As part of that guiding principle, I am happy to report that I converse with a wide assortment of people who walk from many different paths...people who are new to my life, people who are old friends, people I thought I'd 'lost' along the way but have been 'found' again, people who find me intriguing yet crazy enough to stick around and watch the car crash of my personality in person. Some people I know from here, and while I don't 'know' them in real life per se, I value their input and feedback and welcome them as I do my friends at the local cafe. Many different characters in their own right make up this motley and beautiful crew. Two of whom openly describe themselves as 'animal rights protectors' and the same two whom I had the following debate recently when I mentioned what this column would be about.
About a month ago, I was contacted by email from a group I will endearingily call an animal rights extremist group. Being where I am in NC, within a relatively short drive there exists several research facilities where a whole host of new drugs and products are developed for a consumerist public. In these labs presumably are some lab research animals. Now I have friends who work/have worked in these labs and I have friends who have 'protested' (through peaceful means, as far as I know) these labs. I don't want animals hurt or tortured in the name of science or the next great lipstick, like I think the vast majority of people don't. Their email actively recruited me to come join them (and bring friends!) as they were going to 3 of the above labs in the region and 'free God's creatures who are being held and assaulted against their will'. Again, while I support the non-harm of animals at all times, going and breaking laws to set them free is not my bag. I sent back a response not only saying that, but also asking them to remove me from their mailing list.
One week later, I got another email from them, but this one far more specific and more 'law-abiding' in its nature. It was essentially a press release hailing the new 'life-friendly' policies of Whole Foods®' (upscale grocery chain) refusal to no longer offer live lobsters for sale. Apparently I had missed the boat: lobsters had rights, too, even when caught and being prepped for meals for humans, which they have been for eons now. I really had no idea this was an issue for some people. From the Whole Foods® release detailing their decision:
The Company partnered with an innovative seafood company, Clearwater Seafoods of Nova Scotia, Canada, to experiment with different handling techniques that support natural conditions to help lobsters thrive. Since lobsters are typically solitary creatures, the team developed alternatives including single-layer holding crates on the boats, individual holding compartments during storage, and unique "condos" for in-store tanks. Whole Foods Market further looked into the biology and sentience in lobsters, including studying the final report of the November 2005 European Food Safety Authority Animal Health and Welfare panel which concluded all decapod crustaceans, including lobsters and crabs, are complex in behavior and appear to have some degree of awareness, feeling pain and having the ability to learn.
Whole Foods Market will sell select raw and cooked frozen lobster products solely from companies that meet the strict handling and processing standards developed during the Company's evaluation period, which includes measuring to ensure the quality and health of the animal. Currently only Clearwater Seafoods meets the criteria.
Now, call me selfish and a bit on the dumb side, but if they are wanting to provide better and higher human treatment standards for the lobsters of the world, wouldn't it have been best to maybe just stop selling lobsters months ago instead of making 'condos' for them? And here's my logic: if people say they 'want a live lobster from the store', most likely they're not adopting one for a pet. And, if they are, they aren't going to a grocery store to find one. Grocery stores, like fish markets, sell groceries...aka, food...in all sorts of shapes, sizes and quantities. Seafood buyers want fresh fish, fresh lobsters and live lobsters generally...and will go to great lengths to choose just the 'right' one from the lobster tank. But after that choice is made, exactly what did Whole Foods® think was going to happen to Leo the Lob? I'm gonna guess with the exception of maybe a few that made a getaway through a kitchen window, 99.9% of those that got brought home ended up as dinner somehow...I seriously doubt the Joneses had some sort of 'last rites' ceremony for them prior to the lobsters' demise in boiling water. And, unless somebody's invented some sort of lobster-killing gas bag one puts over Leo to lull him into the Hereafter Sea, they'll instead get clubbed on the head or scalded in a pot in the prep for that said dinner. So while I appreciate Whole Foods®' efforts to want to mimic the lobster's native surroundings, to me this sounds akin to providing air conditioning and extra-soft straw to nesting hens: the final result still ends up being the same, doesn't it?
Word to the 'well-meaning' groceries and food markets: if you want to sell items that are only handled 'humanely' from start to finish (especially in the US), you might want to look at selling only foods that at some point were never considered 'living'. Seafood, catfish farm-breds, chicken, beef, lamb...you name it. Just a thought. And depending on how 'die hard' you want to go on this, I can tell you from firsthand experience that millions of wheat stalks have been complaining about combines harvesting them for years and years. It's food, people, get over it. Let's not abuse, sure, but let's also not forget common sense.
Meanwhile, pass the dipping sauce, please...
my favourites courtesy of De Costi's Seafood at the Sydney Fish Market