Buenos Aires – It’s been the talk of the food blogosphere and news writers for the last week. Whole Foods Market announced on June 16th that they were going to stop selling live lobsters (and crabs). Various emphases are mine…
Commentators have weighed in with a wide variety of opinions:
And various commenters on the above:
The back and forth is fascinating. Now, I’m a stockholder in Whole Foods Market, and I have to say I don’t applaud their decision. I’m sure it will contribute to the bottom line, and I’m sure it will make some portion of the customer base, and a large number of folk who aren’t customers but like to protest such things, happy – and John Mackey, the CEO, is known as one of the few CEOs in the business who consistently delivers on his financial and operational promises to both his stockholders and customers. But I think the stated reasons are simply disingenuous. I would doubt that it’s based on misinformation about lobster nervous systems, feeling pain, or probably even the bottom line in regard to the cost of lobster tanks, though I’ll bet that weighed in on the decision. I don’t even think it’s pandering to the animal rights activists, even if they did initiate the “investigation” via a letter writing campaign (and even if the announcement panders to them).
I think it comes down, very simply, to a narrow view of what consumers want. The quote above about how few people really want their lobsters live is probably the most telling (though note, 15% specifically stated that they want them live, 13% stated that they didn’t, that makes 72% who just didn’t express a preference). Even dropping a live lobster or crab into a pot of boiling water goes beyond what many average home cooks are comfortable doing. The idea of chopping a head off, or splitting it down the middle, while still living, is past their squeamishness threshhold. Big insect or not, many folks simply don’t want to have to kiill their own food. I don’t think it’s any different than if they were handed a baggie filled with water and a live fish, leaving them to kill and gut it, or, as one of the last commentators I quoted said, “imagine corrals of cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs”. However… Whole Foods has always been about experiencing food at its best, not at its supermarket imitation, which for lobsters, crabs, and the like, means live. For cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs, it doesn’t – they require special handling, and the meat is actually better when allowed to age, it’s not the same thing.
The whole question of feeling pain and nervous systems is moot in the end. It’s been conclusively demonstrated that plants have sensory systems. They’re structured differently than the nervous systems of members of the animal kingdom, but they have them. So where does one draw the line? Sure crustacea don’t have central nervous systems like mammals, but they have nerves. Do they feel pain? Who knows? It’s the height of arrogance to assume that only animals that are easy to anthropomorphize feel pain as we know it. Because, very simply, any discussion of pain is a human concept. We do know that other animals, and plants, react to physical stimulation. Who are we to say that their reaction is not some form of pain. At the very least, they obviously have a negative, “uncomfortable” reaction. This, of course, leads into a whole discussion of spirit/soul versus brain, i.e., are the only real things those which can be scientifically demonstrated? Or maybe whether non-human beings have spirits/souls, yet another well-charged discussion. “Feel the force Luke”…
At the same time, unless we want to sit around and eat rocks, it’s part of the food chain game. Or, to quote someone I once read in regard to vegan dining (and I apologize for not remembering where I read it): “A cow can run. A carrot can’t.”