We went to The Prime Cuts last night with another couple, and the restaurant specialties are steak and lobster. Nearby the maître d’ stand there was a big tank parading huge, healthy lobsters (thank God they did not show live cows too). I asked one of the staffs when we were collecting our coats back, if the lobster are for a show or they actually use (cook) them. She said that they do use the lobster in the tank if someone orders it. But the patrons are not allowed to pick the lobster by themselves.
Because it’s considered as an animal cruelty.
So you can order the lobster, but you can’t point one of the inhabitants in the tank and tell the chef that you specifically want that lobster on the left corner because it looks fresher and bigger than the others!
This triggered my curiosity so I went for a research and found that scientific evidence showing lobsters feel extreme levels of pain when cooked to death, and there has been big debates about the most humane way to kill them.
Scientific evidence proves boiling alive is the most cruel method of dispatching a crustacean – one of the least cruel is to deep freeze the creatures so they drift off to sleep.
Another less barbaric – if still fairly violent – method is to stick a butcher’s knife in the base of the lobster’s head and slice it in two. Many cooks, however, feel the taste of lobster meat is not as good if the creature isn’t boiled alive.
During my research I read a complaint from a cook that he saw lobsters were put in the oven and grilled – alive. An Italian restaurant was fined 688 euros (USD855) for displaying live lobster on ice – which apparently a form of abuse because the crustaceans suffer from slow death of suffocation. An article in Animal Aid website explains in a lengthy detail how lobster can sense pain, and any method, from trapping to cooking, if it’s not done properly, can make the creature suffer.
Sometimes lobsters are frozen to unconsciousness before being killed. The Shellfish Network recommends 2 hours in a deep freeze with a temperature of minus 20 degrees Co. It warns that ‘the freezing compartment of a refrigerator would not be cold enough’ and that lobsters may regain consciousness if they are not boiled immediately after removal from the freezer. In its paper, Lobster Biology, Physiology, Neurobiology, The Lobster Conservancy points out that freezing will expose lobsters to an unpleasant, unnatural temperature and that death/loss of consciousness will not be immediate.
Evidence from studies on other ectotherms suggests that they do not become unconscious during hypothermia. Their reactions are slowed due to physiological alteration of cooling, and they may drift in an out of sleep but freezing is unlikely to render them unconscious like a drug. In any case the lobster would wake up abruptly when put into boiling water.
Wikipedia provides a specific section of animal rights issues on their details about lobster.
The most common way of killing a lobster is by placing it, live, in boiling water, or by splitting: severing the body in half, lengthwise.
The boiling method (also used to kill crayfish and shrimp) is controversial because some believe that the lobster suffers. The practice is illegal in some places, such as in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where offenders face fines of up to €495. The Norwegian study states that the lobster may be de-sensitized by placing it in a salt solution 15 minutes before killing it. Freezing the lobster for 15 minutes to two hours before boiling may de-sensitize it to any pain, but this is rarely done as it toughens the meat.
The quickest way to kill a lobster may be to insert a knife into its head and cleave the head in two, thereby destroying two of the most important nerve clusters of the lobster. Some feel that this is more humane than placing the live lobster into boiling water, although it is common for the lobster to twitch for some time even when severed symmetrically in half.
Some stores will kill a lobster upon purchase by microwaving it. Whether or not death occurs more quickly than when the lobster is dropped in boiling water is not clear. There are, however, locations where the sale of a dead lobster to be eaten is illegal, including Massachusetts.
In 2006, British inventor Simon Buckhaven invented the CrustaStun, which electrocutes lobsters with a 110 V electric shock, killing them in about five seconds. This ensures a quicker death for the lobster. Seafood wholesalers in Britain already use a commercial version. A home version measuring about 46 cm width and depth came into the retail market in late 2006 for about £2000.
In Asia, it’s common to see the restaurants displaying all of their seafood stock in the tank or on ice. In Hong Kong we ate at a restaurant which had floor-to-ceiling tanks, displaying all kinds of fish, lobsters, and eels, and some other weird creatures. In Indonesia, WWF provides a general guide which seafood we better eat and what to avoid (although the bloody diagram is way to small to read with normal eyes) – but their main concern is endangered species, not animal rights. And of course, no one in Indonesia cares about the most humane way to kill the lobster.
No one actually ordered lobster last night in our table. And the lobsters looked relax and happy in the big, clean tank, when we left the restaurant. That, before someone decides to order one, of course!