I have to preface this post by saying that I’ve never before been the person I’m about to describe. In high school, when we had to dissect a pig, I was right in there, knee deep in formaldehyde, cutting away.
But last Sunday in Purchasing and Product Identification, I cried during the lobster demo. A totally unexpected reaction. In Stocks, Soups & Sauces I relieved a fish of its eyeballs and used a Japanese butcher knife to hack it into sections. No tears. In Food Service Production, I watched with interest as we were shown the proper way to portion a whole chicken. No tears. But there was something about those lobsters…
Our large, handle-bar mustachioed chef wheeled out his specimens on a cart with a flourish. He said he had a special treat for us, as he gestured toward a form underneath a white towel. Had there been 2 lobster rolls under that towel, it would have been a treat indeed. But instead he revealed a live, 1 pound female lobster. And she was pissed. As he picked her up, flipped her over, prodded her with a pen, put her back down, picked her up, removed the bands from around her claws, put her down, touched her head, touched her eye, picked her up, put her down… she became even more irate. She began to foam at the mouth. Then he brought out another poor creature - a 4 pound male. He didn’t seem as angry. Maybe he thought he could intimidate with his size.
At some point during the demo, I realized my eyes were welling with tears. “Put them back,” I thought, “they’re afraid!” I knew that the fate of these crustaceans was to eventually be dunked in boiling water and served with butter and bibs. And really, I’m ok with that. I guess my hang up was that until the time they hit the pot, lobsters, like all living creatures that we’re going to kill for food, should be treated with a little dignity. After all, lobsters mate for life. If they have enough consciousness to choose a partner for a lifetime, then certainly they can feel the fear and anxiety of being treated like a specimen. And as a very wise friend said, when humans feel fear and anxiety, chemicals are released into our bodies. Are lobsters (and cows and chickens and pigs) releasing those very same chemicals, ultimately putting their fear and anxiety into the food products we eat?
I don’t know what this unexpected heart ache for a sea creature will mean to the rest of my culinary studies. I know that after watching Food, Inc., I’ve already made some major changes in where the meat that I eat comes from. I can’t imagine never eating another piece of lobster. I suppose this is just another lesson in taking responsibility for everything we choose to put in our mouths. Maybe not the lesson our chef intended with the lobster demo, but not a bad one to learn, none the less.