualitative as most animals are known to reason if even in the most primitive ways. Clearly, a life principle and not merely chemistry is foundational with animals. In any case, this question may turn more suitably on whether the critical category to examine is relation rather than substance anyway. You may not know that von Balthasar offers a way forward here ontologically, his tripartite notion of esse and its sub-category of esse-as-receptivity provides a most interesting basis for an analysis of all life on the quantitative plain. David Schindler of Communio hinted in the 1990's at just such an analysis and it seems to me both more adequate and refined than than offered by the more dated speculation.

It also seems to me, ontology notwithstanding, that the difference between human and animal life is more a question of freedom than anything else. A fixed biology can limit freedom as we all know and I'm as potentially moral - or, if you will, personal - as I'm free. Given the obvious limitations imposed on the freedom of animal life, it seems almost indisputable that they do rather better with what's given them than what we do do with what's given us. Dogs don't build concentration camps.

Yours In The Holy Trinity,

John Lowell

"You may not know that von Balthasar offers a way forward here ontologically..."

Anybody who begins a sentence like that is not a man but an ass.


"Anybody who begins a sentence like that is not a man but an ass."

Let's just begin with a blessing for you, Eric. Clearly there's a need for one. I suppose one should expect a comment like the one you made above when all capacity for thought gives out, eh? I'm going to guess, but you're probably under twenty-five years of age, watch Fox News a lot, live with your parents and are rather given to substituting both the conversational style and the personality of the one of the commentators there, Tucker Carlson, for your own. Use terms like "wing nut" and "silly" at lot, do you? Until maturity is attained that's the usual pattern anyway, borrowing the personality of others when we haven't yet one of our own to claim. So I'd have to inquire, are you really old enough to be Catholic? I'll be back from time to time to see if you're really ready for something like that. :-)

Every possible blessing,

John Lowell

I already posted my thoughts on the entry that preceded this one, so brought it over here, too; hope that doesn't cause any trouble. . .
I found this thread interesting. The person who equated man with the rest of creation has a good point in that cruel treatment of animals is wrong. However, to state that animals have a moral superiority over humanity is quite a stretch. Animals cannot sin because they do not possess free will and intellect on the same level as humanity. We were made in the Image and Likeness of God. That doesn't mean we look like God; it means that we possess an immortal soul, an intellect and free will. We can choose to do good or evil, while animals---even quite bright ones---rely on instinct to help them survive.
Mankind was placed over the created world not to abuse it or its creatures, but to be its stewards. When Adam was made, he received the Breath of God that the rest of creation has no record of receiving, and he named the creatures, which gave him dominion over them. He and his progeny were to care for the earth and its lifeforms. After the fall, the animals were fearful of mankind, but his dominion remained, along with his responsibility not to abuse it.
I eat meat, poultry and fish in moderation and make sure it doesn't go to waste as much as possible. If an animal is raised for food, to waste it is wrong. However, it isn't automatically sinful to eat what we hunt, fish or buy for that purpose. Not everyone can get by on a vergetarian diet(our oldest daughter had a medical problem as a child in which the only protein she could consume had to come from animal sources). If we are to eat fleshmeats, let's do so judiciously and not wastefully.
As for the store supporting abortion and artificial contraception, that strikes me as very hypocritical in light of their concern for "life". It seems that life only matters to them when it's not human life.
Yours in Christ,
PS on judging others: Be careful, because Christ warned that as we do it to others, it'll come back around to bite us when it's our turn.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric Johnson published on June 17, 2006 10:32 PM.

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