COOKING IN LANGLEY: Chef ponders ethics of boiling live lobsters

Changes to Swiss law gives this chef reason to rethink how he’ll cook crustaceans in future.

Should we ban lobster boiling?

The best way for cooking almost all foods is from the freshest possible ingredients.

Seafood, is no different, and if anything, even more imperative to do so for premium texture and flavour.

With shellfish specifically, it has been long-standing tradition in the chef’s world to cook from live, whenever possible, to be assured of optimal guaranteed freshness.

Thus, recently when it was announced that Switzerland is planning to ban the boiling of live lobsters, it caught my attention.

Upon further investigation, supposedly this practice of boiling live lobsters has already been banned in New Zealand for close to two decades.

So, why has this recently been brought to the forefront of Swiss law? In my opinion it has been just a matter of time for this topic to be in the news (and the law) again.

As expected, there are many opinions about not only this, but as always, the treatment of food animals in general by us humans.

Overall, I believe we are in better times, where we are generally more aware of how animals are treated in the process of being prepared for the journey to the marketplace, and ultimately our dinner table.

Making sure cattle, pigs, lamb, and chickens for example, have a good life and are killed humanely are of the utmost importance with many more people than ever before.

However, where do we draw the line?

Can we honestly say that the humane treatment of a cow going to butcher, is of the same importance and concern of a lobster being boiled alive?

When I first heard this new story, my initial reaction and comment was “how ridiculous! This has gone too far!”

It wasn’t long after though, that I started thinking about this more, and I believe that’s where the value is: being aware.

I don’t think we need our government to decide in legal rulings what we can or can’t do in our kitchens, but I appreciate news stories like this keeping me more conscious of my actions.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will stop boiling live lobsters in the future, but my overall consciousness of respect for living creatures has been heightened… and that is never a bad thing.

So thus, I may think twice before choosing to, or not to.

However, I honestly don’t believe that crustaceans have the same feelings, or central nervous system, as mammals do, and thus how can we treat them in the same respect?

Again, where do we draw the line then?

If we care to this degree in the ethical treatment of lobsters, then it could also be argued that all crustaceans, including crabs, crayfish, and prawns – for example – should be treated with the same respect and recognition.

Then if we are honouring all crustaceans in this manner, then what about the feelings of mollusks like cephalopods such as octopus and squid; or bivalves such as clams, mussels and oysters?

Aren’t they living creatures as well, and the treatment of them should also be considered when it comes time for harvesting and preparation?

Quite literally food for thought, but I think you can understand how this discussion could be never ending, let alone encompass it completely in a single food column.

If this is a concern for you however, how are you expected to cook your live lobster in the future?

It is recommended that the lobster is “knocked out” first before entering the boiling water, by the process of freezing or other means.

Being more caring in our actions is never a bad thing, but let’s just keep it in a perspective that you are comfortable with.

In the meantime… Happy Cooking!

– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley.

Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to dez@chefdez.com,

or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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