Christopher WillnerProfessor Curran ENC 110227 January, 2018Lobsters:
Eat Them or Leave Them? In David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster”, Wallace argues that animal suffering (specifically lobsters) is a complicated and uncomfortable issue. However, even given the obvious, some people still disagree with Wallace. Those people most likely will claim that because lobsters are not human, cooking them cannot be considered a moral decision. This claim is false because the process of cooking lobsters does in fact involve ethical considerations. Ethical considerations are defined as an accumulation of values and principles that address questions of what is good or bad in human affairs. This means that humans have certain morals that allow themselves to determine what is right or wrong. Wallace finds it important to point out some of the more difficult ethical questions that come out of the Maine Lobster Festival (MLF.) In order to make his point, Wallace first argues that lobster is prepared either right in front of oneself or by oneself in the kitchen. He uses this approach as imagery to get the reader’s emotions and beliefs aroused.
Using the scenario at home, he makes it so the reader feels as if they are the cook. He writes, “The basic scenario is that we come in from the store and make our little preparations like getting the kettle filled and boiling, and then we lift the lobsters out of the bag…whereupon some uncomfortable things start to happen.” (Wallace 467.) The uncomfortableness begins soon after. Wallace moves on to write, “However stuporous a lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. …The lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse…you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off” (Wallace 467.) The point of comparing the lobster to humans is to make the reader imagine they are going through what the lobster is experiencing. That said, Wallace is simply trying to point out that lobsters meet the two criteria that ethicists use to determine whether an animal is capable of suffering:
1.) the amount of pain receptors that the animal in question has, and
2.) whether the animal displays the behavior associated with pain. And even though Wallace states that lobsters do not have a nervous system that is as advanced as humans’, lobsters are highly sensitive animals that can sense incremental changes in temperature.
Furthermore, once a lobster is dropped into the pot of boiling water, one cannot deny that the struggle coming from inside is a sign of suffering and pain. To further strengthen his point, Wallace states that the lobster’s scrambling behavior is one of preference. And since Wallace believes that displaying preference for one condition versus another is an important indicator of suffering, Wallace concludes that lobsters are in fact capable of experience suffering.In raising these points, Wallace hopes to elicit self-examination and analysis of readers’ own perspectives on animal suffering. It confuses Wallace as to how people justify eating animals for their own gustatory enjoyment and experience. Conversely, Wallace wonders what moral justifications people have to dismiss the claim. Overall, Wallace believes that this is a question that is worth public discussion and consideration.
However, some people believe that they are justified in cooking and eating lobster because lobsters are not human. Not surprisingly, Wallace points out that the Maine Lobster Festival completely supports this claim. In their 2003 “Test Your Lobster IQ Test”, they printed that lobsters have simple nervous systems that are as simple as grasshoppers. From this analogy, these people would argue that lobsters are more similar to small, irritating insects rather than to humans.
Furthermore, these people would likely point out that lobsters and insects both fall under the taxonomic classification of Arthropoda whereas organisms such as humans, dogs, and cats fall under the taxonomic classification of Chordata. Through phylogenetic analysis, it is clear that lobsters have an evolutionary history more closely aligned to those of insects and are therefore more closely related to insects than they are to purported “sentient” creatures such as dogs. Along the same kind of thought, lobsters are even insect-like in appearance with a segmented body, antennae, and an exoskeleton made of chitin. In other words, they are giant sea insects that are far from human and thus do not deserve moral consideration.
By using “lobsters are not human” as the basic reason as to why they do not believe that lobsters deserve ethical concern, I believe that these people have mistakenly oversimplified the question of lobster morality.
First, if lobsters are not human, it logically follows that cats and dogs are also not human. If lobsters, not being human, are not deserving of moral considerations, why then do these same people feel justified in advocating for the rights of these house pets? I state that there simply cannot only be two categories of organisms in the world: human and non-human creatures. At the same time, why people feel more strongly about protecting the penguins, whales, and abused dogs than lobsters? What gives penguins greater moral consideration over lobsters? For those that would use the lack of pain receptors as the main reason to distinguish penguins and dogs from lobsters, this argument is both invalid and incorrect.
According to scientific evidence, lobsters have neurotransmitters that are similar to those in humans that allow them to register pain. And even though they are covered in a tough exoskeleton, they still can receive stimuli as readily as organisms that have fleshy skin. Lobsters are sentient creatures that are able to feel pain.
However, I think the most important reason that cooking lobster is and should be considered an ethical issue is because of how people instinctively react towards the cooking process. When cooks hear the lobster(s) clattering madly around in the pot, they cannot help but feel uncomfortable and are motivated to leave the kitchen and not come back until the timer has gone off. This discomfort stems from sensations of guilt, a sensation that arises as a result of an inability to act upon a person’s morality and ethics.
Feelings of guilt, however, are not exclusive to issues concerning other humans. Instead, they come about whenever a person is forced to question his or her moral and/or ethical stance on an issue. Cooking lobster is thus an ethical issue that people ought to think about and take into account the next time they perform it in the comfort of their home or watch it happening before their eyes at the Maine Lobster Festival. Perhaps it will even change their minds.