Trevor Corson's (old) Lobster Blog

This is the old Lobster Blog of Trevor Corson, author of the worldwide pop-science bestseller The Secret Life of Lobsters. This blog is no longer active; it serves as an archive of Trevor's posts on lobsters from 2004-2006. Visit Trevor at his new website,

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Name: Trevor Corson
Location: New York, NY, United States

Monday, July 03, 2006

Along with Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin, Lobsters Should Be Left Alone

Moral equivalence?
A few days ago, a person named Antoine wrote to me with his reaction to my article in Boston magazine on the life and death of lobsters:
Lobsters are highly intelligent creatures. Do you seriously think that they are "happy" in tanks in a grocery store? Are you that deluded? Lobsters can live up to 100 years. As well, lobsters mate and mourn just like we do. . . . It seems that your entire reason for being stems from a speciesist attitude based on lies and misinformation.
I pointed out to Antoine that there was no evidence that lobsters experience emotions such as happiness or mourning. The lobster's nervous system is on par with that of a housefly or mosquito; there is no brain, just a connected series of ganglia composed of a total of around 300,000 neurons. By contrast, human brains have a hundred billion neurons, and that's not including the rest of our nervous system. Are lobsters intelligent? While writing THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS I was amazed at what lobsters are capable of, but I also came to understand that their behaviors are the result of a primitive, hard-wired neural circuitry.

Boil him alive? Surely, that
would be too kind.
Antoine's response was essentially to say that it didn't matter. Ethics, in his view, required that a lobster receive the same level of compassion as any human, no matter what. He went on to argue that:
Who the act is committed upon is not relevant when discussing ethics. Although many would feel justified in killing the Hitlers and Idi Amins of this world, there is no argument as to the ethics of such an action.
Certainly, Antoine is entitled to his own understanding of ethics. But his beef with me was that I called myself an ethical eater. Antoine demanded that I stop doing so, because in his view, the fact that I ate lobster at all -- even humanely killed lobster -- proved that I had no ethics at all.

My beef with people who have views like Antoine's, as I've written before on my blog, is that:
their obsession with saving lobsters from the pot is a costly misallocation of moral concern, especially when there is so much that is good about eating lobster, including the fact that for the most part, lobster is one of the world's few sustainably harvested seafoods. And if there's one thing I've learned about lobsters, it's that they are not sentient creatures in the sense that cows and pigs are (FYI, I don't eat much pork, beef, or chicken, and when I do, I try to stick to the free-range varieties).
I also wonder what will remain for Antoine to eat after he reads The Secret Life of Plants, which argues that plants possess consciousness not unlike animals.

Comments (4):

- I don't feel any of this guy's opinion is worth the time of day. Debases your site. Just gives the guy fuel, ammunition, power, etc.

- What's funny about ethics is that they are inherently subjective (to me, anyway). I'll go to great lengths to remove a spider from the house, unharmed, but squash mosquitoes with relish. I think Antoine has a point -- where do we draw ethical lines, and who gets to draw them? And should ethics be relative, or fixed? But when it comes to food and eating, there are simple, practical realities. We've gotta eat something. And the less removed from our food choices, the better, I agree. The science nerd in me can understand that lobsters' simple or "primitive" nervous systems probably don't provide the biological equipment for emotions and higher consciousness. But the mystical nerd in me feels that we can't really know the consciousness of other beings. Do lobsters feel? Who knows. But everything we eat that once was a living thing may have had some kind of consciousness. The solution, to me, is to be thankful for the food that living things provide for us, and remember that we're just part of the big picture of creatures eating and being eaten, and that actually connects us to the web of life in very real and satisfying ways. Otherwise, I might end up being a Fruitarian, eating only fruits that have naturally fallen from plants!

- When are you going to wake up and stop fooling yourself? Since when did killing animals become humane or ethical? Any damn way you kill a lobster it still renders you a murderer. Anybody with a conscience knows that. So start understanding the fact that maybe you should develop your conscience. God bless you.

- What is the fixation these people have with lobsters? Do they not know how hostile the world is under the sea? Do they not know how many clams are crushed and eaten by lobsters every summer? Do they not know how lobsters are savagely killed and devoured by the millions during their molting period by bluefish? Do they not know how savagely the bluefish are ripped apart by the migrating bluefin tuna? Shouldn't they be protecting the clams from the bad lobster? If they say lobsters are intelligent creatures then they should get them to stop crushing things in their claws, because that must also be a cruel thing to do. I think dropping a lobster in a pot of boiling water to put nutritious food on the table is far less cruel than what its demise would have been on the bottom of the ocean. These people are becoming so sensitive about what we eat that I think they must have to be living on artificial foods to not be hypocrites, right? They better be.


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