To Kill a Lobster
Fresh lobster is one of the most coveted ingredients in the culinary world, but its preparation has long been controversial. This week, the Swiss Federal Council issued an order banning chefs from placing live lobsters and other crustaceans directly into boiling water, declaring boiling to be painful and inhumane.
But do lobsters even feel pain? Robert Elwood, one of the scientists who conducted research on the government’s decision, believes they do, but admits there’s no absolute proof. Many other scientists, however, disagree with Elwood, believing lobsters lack the necessary neural mechanistic pathways to feel pain. Dr. Joseph Ayers, a professor of marine and environmental sciences, explains lobsters and other similar crustaceans are often swallowed whole by predators, and therefore never developed the ability to sense pain from stimuli.
Michael Tlusty, an associate professor of sustainability and food solutions at University of Massachusetts, has a new approach to the debate. He agrees that lobsters lack the neural anatomy associated with pain in humans, but argues crustaceans may simply experience a different perception of pain. For instance, lobsters continue muscle spasms after their limbs are removed, but whether this is a response to pain or just a programmed reflex is unknown.
Even though it remains unclear whether lobsters feel pain, a decrease in human consumption of lobster is unlikely. Despite similar revelations concerning the abilities of cows and chickens to experience pain, meat and poultry production continues to increase every year. To home chefs looking to consume lobster ethically, consider using methods currently deemed more humane since there is still no clear, agreed-upon method of lobster preparation.