"A detail so obvious that most recipes don’t even bother to mention it, is that each lobster is supposed to be alive when you put it in the kettle."
New Year's Eve. Time to cook some lobster. The tried and true method? Parcook them, using Thomas Keller's culinarily perfect technique. This is how we take care of things in our kitchen. The lobster meat just releases from it's shell, but is not over-cooked after blanching (ie. pouring acidulated boiling water over the lobsters and allowing them to rest for a few minutes). Pick the meat and it's ready to be heated gently in butter, or grilled quickly, or folded into warm béchamel and filled into cannelloni. Can't go wrong.
Except that several years ago I read David Foster Wallace's sensible and uneasy essay about his experience at the Maine Lobster Festival. I'm sharing it here, not to advocate the avoidance of eating once alive creatures, but because Wallace so intimately and empathically relates to the creatures. And I do to. It is an emotional thing to cook animals and Wallace acknowledges that. Sometimes it's simpler to avoid the complexity and paradoxes in what we choose to do with our time - sell clothes manufactured under harsh conditions, trade equities that once were working peoples mortgages, design ads for companies interested only in their bottom lines, research genetically modified seeds that homogenize our food system, kill animals for food. For each of these, I am certain a cogent argument can be made for why such work is beneficial.
Here's one: tonight, I will carefully prepare (kill, cook) lobster for an exciting New Year's Eve menu, and I sincerely hope that it is delicious and believe you me, every bit of that lobster including the shells will be made use of and I expect it will make diners, staff, and myself quite happy. For sure, this rumination is complex and I don't intend to explore all the issues associated with how I justify eating once living creatures. But I am aware of it, I think about it, and yes, it makes me uneasy. Don't even get me started about the rabbit, beef and salmon on the menu tonight!