I meant to introduce my friend Hilary's blog in a post about baccalà (dried salt cod), as she's carrying out a year-long research project on cod fishing and fisheries. But she wrote a post about ethical eating, and it was thought-provoking enough to make me want to write a post of my own.
Whole Foods, in an effort to appease animal rights protesters, has stopped selling live lobsters. Instead, it now sells prepackaged lobster meat. Using the latest advances in new technology, you can now have humanely-killed lobster that doesn't even need to be shelled. It's a solution to the immediate dilemma, but not an answer to the bigger problem: we don't know - we don't want to know - where our food comes from. Odd as it may sound, I think that in general, this society lacks respect for food.
We can't respect that which we don't acknowledge, and we do just about everything we can to avoid acknowledging that meat is dead animal flesh. The problem does not lie in how we regulate the food industry, it lies in the way we think. We are not going to make any decent progress in slaughtering animals humanely if we don't acknowledge the act of slaughter first.
I'm still working through my personal views on the ethics of meat. I am not an animal lover, and I don't believe it's morally wrong to eat meat. But I don't think my position is irreconcilable with the notion that food animals should be treated well and slaughtered humanely.
We don't respect our food because it would put us in uncomfortable positions. Instead, we bargain to ease our discomfited consciences. We say, "We are going to eat these animals, so it's only fair that we treat them well and slaughter them humanely," as though one action could cancel out the other. Instead, we should say, "We are going to treat these animals well and slaughter them humanely because we are going to eat them, and our food is deserving of respect." There is nothing inherently shameful about the act of killing an animal for food, provided that we don't turn away from the connection between animal, death, and dinner.
I would argue that it's important to keep the live lobsters, because what the hell else does your average suburban American ever cook that makes the connection between animal and dinner explicit? There are ways of killing lobster that are more humane than boiling it alive. Why don't we focus on promoting humane ways of killing a live lobster instead?
My pet theory is this: there is a hierarchy of discomfort in the various methods used to dispatch lobsters, and the humane way of killing a live lobster is more discomforting than the idea of boiling a lobster alive. Boiling a lobster makes the connection between animal and dinner explicit, but it glosses over the actual death. Boiling is an indirect kill: drop the lobster in, clap the lid on, and count the minutes until dinner is served. The death isn't witnessed, and thus, the reality of the death can be avoided. Responsibility for the death can be avoided. It's a passive evasion: "The lobster was killed," vs. "I killed the lobster."
The humane method, on the other hand, allows for no such evasion. Thrusting a knife into the body of a lobster and slicing down through the head is as direct a kill as you can get. It is discomforting. It's incredibly discomforting. But at least it's honest. The lobster, your dinner, deserves that much respect.
So kill your lobster. Accept responsibility for killing it. And then tuck in.