Reconsidering the Lobster, Herzog, and the Ethics of Eating
The ethics of eating are based on our culture and how it has adapted overtime. For as long as history can date back, hunting animals was intended for survival. Rather than focusing on the animal’s well being, the intent was to salvage the meat as a valuable resource. In David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster,” he explores a popular food phenomenon known as the Maine Lobster Festival. Wallace allows his readers to “consider the lobster” while partaking in an event that people prepare for year-round. In “Animals Like Us,” Hal Herzog reveals the relationships between animals and humans and how it can allow us to contradict our perception on what is right and wrong. Our interaction with animals shapes our preference and determines if the quality of that animal satisfies our own needs.
At the first glance of “Consider the Lobster,” Wallace’s approach appeared to be rather odd because it was not something I had ever thought about before. Why would someone choose to write about something that most people wouldn’t care about? Lobster is a lavish, yet expensive, dish that many people are fond of. The thought of considering a lobster comes off as absurd because we do not view lobsters as domestic animals. Domestic animals leave a sentimental impact on us because we tend to view them as our children or siblings. We treat them like family and feed them and care for them as if they are human. A wild animal, for instance, does that have that impact because there is no relationship involved.
Wallace poses his first argument, “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” (503) Whether this is perceived to be right or wrong, this has been built into our culture. As humans, everything we do contributes to what is most beneficial to us. Wallace touches such a contradictory subject because he himself remains in the troubled-middle, just as a vast majority of us. While we are aware, or not, of what occurs behind the scenes, we are prone to stay neutral and continue with our norms of eating. Wallace’s response is “my own way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing.”(505) It is often hard to come in contact with reality and deal with something that is so gruesome. The less know, the better, because then our conscious remains intact. There are very few of us wiling to change our lifestyles based on something that can easily be sheltered from us. Our brain allows us to see what we want to see and block out what remains unimportant or necessary.
After taking a look at “Consider the Lobster” once again, my thoughts have remained the same. I fall into the pool of the troubled-middle because although I have considered what is really going on, I will not jeopardize my lifestyle. A part of me does feel bad for the pain and suffering that occurs behind closed doors, but because I do not have to witness it, it does not effect me. Because I do not have a connection with a lobster, it has no sentimental value to me. The lobster has no worth compared to my dog for instance. If our culture went into a different direction and treated lobsters at pets, I guarantee my view would be different.
Hal Herzog explains how the relationships we have with certain animals is part of our human experience. We all have different views on what is right and what is wrong. For instance, people choose to be vegetarian because they believe that causing harm to animals is wrong. Whereas another person can choose to eat meat while still thinking it is wrong to do so. Herzog points out that “In Korea, where a puppy can be a pet or an item on the menu.” (246) Because we are not exposed to that, it does not seem normal for a person to eat a dog. We see dogs, and cats, as our companions, not a source of food. A cow or a chicken typically isn’t viewed as anything more than a valuable resource. Whereas pigs are used for ham and bacon, a baby pig resembles a dog, which is why we cannot picture anyone harming something defenseless.
Herzog introduces the story of when a friend of his approached him about something so bizarre that he took a double take on it. He felt attacked when this woman accused him of feeding kittens to his pet snake. (242) Like many people, this caught Herzog by surprise because how could someone think of something so cruel. On the other hand, if it were a mouse being fed to a snake it would be perfectly normal. What is the boundary between a defenseless mouse and a full-bodied cat?