As Lucy, my three-year-old daughter, cheated her way to victory in Candyland, I had time to think about what was cooking in a pot not fifteen feet away: four lobsters. To be more specific, four lobsters that most certainly did not want to die. But die they did.
It was our second night in Maine. We had lobster the first night, too, at a little place in Ogunquit where, after dinner, Lucy walked up to the lobster tank and said to its remaining inhabitants: “We just ate your friend. Ha ha.”
But these were fresh lobster, caught right down the street from our cottage in Harpswell. We had to cook these ourselves. We had to kill these ourselves. Turns out Lucy was fully on board with the idea, even asking to drop two of the four lobsters in the pot herself.
I let her.
“Daddy, are they dead now?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Because I threw them in the hot water?”
I paused, considering the ramifications of what I might say next. “Yes.”
I didn’t know what kind of reaction I would get. She’s been to three funerals in the last year and one of the neighborhood dogs she loved almost as much as her own died a few months ago, so I knew she understood the concept of death about as well as any three year old could. What would I get? Tears? An uncomprehending stare? No. Nothing like that.
“Oh,” she said. “Cool. Wanna play Candyland?”
Which takes us back to the beginning. Me playing Candyland and thinking about how lobsters fit into my temporary vegetarianism. Turns out, I don’t think they do.
Being a vegetarian who eats lobster is a lot like being a Colts fan only when the team makes the playoffs. It pains me to say this, believe me. Crustaceans were my out for this whole mess I’ve gotten myself into—my trump card to the vegetarian world. They don’t have spinal cords, I told people again and again. So I’m not going to eat chicken or lamb or steak for sixty days, but I will eat crabs, lobsters, and shrimp, I said. No spinal cord equals no pain, see?
Science might say that they don’t feel pain, that they don’t even have a concept of pain. But those things did not want to die. I saw it with my own eyes. If their claws hadn’t been rubber-banded, I’m convinced they would have grabbed the edges of the pot and made me stuff them in there. They wanted to hold onto life, and we wanted to take it from them. Which we did.
None of this really bothers me. Not even Lucy’s reaction to the whole affair. It was a good experience for her. She’s not afraid of lobsters, and she understands how food gets on her plate, at least a little.
But what does bother me on a conceptual level is how I can say that I’m a vegetarian when I’ve killed an animal (boiled it alive, no less) and eaten it.
In my first article, I said that I wanted to establish some sort of ethos behind what I was doing here. I know that there are a lot of different reasons that people don’t eat meat. Some have problems with the industrialization of agriculture and the horrible living conditions it creates for cows and chickens. For them, vegetarianism is a form of protest. This isn’t me, at least not the protesting part. Some do it for health reasons. While I can’t deny I’ve felt better and more full of energy since I stopped eating meat (which is weird, I think—if someone could explain that, I’d appreciate it), this isn’t me either.
For me, I think the lynchpin that holds the whole thing together is respect for life. That’s how I can make vegetarianism work in my head. That’s how I can rationalize something I have a hard time understanding. For me, animals are food. They’re there for us to eat. That part of me won’t change. But I can understand someone saying that they simply don’t want to take a life for their own gastronautical pleasure. At least not when there are alternatives around. If that’s the way I can make vegetarianism work at a conceptual level, I simply can’t include lobsters on the To-Eat list and keep on keeping on with this journey.
In the end, this probably isn’t that big a blow to me. Turns out lobsters are expensive when you’re not able to buy them directly from lobstermen. Still, I can’t help but feel like I’ve cheated a little bit while I was on vacation.
Photo by Rafael Ortega Diaz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.