Lobsters at Longo’s




I like food, so it sort of hesitantly follows that I should like grocery stores. And I do, actually. I even like having to go to multiple stores to get everything I need, because then I figure we really do end up with the best stuff, and the best deals. I have been particularly fond of a few grocery stores throughout my grocery-shopping years, and one of them that was held high in my estimation was Longo’s. It has nice-looking produce, it’s a local business, it’s a prolific business with 24 stores in the GTA now, and its produce is good enough that I have to mention it twice. Seriously, more grocery stores need to amp up their produce game.

Anyway, I thought Longo’s was pretty great.

But then, this happened.

lobster at longoa

Kind of a misleading picture. When we were there, that tank was stuffed with them. It was more lobster than tank.

Not cool, Longo’s.

The thing here is that no one really thinks about lobsters. Lobster is just one of those special, fancy things you order at restaurants, and if you do buy a live lobster I guess somehow you force yourself to get over all of those prudent ethical questions you’d – I think, anyway – be facing when dropping a living thing into its pot of death, or maybe you laugh about it because, what else are you supposed to do?

A common misconception: lobsters don’t feel pain. Wrong. They do. They have bundles of nervous tissue throughout their bodies instead of a central nervous system, and although that means their nervous system doesn’t function the way ours does, the presence of nervous tissue pretty much meets the requirement for feeling pain. They also have a very good sense of touch, which might end up meaning that they are particularly sensitive to pain. What they definitely don’t have is the same pain management system that we have. This leads some to suggest that while they feel pain, they don’t actually register it, and therefore, lobsters don’t suffer, so throw ’em in the pot, who cares? There isn’t scientific proof that lobsters do register pain, because they certainly don’t do so the way that humans do and not enough is known about them. But common sense leads me, at least, to believe that they probably register pain in a lobster-esque way. They certainly act as though they are suffering when being cooked, regardless of whether that sound you hear when they’re boiling is screaming or not. (They’re not. Those sounds are just their bodies undergoing physical changes because they are being boiled to death.)

One consequence of lobsters not having the same sort of pain system that we have is that they can’t go into shock. It’s therefore likely, though not proven (and p.s., science: we don’t need that proven unless you can do it without torturing lobsters) that they can feel everything until they finally die.

The most common way people kill lobsters is to just boil them alive. Sometimes people cut them in half, which is, I guess, faster, but it’s not as immediate as you might think. And that “stab them in the brain stem” thing that I know from that stupid Julie and Julia movie usually doesn’t result in death or even unconsciousness.

Now a new device exists that stuns and kills shellfish. It renders them unconscious in 0.3 seconds and they die in 5-10 seconds. It’s expensive, though, and considering that enough people obviously don’t think hard enough about this issue, probably the point at which shellfish must legally be killed humanely is still some time away.

Importantly, the “Crustastun” is unlikely to be a staple kitchen gadget anytime soon, so let’s talk about grocery stores selling live lobster.

They shouldn’t.

It’s just irresponsible. It’s cruel. Sell tofu. It’s really that simple.

I’m not going to go into the uncomfortable details about the ethics of meat-eating because I settled that one for myself a long time ago, and if you are out there reading this and you haven’t settled it for yourself yet, that’s something you can do on your own. If you actually do want to be talked into my way of thinking, there are cleverer people than me out there with lots of helpful essays, cartoons, and plenty of other good stuff, and it shouldn’t be hard to find them. But I think that I do have to explain why I’d balk at a store selling live lobster and not at everything else in the seafood section, and the butcher section.

There’s something about the fact that people do it themselves. Most of your meat ends up on your plate because someone else killed the animal for you. That doesn’t change the fact that the dead lobster the store sells probably died in the same inhumane way the live ones will, but it changes what’s going on mentally and culturally with people, who are the ones who will decide, with their money, whether these animals live or die.

I think if people are encouraged to kill an animal in a terrible way, to think that there’s nothing wrong with it, and to not even spare another thought for the creature who will do the suffering for a pretty lousy meal anyway (seriously though), our culture ends up poisoned. We are asked to live unfeelingly, and to not think about the impact of our actions. That causes a lot of anguish to a lot of lobsters, which is bad enough, but it doesn’t stop there. If you are encouraged enthusiastically enough to never care about your impact on those around you, you will hurt others, human and non-human.

Here’s an example: this crap. Lobster facts that will leave you “shell-shocked.” Lobster clickbait. I’m sure that was really lucrative. One of their facts that will leave you literally as traumatized as if you had been in the trenches: “They eat each other!”

No. I mean, they do, but not naturally. They do ingest their own old shells once they’ve grown out of them, which probably accounts for instances of finding lobster tissue in lobster stomachs. In captivity, the stress of their environment is probably what drives them to kill and eat each other. Lobsters are solitary. If you put forty introverts in a tiny tank, you can bet there’d be some murder after a while. Also of note: lobster claws are tied as they are to stop them from alleviating their frustrations upon one another, not really to protect you. They also do this with caged chickens by debeaking them.

This paragon of anti-intellectualism also says lobsters can’t feel pain. “They don’t scream in pain when you cook them. The noise you hear is ‘air that has been trapped in the stomach and forced through the mouth after being out of water for short periods of time,’ says Bayer. Lobsters don’t have vocal chords, and they can’t process pain.” I know that’s “process” and not “feel,” but in the very next traumatizing fact it says, “So they may not feel pain” – yes they do, lobster clickbait. I don’t know if that’s deliberate information, or if the fact that we can’t exactly prove that lobsters can process pain means that anyone can shamelessly make these statements. I do know that this is also horrible: “If you watch a lobster in a tank in a market, you’ll see they’re flipping, looking for food, dissolved substances in the water.” Or, you know, they’re reacting to being forced to live terrible lives. Take your pick.

The problem here is that someone who wasn’t taught critical thinking properly in highschool (ie: EVERYONE) is going to read this (except lol they’re not because it’s lobster clickbait, but bear with me) and think that all of this stuff is fine and dandy. Then they are going to go to Longo’s, see the deals and advertisements and whatnot about their amazing lobster clusterfuck, and buy one, boil it alive, and think nothing of it. This person is probably a good person. If Longo’s wasn’t selling, and clickbaiters had found some other topic to bait with, this person might have thought twice and bought tofu instead.

Annnnyway. I do like that article for backing me up that lobster is essentially tasteless. Like. I remember from when I was a person totally cool with being encouraged not to think about what I was putting in my mouth, and I put lobster in my mouth, and it tasted like nothing and some butter. Popcorn has more flavour.

So obviously I’m not going to shop at Longo’s anymore. Happily there are plenty of good grocery stores nearby that don’t feel the need to exsanguinate their customers’ empathy. The problem that now arises is what to do about it.

I could write them an email politely saying, “Hey, kinda disappointed about the lobster tanks, they’re overcrowded, and they encourage the wanton cruelty of the general public; not gonna come by anytime soon then, love ya, bye!” But it feels a little futile.

A few years ago I was out for dinner at Turtle Jack’s, which was nice because they do this thing where you can order any of their burgers and substitute a veggie patty. However, at the entrance they had this tiny little fish tank stuck in the wall. It was about the thickness of a decent painting. The fish could only turn around with major difficulty. I know, because I watched one do it.

I sent them an email:

When I was last at Turtle Jack’s I saw the small fish tank near the entrance. While I was watching I noticed that the fish were having difficulty swimming, which I assume is because of the narrowness of the tank. I saw one of the fish swim to the bottom of the tank to eat some algae and he had to fight to stay upright and to not touch the glass. 

Although fish are interesting and pleasing to look at, it is very difficult for people to provide these creatures with everything they need. helpinganimals.com provides these tips:
  • The more space that fish have, the happier and healthier they will be. Their needs can vary, so check with an expert or consult a good fish book or expert to determine their requirements. One general guideline is that you should provide 3 gallons for every 1 inch of fish.
  • Create places for the fish to hide in and explore. Ceramic objects, natural rocks, and plants work well. Make sure that all objects are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before they are put into the tank. Do not use metal objects, as they will rust.
  • Be aware of the environment outside the aquarium. Suddenly switching on a bright light in a dark room can startle fish, and vibrations from a television or a stereo can alarm and stress them.
  • Keep all harmful chemicals away from the aquarium. Cigarette smoke, paint fumes, and aerosol sprays can be toxic if they are absorbed into the water
as well as noting a few facts about fish: that they can “recognize individuals, use tools, and maintain complex social relationships,” that they “communicate with one another through a range of low-frequency sounds—from buzzes and clicks to yelps and sobs”  which “communicate emotional states such as alarm or delight and help with courtship.”
I can imagine that it would be difficult to move the fish to a bigger tank, but I’d like to suggest that perhaps when these fish die, instead of purchasing replacement fish, some sort of painting would be a sufficient way of decorating the entrance. 
I always enjoy my experience at Turtle Jack’s, but I would be a lot happier to sit down and eat knowing that no fish were struggling simply for my aesthetic pleasure.
Thanks for your time,


OK I didn’t really sign off like that. But even with my respectable sign off, I got zero response.

I’ve been to Turtle Jack’s much more recently, and only when I had been assured by family that the tank was gone. I’m still kind of irritated that I didn’t even get a useless “Thanks for your concern” email, though.

I once sent an email to my local Metro because they, on top of having a lobster tank, had a live fish tank. I had been dragged there against my will and saw one of the 30 fish dead, floating upside down, and the other 29 all shoved into the opposite corner, so I wrote an email expressing disgust like so:

a) I already knew this location has no regard for animal welfare because I’ve heard anecdotes from teenage seafood counter employees that I go to school with about what goes on after a customer selects a live fish.

b) Now I know you’re also not fussed about customer safety. What is that dead fish doing in that tank and are the rest still for sale when this might be a health risk? (Now look, that part was obvious concern trolling, but I wanted my email to be taken seriously.)

I got a long response for that one. It started, “We at Metro are committed to animal welfare.” I stopped reading.

I mean, I guess I could’ve had an open mind about it. The email might have asked for more information about those very real and very disturbing anecdotes. Or maybe not. Maybe it was a form letter. I’ll never know because I reacted rashly.

Our Metro (and hopefully all of the others too) got rid of their fish tanks a year or two later, I think because they weren’t profitable. I know there are those horrifying examples of people eating live animals because “culture” but those examples are not helpful to anything except proving how dangerous it is for us to encourage each other to ignore our own empathy. Even with those examples in mind, generally I think people can’t bring themselves to face their dinner while it’s still alive.

Unless it’s lobster.

Because the Metro lobster tank was there, I believe, until the location eventually closed.

The question I have to ask myself is, what am I accomplishing by asking people to stop selling live lobsters?

  • At least one person is going to have to think about the issue because even if they don’t respond, or if they just send a form letter, someone’s gotta be skimming it.
  • I’m probably not the only one sending an email. I’ll be joining a growing group of voices on the matter, which might make them think harder.

That’s… pretty much it. Even if Longo’s gets rid of the tanks, it’ll still sell dead lobster that was probably also killed inhumanely. And at that point it’s a lot easier for people to ignore the ethics of the thing because, well, it’s already dead, so… meh?

But I guess it’s something. I’ll draft a short little thing and send it off. Maybe if I get an interesting response I’ll post it. It’s better than just fuming about it on my own.


Anyway. Lobster facts! (Oh, these are definitely 1000% from wikipedia but whatever) (but also here)

  • lobsters swim backwards when they feel threatened, sometimes at 11 km/hr
  • lobsters grow very old – they think maybe up to 70 years, though PETA seems to think 150
  • lobsters don’t seem to deteriorate or slow down at all with age
  • lobsters grow constantly, and get pretty big because of how long they live
  • lobster blood is literally blue
  • very, very few lobster eggs laid survive to hatch – about 10 in 10 000
  • lobsters reach adult size after 7 years
  • they are probably only occasional cannibals due to the stresses of captivity
  • lobsters. feel. pain.

I don’t know that they should just be dropped like that… but it’s better than being boiled alive? Also, the Daily Mail is terrible. I just wanted to put that out there.

lobster 5

Read Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. It’s some helpful introspection about the whole issue written compassionately for the average meat eater by a meat eater. My favourite part was this:

“Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero’s entertainments or Aztec sacrifices? My own immediate reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme—and yet the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human beings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that (a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and (b) I have not succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient.”

even Louis didn’t boil shellfish alive yo

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