On Lobster

http://www.columbia.edu/~col8/lobsterarticle.pdf

Plato’s comments:

I always thought boiling a lobster alive seemed fairly cruel, I’ve never cooked a whole lobster myself, only lobster tails which, one hopes, would come from lobsters killed in a more humane fashion. I’ve heard of knifing the lobster before boiling, I’d assumed that would mean a quick death for the lobster, but the author seems to say that based on the structure of the lobster nervous system it doesn’t make any difference.
I’ve heard ‘lobsters don’t feel pain’ before, I’ve also heard ‘fish don’t feel pain,’ I think both are nonsense. While pain and the experience of pain is subjective nearly every living entity reacts to being damaged in some fashion, it’s the most basic of survival mechanisms, “I am being harmed, I must do something.’ Even plants react when injured in detectable ways https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/plants-communicate-distress-using-their-own-kind-nervous-system
Is the human experience of pain going to be the same as that of the plant? Surely not. The same as a lobster? More questionable, but as the author points out, the different structure of the lobster nervous system makes it impossible for us to know exactly how the lobster experiences pain. But I think it’s fair to say that lobsters experience pain of some sort and react to pain in an attempt to end the pain. In my opinion we should strive to be as merciful to our food as is feasible. Boiling a lobster causes an inordinate amount of pain, therefore we should kill them another way.
Although the author never expressly states their dietary preferences they do say a few things that would suggest to me that they are advocating a vegetarian if not vegan diet where possible. They seem to pretty quickly dismiss alternative preparation methods which would definitely kill the lobster faster, such as cutting the lobster in half entirely, and go on to state that they can find no logical basis to justify the killing of other creatures for human consumption on a moral basis. I do not agree with this presupposition.
Morality is inherently subjective. What is moral in one culture may not be moral in another. Being human, my morality is humanist. As a general rule I hold human life to be more valuable than any other kind of life. I think this would still be true even if we met intelligent alien life, though I think the difference in value would be substantially less than between a human and a lobster, maybe it would change my thinking entirely and I would consider them to be exactly equal, or even superior in some fashion, it’s hard to know not having experienced it, but I think it is reasonable to assume that my first loyalty would remain with my own tribe.
Being omnivores we are evolved to be able to eat other animals, and indeed if we do not eat other animals, it is substantially more difficult for us to obtain all the nutrients that we require for optimal health. Modern society has made this somewhat easier by providing access to different vegetables grown throughout the world, but for the majority of human history, people have had access to relatively limited flora which could provide only a portion of nutritional needs, and eating animals was necessary to obtain the lacking nutrients.
It’s now possible to live a long and healthy life without ever eating animals, but simply because that is possible I cannot agree that it is morally obligatory, or even necessarily morally praiseworthy. If I pick up a lobster, and say “Today I will not eat you” and then toss it back in the ocean where it is immediately eaten by a cod, would the lobster have cause to be grateful? Certainly I gave it a chance to live free from threat of me, but its life was not prolonged. And it’s death being torn apart by a cod would probably be substantially more brutal than the death that I would have given it, assuming that I would simply cut the lobster in half and kill it immediately. The lobster cannot understand the gesture that I made in throwing it back to the sea, depending on how it had been kept it may not even understand that it escaped a potential threat. In that case the only positive benefit of my decision to not eat the lobster exists in my own mind. ‘I didn’t kill it, I am such a good person.’ In this regard the decision becomes something of a trolley problem. ‘If I take action, a lesser harm is done, but I am directly responsible, if I don’t take action a greater harm occurs, but this would have happened even if I never existed.”
Of course I am not trying to say that by eating animals humans are actually lessening the number of deaths, chances are the lobster I threw back would not immediately die, it may even go on to live another 100 years and breed many times.
What I am saying is that, as Temple Grandin put it “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.” Humans are capable of providing a much less painful death to the creatures that we eat than just about any other animal. Boiling a lobster alive is a horrific example of how humans kill the food we eat, and I have to imagine was chosen specifically for the visceral impact of imagining dying in such a fashion. Cows, pigs, lambs, and chickens we can, and generally do, kill in such a way that they never feel a thing, or do so only for the briefest possible time. In this regard, humans are by far more kind to the creatures we kill than any natural predator, for whom the general modus operandi is to chase something down and then dismember it while it is still living. Where I think that humanity is currently really failing in terms of our food morality is the condition in which much of our livestock is kept while still living. I think if we really want to attain a higher moral ground we should make efforts to improve conditions of factory farms and provide livestock with as comfortable a life as possible.
I think the perfect solution would be the Star Trek replicator that can perfectly assemble any type of animal product that I might want to consume from base molecules without the need for any living creature to be harmed. Lesser versions would be lab grown meats that didn’t involve any animal suffering and vegetable based meat replacement options, while I can’t say we have really gotten there yet, we do seem to have taken some strides, with products like the ‘impossible burger’ (Though I did read an interesting piece on the relatively shitty nutritional value of that the other day.) I am not some sort of meat purist that believes that nothing can replace the flesh of living creatures, in fact I hope the opposite, that we are able to fully replace meat product and remove animal suffering to the greatest extent possible. But, until we have achieved that level of technology, I don’t believe that people should feel badly about having to kill animals to eat them, we should just strive to do in as kind a way as possible.

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Joel Gross

Joel Gross is the CEO of Coalition Technologies.

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