Consider the Lobster (essay)
Originally published in Gourmet, this review of the Maine Lobster Festival generated some controversy among the readers of the culinary magazine. While Wallace has stated in interviews his love for gourmet food, the essay is concerned with the ethics of boiling a creature alive in order to enhance the pleasure for the consumer, including a discussion of lobster sensory neurons.
Wallace offers a small aside in which he explores the nature of tourism and its impact on the area and the people. Ultimately he decides that, “intranational tourism is radically constricting… To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit.” (Fn 6, 240). DFW claims that tourism affects the human psyche in the same way it ruins the tourist venue. Since tourism will not provide any enlightenment or deeper truth about being alive, and instead undermines what it means to be individual, nothing at all is to be gained from it at all. He has exposed a very problematic cycle, and one that is likely unstoppable in modern culture.
As the title states, "Consider the Lobster" asks the reader that very thing: do you consider the lobster? Even though he is at a Lobster festival, the reader gets snippets of his purpose in this essay. Even though he is sent out to review this festival for Gourmet magazine one would think his goal is to promote the festival. But in reality he leads the reader to question his eating of the lobster and the cruel way cooking a lobster truly is. He defends his willingness to eat lobster by telling the reader that "I [Wallace] believe that animals are less morally important than human beings" (253). This depicts the moral reasoning many people have over eating lobster, the lobster is portrayed as a lesser being and hence, we do not feel guilt when eating it.
The voice is a journalistic type of Wallace sent out to report on the Maine Lobster Festival. The reader knows that Wallace has been sent out to report objectively on the events that take place at this festival, but more than once the reader gets Wallace's points of view in eating lobster and why he prefers NOT to consider the lobster.
In this essay, Wallace looks at the philosophical ramifications of eating animals, particularly lobsters. Wallace poses the difficult to express thought:
- "So then here is a qestion that's all but unavoidable at the World's Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the US: Is it
- all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?" ('Consider the Lobster' 243)
Thus, rather than reporting about the goings on at the Main Lobster Festival, Wallace opts to challenge his readers only to think about what their stance is on this very prickly issue. Given that this article was an assignment given to him from Gourmet magazine, this is a particularly interesting and controversial stance to take. Presumably, the readers of such a magazine consider themselves culinary experts, or at least appreciators, making them the type of people who have no problem boiling a lobster alive to enjoy the meat inside. Wallace himself acknowledges at the end of the essay that he recognizes that his given audience might not be receptive to this article, and perhaps he is correct. More amazing, however, is that Wallace is able to ask the question he asks, describe the torture of the lobsters, and then decide that he likes to eat meat, and thus determines that humans are morally superior to animals. Appealing to philosophers of environmental ethics, including the famous paper "Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer, Wallace simply poses a challenging question, considers it and then offers an answer. Despite his own self awareness to animal ethics, Wallace recognized that the audience of Gourmet might not be so in tune with his thinking, or even willing to relate:
- "Given this article's venue and my own lack of culinary sophistication, I'm curious about whether the reader can identify with any of these
- reactions and acknowledgments and discomforts" (253).
The essay was met with a substantial amount of angry letters from readers, so I suppose the answer to Wallace's question above is "no."
The essay was not universally well-received when published because many lobster eaters were not pleased with the unsavory subject matter. Brendan Wolfe of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, ""Consider the Lobster" originally appeared in Gourmet magazine, and it was controversial for all the obvious reasons. Few carnivores were amused by what they perceived as an attack on their morality" (SF. Chronicle, 12/8/05, page M6).