The Angry Lobster of Guilt

“Enjoy your meal” the waitress says placing a plate of lobster in front of me. Beside it on my plate is a strange knife and a nutcracker. I turn to the waitress. “So…um. How do you actually eat a lobster?” I fear ridicule. I fear pointing. I fear laughing. She looks down at my plate, not with pity, but with embarrassment. “Um. You. Er. You just…I think you…hmmm. Welllll…” She doesn’t know how to eat a lobster either. For a moment I wonder why she doesn’t know. She’s the waitress, surely she should know! But soon it makes sense to me. She’s the waitress, why would she know? To buy a lobster she would have to work for 4 hours straight. Nobody would trade 4 hours of their life for a lobster.

Moments later the waitress has come back with one of the chefs from the kitchen. He bends over next to me. I expect him to be French. No matter where I go in the world, I always think the chefs are French. He’s not French. He’s local. His accent is strong, he’s clearly from one of working class areas of the city. Yet he’s the one cooking my food. I wonder if even he can afford to buy a lobster. He explains how I should eat it “jus git in wiv tha pointy kneef, an move it aboot til ye can git the meat oot.” Translation: just get in there with the pointy knife and move it about until you can get the meat out.

I thank him for explaining. I pick up my knife. I stare down at my lobster. It stares back up at me with sad eyes. I feel like I’m looking down at Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. I’m just about to stab my knife in when it shouts at me, in a thick Scottish accent, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOIN’?! DON’T YOU KNOW HOW WRONG THIS IS!!”

I’m taken aback, this is a bit weird, my dinner doesn’t usually talk to me. I try not to look at him. “I’m sorry” I say “but they’ve assured me that I’m not harming the environment by eating you, you’re a really ethical lobster! You didn’t feel pain when you died. It’s all good!” The lobster laughs cynically. “Eating me isn’t the unethical thing you fucking idiot. I’m tasty. I’m more than fucking tasty, I’m fucking gast-gast-gast.” He struggles with the word, stopping for a moment to take a breath and try again. “Gastro-fucking-nomically astounding.”

I shrug, not really understanding. What’s the problem then. He seemingly knew what I was thinking, he growled, “Because I cost so fucking much, that’s why?!” “Oh?” I replied.

I thought about it some more. He cost so much. Why was that a problem? Then it dawned on me.

For the price of a lobster I could have bought two meals. Or for the price of a lobster I could have bought one meal and with the remainder of the money I could have. Done what? I don’t know what. But there was something I did know. The money that I really didn’t even need to spend, could be spent on something else. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. It was Christmas. Freezing cold outside. There were people sleeping on the streets. Each night I go to bed with two duvets. If it gets too cold I can just pull a third out of the cupboard. These people couldn’t even afford a hot meal, I could afford two.

Consumer guilt. I’m not the only person to feel it, am I? Every time I buy something, I feel like I’ve made some form of ethical choice based upon how that item was created.  If I buy a lobster, knowing I could also buy a meal for a hungry person with that money, would it be wrong for me to do so? If I buy a cotton t-shirt, knowing it was created with the use of child labour, wouldn’t I be in some way condoning that child labour myself? Would buying that t-shirt make me a bad person?

When we think about why something costs what it does, our initial conclusion is that it’s expensive or cheap due to the materials used in creating it. For example, we assume a $5 cotton t-shirt is cheap because it’s made of cotton. But really it’s cheap because all the way down the line, to create the shirt, the labour was cheap. The cotton farmers were paid little, that’s why the cotton was cheap. The man driving the cotton to the factory was paid little. The people working in the factory were paid little. All so that we have to pay little for the shirt. In essence, cheap products equal cheap labour, and cheap labour usually equals unethical labour.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that expensive products are ethically sound, something I believe is perfectly summed up in a Flight of the Conchords lyric. “Why are we still paying so much for sneakers, when you got them made by little slave kids, what are your overheads?” Expensive products still use cheap labour, they just have a higher profit margin

This presents a problem though. If inexpensive items aren’t ethical AND expensive items aren’t ethical, what can we buy to stay completely virtuous? The answer. NOTHING. If we trace anything backwards, enough steps, then we can find some reason eventually for it to be something we disagree with. Even if the factory workers, are fairly paid, that doesn’t mean those cotton farmers are. If those cotton farmers are fairly paid, then that also doesn’t mean the cotton is environmentally friendly. Somewhere, at some point, something unethical would have occurred in conjunction with your cotton t-shirt, but this doesn’t make the t-shirt unethical, it just means you’re holding yourself up to impossible ethical standards.

The only solution is, to live as ethically as POSSIBLE, by being more conscious of what we buy and who we buy from. We shouldn’t feel guilt for buying unethical products, as often we have no choice in the matter. The system is against us, and we are forced to work with the system while we change it.

As I stared down at the lobster in front of me, I came to one last realisation. This lobster was so expensive because it was ethical. It was farmed in Scotland, where people were being paid a good wage to collect the lobsters. The lobster was from a sustainable source and environmentally friendly. Eating the lobster in front of me was a no-brainer. It had to done! It would be one of the most ethical meals EVER!

So I took my knife, looked down at my lobster and I said to him,”Sorry, man. It’s got to be done.” He wasn’t sad, he just smiled and said, “Don’t worry kid, I know you’ve learnt a valuable lesson today.” If I looked hard enough I would have seen a tear of pride in his eyes.

But by that point I was too busy stabbing him with a knife, eating his claws.

And he was delicious.

Photo 1: Red by _Pixelmaniac_

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12 thoughts on “The Angry Lobster of Guilt”

  1. Is it wrong of me to comment on this now that I’m also a contributor?

    Either way, this post is brilliant. It reminds me of a great article done by David Foster Wallace called “Consider the Lobster.” (http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster)

    One time, when I first started dating my boyfriend, I went to dinner with his parents. They both ordered lobsters for dinner. I named them. Lucinda and Bob, or something like that. It made them laugh a LOT, but it probably also made them feel kind of bad about eating them. So it was probably not the nicest thing to do, but oddly, it made them like me.

    Also, you win the internet for today since you referenced “Flight of the Concords.” Loved that show.

    1. Yes, totally wrong for you to comment. But I guess we need to support each other now as we’re a team! (Note: this also means that anything nice you say is no longer acknowledged as you’re just saying it to be supportive, not because it’s true!)

      The first rule of food eating, is not naming your food. Maybe their laughter was just sympathy laughter? Or maybe it was genuine, maybe they really find lobsters with names funny. Maybe….

      1. I should have mentioned that they were pretty tipsy at the time.

        And for the record, I named THEIR food, not mine. I would never name a piece of chicken or anything. That’s just weird!

        1. So it has to look like an animal before you give it a name? What if it was like…a dinosaur shaped chicken nugget? Would that be acceptable for naming?

  2. I have a fondness of lobster! Every summer we go to the wharf and purchase it from the local fisherman. It is from that moment, I begin to feel guilty, from my husband chasing me around the house with it’s live claws coming after me, to the moment I put it in the pot to boil…But then I remember i’m supporting a struggling industry, and of course it just tastes so good as it melts in my mouth with a little garlic butter…It’s hard to reason why not to love lobster.

    1. I may go back one day to taste some more lobster. But it’s pretty expensive!

      I long to one day have a wife who I can chase around the house with a lobster. That sounds cute, and romantic.

      Actually, it reminds me of this:

      Love it.

  3. Nice read… At least you feel the guilt and you have questioned these injustices, believe me there are many people happy to live in ignorance, or just try and put it to the back of their minds or even worse just plainly don’t care.
    What we throw away and waste is an even bigger guilt, no? Not only do we indulge ourselves in consumerism, but when we are tired of the product even if it is perfectly functioning – it is discarded, for the newer, “better”, smaller or bigger version.
    It blows your mind. But admittedly living in a 1st world, consumer country it is very hard to avoid it completely and like you said, just trying to live as ethically as possible is a good thing and a step in the right direction ( believe me, we are sadly part of the minority, who even care).
    Buying clothes from charity shops, or just wearing the ones I have to death is something I love to do, maybe its a selfish thing as well, after all I am saving money and feeling good about helping a person/animal in need. But more than that I am using something that someone else has thrown out, to replace with a newer version.
    Sites like freecycle are great and keep my faith strong that there are still who believe “one man’s waste is another’s treasure”.

    I hope you enjoyed every last morsel and didn’t let any of Sebastian go to waste, well maybe not the shell !
    Cheers

    1. Sometimes I think a life of blissful ignorance would be better than a life of stressful knowledge.

      At Christmas I made a vow to only buy myself new clothes from charity shops as I read a few consumer reports which made it hard to justify buying from a lot of high-street shops. On the one hand I’m being more ethical with my buying, on the other hand I’ve been desperately searching for a new pair of pants for months now.

      There are a few things I find impossible to give up, no matter how bad they are. For example baths. I love myself a bath. Complete waste of water. But I like them so damn much! Argh.

  4. Great post.

    Have you read “Cheap” by Ellen Ruppell Shell? It’s a fantastic recent book (which I reference in mine, out April 14) in which she lucidly discusses all the ways our addiction to “cheap” costs us all, environmentally and ethically.

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