The Real Pain Is PETA
Many times before we've pondered these questions: Do lobsters feel pain? Is dropping them into a pot of boiling water cruelty? Is there a more humane approach to the current practices of distributing, storing and cooking live lobsters? We rehashed these issues this week when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals submitted a bid to lease an old Maine prison to establish a "Lobster Empathy Center" devoted to the ongoing plight of Homarus americanus.
The jailhouse will not become a maudlin shellfish museum. As a clever publicity stunt, it's been good for laughs among Mainers, and even the most hardened fishmonger must confess that some of the details PETA had planned are amusing, like visitors wearing rubber bands on their fingers while touring the facility to commiserate with captured crustaceans.
While it's simply another crackpot scam to gain attention (that's what PETA does), it's also an opportunity to explore a persistent and intriguing moral dilemma: Where is the line drawn on animal rights in the seafood industry? There's really no reason we can't treat all creatures, great and small, with kindness and respect - and eat some of them too. As comedian Denis Leary once quipped, "Not eating meat is a decision. Eating meat is an instinct."
Recently, new solutions have come along that would allow lobster feasts with a clear conscience. Most notable is the Crustastun device, which its British creators say offers users a more humane way of killing crustaceans. They feel no seafood kitchen is complete without an electrocution station.
Whole Foods Market, the nation's leading natural-foods retailer, made a fuss last year about the humane treatment of the lobsters it sold at its new Portland, Maine, location. The retailer actually halted sales throughout the entire chain for several weeks until it discovered that the solution was to immobilize the creatures in plastic straightjackets for several days.
Both measures are flawed and merely appease people who probably aren't core seafood consumers in the first place. Ask a veteran chef what the best method is, they'll likely just grab a large knife and split the fellow in half without flinching.
Those who buy and sell seafood can't afford to humanize something that isn't human - and in the case of a lobster, an animal that doesn't have the "physiological software to process pain," as Bob Bayer, executive director of the Maine Lobster Institute, once told SeaFood Business.
Humane treatment of all animals captured at sea or raised explicitly for food purposes is an achievable goal. No lobster house of horrors is necessary to share the pain. PETA's been doing just that for years.