Sunday
August 20, 2017

Flavour of the week

Friday, July 28, 2017

Civilised, chic — and savage

By Nicolás Meyer
For The Herald

There’s a town named Shediac in New Brunswick, Canada, that claims to be the ‘”lobster capital of the world”; and July is the month that it holds an annual lobster festival to drive home the fact. So, although we’re far from New Brunswick, and people eat lobster in many places and all year round, the month of the “capital’s” merriment is a good time to point out something sinister about lobster, and about other seafood that’s similarly treated.

Namely that it’s beyond any understanding that people who would likely describe themselves as civilised and humane — and in other ways probably are — should countenance letting animals be boiled alive for their enjoyment at table.

Although the world is clearly nowhere even near to getting ready to go vegetarian, there is one immediate step people could take to at least stop something that’s so mind-bogglingly savage: they could refuse to eat lobsters and such unless they’re killed “humanely.”

And for doubters’ and refusers’ information, methods for doing so do exist.

Here’s a sentence from a web page on lobsters: “If you are eating lobster in a restaurant, you can tell that the lobster was cooked live if the tail is curled under its body.” Lovers not of lobsters, evidently, but of lobster dishes, might think of it this way — if they themselves were hurled into boiling water, what position do they imagine their limbs would end up curled into, as they tried to protect themselves during those horrible last moments?

Worse: sometimes shellfish are thrown into cold water and SLOWLY killed as it rises to boiling-point.

Animals aren’t as “evolved” as we flatter ourselves that we are, but even the small and primitive ones clearly have the capacity to feel pain or their equivalent to what we enlightened folk call pain.

In many circumstances, eating lobster is seen as a special treat, and dining on it is felt as being chic. Really, it’s as chic as gladiator or wild-animal night at the Colosseum.

Here’s another quotation: “Left uncooked, lobster meat will go bad within hours. This is why lobsters are frequently boiled alive. In an effort to be more humane, some lobster chefs will quickly jab an object into the lobster’s head before dropping it in the boiling water.” There are other possibilities. There’s decapitation, and seafood electrocution devices also exist.

Years ago, in a small personal attempt to intervene in this issue, I wrote four letters (this column is my current attempt). A mild one was addressed to the biggest specialised restaurant chain in the US, Red Lobster, mentioning the electrocution option and asking if it has considered using it. The other three were to the main humane societies in Argentina, Britain and the US (respectively Sarmiento, RSPCA and ASPCA), asking if they knew of any efforts to outlaw the barbarous boiling of animals alive. Or if they’d consider spearheading such efforts.

Of the four, I got one answer, from the RSPCA. It reported that, among its many activities, it does make sporadic endeavours to promote legislation to that end.

Obviously, such efforts, if and where they exist, have had no effect. A consumer boycott, on the other hand, would make Red Lobster and its like take immediate notice — it wouldn’t be something that can be ignored like a letter. People have to organise, as they did about grape-picking conditions in California or sports-shoe manufacturing conditions in Pakistan.

In the meantime, people can do something individually. At the restaurant, they can ask how the shellfish are killed, and say, nicely, with a smile, that they’ll only eat those that are dispatched “humanely.”

It may not be practical to install an expensive electric chair, seafood version, in small establishments, let alone a home kitchen, and mussels, for instance, can’t be easily decapitated because they selfishly try to protect themselves by clamming up. The steaming alive opens their shells.

Simple answer: if some of the animals that people kill and eat are too small to be individually killed with a knife or other more instantaneous and less painful manners than being boiled, steamed, fried or barbecued alive, then they just shouldn’t be eaten at all.

For animals, the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer noted, “it is an eternal Treblinka.” There is a debate over comparing cruelty to animals to cruelty to people, especially taking account of the unique nature of the Holocaust. But there’s another point I’d like to make regarding Singer’s comparison. Even in Treblinka the methods of killing didn’t include boiling victims alive. Possibly only because of its lack of efficiency. But it’s something worth pondering.

Stop the shameful boiling alive. It’s one place to start.

meyercolumns@hotmail.com

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