Why you should skip the Lobster Festival

By Joel Bartlett | Jul 29, 2018

Every summer, lobsters and tourism — two of the state's biggest industries — collide in the form of the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland. As a native Mainer, I'm all for folks visiting our famous lakes and lighthouses, but kind people should steer clear of the lobster fest, because boiling animals alive for a fleeting taste of flesh is nothing to celebrate.

I grew up in South Portland, so I'm well aware that this opinion won't be a popular one with many Mainers. After all, bright red (i.e., boiled) lobsters are practically the state icon. But lobsters are interesting, intelligent animals who use complicated signals to establish social relationships, recognize other individual lobsters and remember past acquaintances. If left alone by humans, they can live to be more than 100 years old. We should showcase them in all their beautiful, natural (uncooked) colors, rather than "celebrate" them only once they're dead.

I've always felt this way. As kids, my three older sisters and I couldn't stomach the idea of tearing apart an animal and eating the pieces — something that we witnessed every year at my grandparents' house during our family's annual cookouts. When you think about it, eating lobsters — boiling them alive, dismembering them — is a pretty grisly process. And unlike with the hamburgers that were also served at those reunions, there was no way to pretend that the lobster claws and other body parts didn't come from actual animals. The whole thing always struck me as awful, and that's why I've never once eaten a lobster (and at age 15, I went vegan, so the only burgers I eat now are made from plants).

"Do lobsters feel pain?" you might ask. Yes, actually, they do.

Anyone who has ever boiled lobsters alive knows that when they're dropped into scalding-hot water, they struggle frantically and scrape the sides of the pot in a desperate attempt to escape. Scientists have confirmed that such reactions are panic and pain responses.

Dr. Nedim C. Buyukmihci, professor emeritus of veterinary surgery, said, "There is no question that lobsters have the ability to feel pain and suffer ... [I]t would be inappropriate to do something to lobsters that you would not consider doing to conscious dogs, cats or humans."

Industry insiders like to point out that lobsters don't have a centralized nervous system, but that's no indication that they don't feel pain. In fact, because they have ganglia — which are masses of nervous tissue — spread throughout their bodies, they may feel even more pain than humans would in similar situations. Without an autonomic nervous system, they don't go into a state of shock, so even if they're cut open or dismembered before being plunged into boiling water, they still experience pain until their nervous system is finally destroyed during cooking.

Lawmakers (in other countries, at least) are beginning to understand what science is showing us and what common sense has told us all along. In January, the Swiss government banned the practice of boiling lobsters alive without stunning them first, and Norway, New Zealand and some Australian states have also implemented protections for them. Last June, Italy's highest court ruled that restaurant kitchens must not keep live lobsters on ice, because doing so causes them to suffer unjustifiably.

I hope one day Rockland will scrap its annual lobster festival in favor of a vegan food or cultural event that celebrates allowing crustaceans to live free. Until it does, the rest of us can do our part to prevent the cruel treatment of lobsters by keeping them out of the cooking pot. Compassionate chefs are using mock lobster, such as that sold by online retailer May Wah Vegetarian Market, substituting hearts of palm in vegan lobster rolls and serving up creamy "lobster" bisque made with mushrooms. It's really no loss to us to choose these and other vegan options and let lobsters live.

Joel Bartlett is the vice president of marketing for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in Norfolk, Va.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Marvon W. Hupper | Aug 01, 2018 18:11

If you go on line and search "do lobsters feel pain", you will see the truth, and continue to enjoy this fantastic food that God has  provided for us. 'nuff said.

Posted by: Linda M Filippi | Jul 31, 2018 08:41

I completely agree, Mr. Bartlett! The unethical treatment of animals, including crustaceans, or "bugs" is a global crisis. As for the comment, "get a life", I have one, thank you. I just choose to be kind to animals of all species, because their lives on the planet is essential to human longevity. There are humane, sustainable ways to slaughter them for our consumption.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jul 30, 2018 16:19

Beef tastes good, lamb tastes good and lobster, YUMMY! Some people have to get a life!

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Jul 30, 2018 16:19

As in all cases of the loving, touchy feely folk, here is another who wishes to tell me how and what I should eat. I appreciate your opinion, but appreciate that as a native Mainer I indulge whenver I can in the boiling, tearing apart and eating of the bug.

Posted by: Edwin E Ecker | Jul 30, 2018 05:32

Mr Bartlett is a prime example of a generation of touchy, feely self described educated persons who have no real life experiences.

Of course he is welcome to his OPINION but please, save your breath Mr Bartlett and go tell it to maybe a brick wall or better  yet a live lobster and see what it's opinion might be then get back to me !



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