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Critical Analysis of the Controversial Article “Consider the Lobster” by Wallace

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The Gourmet Magazine, which prides itself with the catchphrase “The Magazine of Good Living,” is no wonder decorated with enticing photos of delicately-prepared food, featuring fancy titles like “Soy-Glazed Chicken with Broccoli”, “How to Pull Off the Lost Gourmet Christmas Dinner Menu”, and “Chicken Fricassée with Lemon Mustard Sauce”. Scrolling down the glamorous website, its food-connoisseur readers would not have yet expected to experience the emotional rollercoaster and encounter the compelling questions Wallace covered in his controversial article “Consider the Lobster”. He builds up his argument through using an abundant amount of scientific terms to engender the substantial query of tension surrounding the issue of morality and consumption, which gradually forms his sarcastic critics of U.S. tourism and how people are easily blinded by the culture of consumerism, as a whole. Upon the end of the article, Wallace seeks not to merely pushes its readers to consider the lobsters or answer the query himself, but rather to provide thought-provoking information that is not generally discussed and allow those self-proclaimed foodies for self-reflection and eventually draw their own conclusions.

Wallace relies on science jargon to prove that lobsters are, in a way, just like everyone reading the article, which leads to one of his central arguments on morality and ethics of boiling animals alive if it is “just for our gustatory pleasure”. First off, Wallace calls attention to pamphlets provided by the MLF which describes the lobster’s nervous system as “simple, decentralized, and lacking the brain structures that experience pain” —an explanation which Wallace later rejects as “incorrect in about 11 different ways”. He painstakingly describes lobster physiology to prove that consumer’s common notions on what lobsters experienced are inherently wrong: lobsters do feel pain, and they explicitly exhibit preference that they would not feel indifferent about being boiled alive. And in fact, lobsters are much more vulnerable than people thought because they have “an exquisite tactile sense, one facilitated by hundreds of thousands of tiny hairs,” and their nerve systems lack the “built-in analgesia” to handle and mitigate pain. While the common audience might not be convinced by these complicated scientific terms that Wallace throws in, he vividly paints images for his audience that strongly provoked a sense of guilt and sympathy. Lobsters are living under the “stresses of captivity” in supermarkets and “pile over one another”, “huddle in the rear corners”, and “scrabble frantically back from the glass” at MLF. Those words immediately strike reader’s heart, reminding them of the pain and fear that each individual lobster had to go through for the sake of consumer’s gustatory pleasure and ignorance of human superiority. By then, the audience would start to realize that we humans inflict terrifying pain upon these crustaceans by cooking them alive for the sole purpose of our own satisfaction. He furthers his depiction by claiming lobsters look “unhappy” and “frightened”, which are emotions not usually used to describe insignificant creatures like lobsters, as people perceived, to create a strong intimacy between lobsters and ourselves. Finally, he elicits sympathy for the lobster by anthropomorphizing it.

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Lobsters “cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof” and they “behaves very much as you or I would behave if we plunged into boiling water”. Wallace effectively puts us in the position of the lobster via the pronoun “you”, which instantly leads us to feel the desperation, unwillingness, torture, and furthermore, culminates in a series of moral questions that corner readers into evaluating their own ignored anthropocentricity and the implied brutality. One provoking opinion that Wallace raised in one of his footnotes is that “lobster”, “fish” and “chicken” are our culture’s words for both the animal and the meat, whereas most mammals seem to require euphemisms like “beef” and “pork”. This serves as a strong support for our intrinsic superiority over other animals— the ones that are more like us would get more attentions and we tend to feel a deeper unease about eating those higher animals. Upon finishing the articles, reader undoubtedly was exposed to their self-ignorance and would start to consider the ethics of lobster eating with a new perspective. Bit by bit, the lobster rises in the hierarchy of human imagination, from just an animal that has an underdeveloped nerve system, to a delicious meal, to a creature that feels pain and showcases emotions the ways humans do, and ultimately to everyone in the audience. In addition, people’s moral superiority and ignorance are again immensely fueled by tourism and consumerism in today’s society, as they are easily blinded by smart marketing strategies. By articulating the biological and historical context of lobster, Wallace makes the tourism experience and consumption of lobsters seem rather unpleasant and uncomfortable. He intentionally chooses his language to disassociate his readers from their notion of delicious lobsters – who should anyone be intrigued by the idea of eating a “smelly nuisance”, a “giant sea insect, or a “crustacean” with “large pincerish claws”? Also, while lobsters are advertised and perceived as “analog to steak” and “posh, a delicacy, only a step or two down from caviar” nowadays, it used to be cuisine of “the poor and institutionalized.”, which proves that our intuitive associations with lobster are not intrinsic to the animal itself but rather a product of an epidemic consumerist promotion.

Modern-day foodies who are reading the article are likely to be haunted by the question: Why would I be willing to eat the fast food and processed junk that only low-income people eat in the 1800s? It is clear to see that lobster was glorified as high-class food through the help of modern-day tourism and consumerism, for which Wallace displays a strong disgust as he describes MLF as “pungent and extremely well marketed” in the very beginning of the article. Moreover, we could trace more of Wallace’s criticism of tourism in his sarcastic footnotes saying “as a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing”— the audience is caught off guard when Wallace put forward those harsh comments and would come to realize the absurdity of modern-day tourism. MLF distributes pamphlets that deceive people into believing lobsters as inferior animals which don’t feel pain, and also advocate lobster “has fewer calories, less cholesterol, and less saturated fat than chicken” while never mentioning the fact “the common practice of dipping the lobster meat in melted butter torpedoes all these happy fat-specs”. Those marketing campaign appeals to the parts of consumers that are indulgent, selfish, and self-centered and the consumerism culture implies the opinion that consumers should gratify their own appetites and there is no larger good than their own good and their own happiness, defending for the act of boiling lobsters alive only for the enjoyment of freshness. These evidence again heightened the idea of human superiority and tricked people into a false justification for their cruel behaviors. Wallace blatantly employs a comparison to shed light on the cruelness of the consumption habits and demonstrate how the blind consumption permeates into our thoughts by comparing MLF’s “World’s Largest Lobster Cooker” to “World’s Largest Killing Floor” of an imagined “Nebraska Beef Festival”.

The imagery turns out to be incredibly vivid and absurd, and the audience would feel uncomfortable and uneasy instantly. But why do we feel different for cows and lobster? In addition to our empathy for animals like us aforementioned, another significant reason we interpret them different is deeply rooted in the way they’re marketed and packaged in the industry–we eat lobsters without ever thinking they were once alive. Wallace is asking its readers to pause and reconsider how consumerism is encouraging a kind of brutal consumption, more or less like slaughter, in the name of gustatory pleasure. After all, why should a mass slaughter of a certain species be an attraction of a festival? Moreover, Wallace emphasized his objection to modern consumerism culture by raising a challenging question to all audience — “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?” By drawing an analogy between lobster consumption and two horrifying historical events, Wallace utilizes our intrinsic reactions to unethical behaviors to suggest that our current practices could (and maybe should) evoke similar disgust. Wallace aims to disrupt the cultural conventions that many may take for granted and his inquiry forces us to re-examine our attitude towards consumptions, our current consumerism-saturated society, and the position that human should hold in nature. Wallace asks his audience “isn’t being extra aware and attentive and thoughtful about one’s food and its overall context part of what distinguishes a real gourmet? Or is all the gourmet’s extra attention and sensibility just supposed to be aesthetic, gustatory?”, which creates a dichotomy that renders a common sense of discomfort surrounding the unethical consumption practices that the Maine Lobster Festival highlights and leads readers to ponder the morality of their choices as consumers and how they’ve long been blinded by tricky tourism and consumerism. The way that the relationship between human and animals should be is yet to be defined, and essentially needs to reconcile, and it is left for his food-lover audience to delve into.

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Critical Analysis of the Controversial Article “Consider the Lobster” by Wallace. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-controversial-article-consider-the-lobster-by-wallace/
“Critical Analysis of the Controversial Article “Consider the Lobster” by Wallace.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-controversial-article-consider-the-lobster-by-wallace/
Critical Analysis of the Controversial Article “Consider the Lobster” by Wallace. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-controversial-article-consider-the-lobster-by-wallace/> [Accessed 27 Mar. 2023].
Critical Analysis of the Controversial Article “Consider the Lobster” by Wallace [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2023 Mar 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-controversial-article-consider-the-lobster-by-wallace/
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