The Lobster and Me

I wandered into a seafood restaurant to make a call when I looked into an aquarium. There was a large lobster (and since lobsters continue to grow with age, this large one was perhaps 50 years old), waving its tentacles at me, looking through the glass, his or her big black eye stems seemingly staring at me. Of course I anthropomorphized: “What am I doing here,” the lobster seemed to be saying. “Get me out!” But while I knew I was engaging in a kind of fantasy, at the same time, there is no good scientific reason to believe that lobsters are indifferent to their surroundings. This was not home, and she was definitely trying to get out. The lobster may not have appealed to me personally, but certainly the desire for escape was real and urgent. He wanted, as every creature in such a situation would, to live, not to die. Could he anticipate the agony that awaited him? Perhaps not. But of what significance is this to his very real suffering?

I was struck by his beauty, the gorgeous symmetry of his limbs, and
the magnificent colors of his body. All of this to be sacrificed to the next diner who asked for him by name, as it were? “I will take that one.” Out he is hauled, thrown into boiling water, torn to pieces, and then devoured. What sense does this make? How can we do this? Even more depressing, to me, is that this is done, routinely, thousands of times every hour around the world without the slightest hesitation or doubt.

Had I attempted to make the lobster’s case to the diner, I would undoubtedly have been thrown out of the restaurant as a crank and a nuisance, and other diners would have thought me bananas. Is it
loopy to care about somebody so beautiful being considered merely as a meal?? Is there something wrong with me? Why do I see what others do not? It just struck me, on a visceral level, as so wrong as to be beyond any kind of rational thought. Either you saw this right away, or there was no way it could be argued. But if this is true, how do we ever change minds?

Accepting “reality” as we find it is the default position. “Grow up,” I was urged, when as a boy I did not want to see animals killed and refused to eat them. “Face reality,” I was admonished. I was not old enough to say “what reality?” Or even “whose reality?” Why should my desire for a taste of the lobster’s flesh trump his desire to live the life he had been living for the last 50 years? Think of all that accumulated experience (and why should a lobster not have memories?) all to be snuffed out in a hideous restaurant ritual of human barbarity. No thanks.

I did nothing to save that lobsters life, and it bothers me. If even one person reads this and decides to forego even a single lobster, I have made a difference! And if that is true, then when we decide to stop eating lobsters (or any other animal) we too make a definite difference to the lives of the animals we are no longer killing or eating.

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury or the eBook
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8 Responses to The Lobster and Me

  1. Es usted maravilloso Jeffrey. A mí también me dan mucha lástima esos acuarios en los restaurantes. Jamás he sido capaz, y me atrevo a decir con total seguridad, que jamás seré capaz de asomarme a uno de ellos y decirle a un camarero “póngame ése”. Es horrible.
    Pero ¿sabe lo que pienso? que estas cosas son cuestión de feeling Jeffrey, de instinto, de sentimientos. No es tanto una cuestión de educación, creo yo, como de sensaciones.
    Hay niños que ya desde pequeños ves que son violentos; y hay otros que son incapaces de matar una mosca.
    Yo pienso que va en la naturaleza de cada cual, que ésta tiene una tendencia y se puede pulir más o menos, pero la tendencia natural está ahí.
    Hay amantes de los animales que son capaces de torturar a una persona.
    Y dentro de nuestra especie hay personas como usted, absolutamente respetuosas con la vida de todo ser, y otras amantes de las corridas de toros por ejemplo. Y pertenecemos todos a la misma especie.
    No sé, no se desespere, yo soy de las optimistas que piensan que el mundo terminará siendo pacífico y armonioso; lo que pasa es que todavía falta mucho para eso.
    Un afectuoso saludo.

  2. Monique Boutot says:

    I am so sad after reading your recent post… I had been expecting/hoping for a happier ending, like: you bought him and rented a boat and released him… Fairy tale ending, no doubt and I feel stupid and childish for wishing it. I am thinking about the waving tentacles, the appealing arms… all of those other animals appealing, pleading for mercy. I don’t believe it is “anthropomorphizing” to imagine that. They are talking to us!
    I guess you and I still have some “growing up” to do then…
    What if we refuse?
    What if it is us who are the “grown ups”?
    I want to think that our view of the world represents a more “evolved” view, a “grown up” view where nobody suffers to benefit another living being.
    Evolved beings, it seems to me, have learned to live and let live…
    If I am wrong, if there really is no hope for our view to become reality one day… then there is no hope. No hope for our planet, and certainly not for us.

    • Walks With Wolves says:

      I’m with you Monique ~ I can not stand to look at live fish in tanks at the meat market, gasping for air, wondering… just wondering I’m certain of it, “is there a way out?” Sad, I for one will not eat a lobster, nope, they’re too beautiful.

  3. That’s a touching story, Jeff!

    Growing up is overrated, especially if it means losing empathy with other living beings.

  4. Human cruelty doesn’t has limit. That surrounds hunters, cooks and all who eat there, not just who eat lobsters, because together, everbody contributes to these places exist.
    Your Paradise, Mr Masson, has the same serious problem as the rest of the planet: Humans.
    How many rabbits killed some days ago? How many ducks they will kill now?
    And very far of feeling some shame, proud of their massacres, teach their children to kill in the name of a tradition.

  5. Helen says:

    Yes, I too, hoped for an ending that went something like you paid them $100 (or so), told them the lobster was yours now, you had them put it in a cardboard box for you, all the while saying you were a kook, you took the box as fast as you could home and watered he/she down until you could determine where to release him/her…Just yesterday, I made the mistake of walking through the meat section of a large grocery store and there was an open tank of crawfish, all with their pincers up in attack mode; all I could do was think to them, “I’m so sorry for being a member of the group that abducted you and intend to to kill you cruelly, with boiling water”, etc…I get mixed feelings EVERY time I haphazardly walk down an aisle like this being angry or intensely sad.
    How many times have I wondered what did it matter that I did not eat animals and so many others did. It’s very lonely being of that mindset in this very nu-vegan city I’m in (Burrito capital of the world – will not say which city) and just hope I’m judged kindly in afterlife for this social sacrifice being made; no one around me is vegan; think I’m radical and nuts…being vegan 25 years of so…thanks for your writings and this forum…

  6. I have never eaten one, and will not. I totally understand that feeling of helplessness when you see them in those tiny tanks. I don’t understand how anyone could eat them. It’s barbaric. I’m vegetarian, and I’m trying to become vegan. I’m starting one day a week.

  7. Anika says:

    I want that someone change the world: I want that people stop eating animals. As you said here “He wanted, as every creature in such a situation would, to live, not to die.” – all animals want to live as we human beings too. Why cannot we just leave alone the animals??? 😦

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