Consider the Lobster

Consider the Lobster, an article written by David Foster Wallace discusses the ethicality of the way lobster is consumed for our “gustatory pleasure” or more specifically the way it is prepared for this simple pleasure.  The Maine Lobster Festival is a vital part of the midcoast industry and every year attendance booms over 80,000.   Perhaps the mass consumption is what spurred this discussion.  

Wallace takes the approach to first introduce what the MLF even is prior to really discussing the actual lobster.  He depicts the festival as a fundamental part of the midcoast culture.  There are tents with pamphlets, free recipes, lobster cooked every delicious way possible, t-shirts, families walking together, toys and more.  It is described like it is a familiar, welcoming place to go.

However, throughout the piece, Wallace moves on to discuss the actual anatomical features of a lobster, putting into perspective that it is a live being, not just something on our plates.  He continues to describe how the festival is a massive money maker for the industry, often even inconveniencing the attendants.  More importantly though, he asks the question: “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”

When phrased in such a way it makes even the most lobster-loving person pause.  To boil something alive seems barbaric, yet masses upon masses of lobster are boiled and served as if there is nothing wrong with this custom.  Many would argue that there isn’t.  Wallace picks apart these counterarguments by introducing information that contradicts popular opinion.  

He introduces the idea that yes, lobsters feel pain, and that the way it is prepared is often overlooked or even avoided by placing them in the pot and leaving until it is over.  The term to “prepare” really just means to kill in this context. Wallace makes it blatantly clear that he isn’t buying into the idea that they don’t feel pain when their distress is so obvious.  

Wallace concludes by urging readers to at least put moral thought into their food.  Although his arguments could easily fit into several of the ethical approaches, I would say his actual hope is that every individual will want to improve their own individual choices.  Afterall lobster is prepared on site specifically for whoever orders it.  This idea of virtue is what drives social change and by masses of individuals choosing to boycott this unethical practice change is possible, which is what Wallace wants the reader to believe.

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