By Dan Paden
If you’ve ever boiled lobsters alive in your kitchen, you’ve no doubt experienced that moment when, in the words of the late David Foster Wallace, “some uncomfortable things start to happen.” After the water heats up and you drop the lobster in the pot, the hapless animal may latch onto the rim for dear life. Once you finally get the lobster fully submerged, you’re confronted with the clanking of the lid as the lobster tries to push it off, followed by the deeply discomforting sound of the animal’s claws frantically scraping the sides of the pot. “The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water …,” wrote Wallace.
No wonder many people opt for frozen instead. The “uncomfortable things” happen someplace else, and we don’t have to think about them as we drop the neat plastic packages of lobster meat into our shopping carts. But I urge you to think about them, at least for the next few minutes. You just might decide that the fleeting taste of a lobster’s flesh is not worth the violence that is routinely inflicted upon these animals.
Earlier this year, PETA captured video footage inside a Rockland, Maine, crustacean slaughterhouse that supplies retailers across the country. The footage shows live lobsters and crabs as they are being ripped apart and crabs being boiled alive. Workers tear off live lobsters’ claws before shoving the animals into a metal tool that punctures their shells. The lobsters’ heads are also ripped from their bodies, tossed onto a conveyor belt and dropped into bins-where their antennae continue to move long after their bodies have been mutilated.
Lobsters do not have a centralized nervous system but instead have ganglia, or masses of nervous tissue, spread throughout their bodies, so they do not die quickly even if their brains are destroyed. Studies have found that a lobster’s nervous system continues to function even after the animal is dismembered.
One worker said that the mutilated lobsters “don’t die right away. I mean, they’ll live for hours.”
PETA’s video also shows workers at this facility slam live crabs onto spikes to break off their top shells and shove the animals’ exposed organs and flesh against rapidly spinning brushes. The crabs-still alive-are then tossed onto a conveyor belt and dumped into boiling water.
These animals are not unfeeling automatons. Recent research has shown that crabs are capable of learning and remembering information, just like other animals. If left alone, lobsters can live to be more than 100 years old. They use complicated signals to establish social relationships and can recognize individuals.
Experiments on crabs and prawns conducted by Dr. Robert W. Elwood, a professor of animal behavior at Queen’s University Belfast, have demonstrated that crustaceans can feel pain. Similarly, in 2005, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that crustaceans are capable of experiencing pain and distress and recommended that steps be taken to lessen their suffering when possible.
We live in a changing world, one in which animals are afforded considerations that they might have been denied in the past. If we’re honest, we must admit that it matters little to the animals whether they are cruelly killed behind the closed doors of a commercial slaughterhouse or if we kill them ourselves, right there in our own kitchens. Lobsters and crabs can feel pain and they do not want to die. And the only way to make sure that we’re not contributing to their suffering is to stop eating them.