Years ago when I was just starting out as a restaurant critic, I was invited to a Japanese restaurant that specialized in ikizukuri -- raw fish served alive.
Dinner began with us choosing a live fish -- well, two live fish and a live lobster, actually -- from an aquarium. Then, the sushi chef filleted and gutted the sea creatures without killing them. He cut the raw flesh into pieces and served it on a plate alongside their assembled bodies and heads -- still twitching, still quivering, still alive.
It was, the chef told us, the freshest fish that would ever cross our lips. He was correct, of course. In fact, it was one of the best things I've ever eaten.
But I haven't been able to forgive myself since.
I was reminded of my momentous live animal feast after watching the video below showing three food journalists partaking in a three-course live lobster menu at a restaurant in New York City.
The trio is skeptical of the live crustacean on their table at first. But any reservations they may have disappear as soon as they tuck into the food. By the end of the meal, they're downright elated to be consuming a live animal. And that's because -- at least in my experience -- it's exhilarating to bravely overcome the squeamishness of eating something so exotic and try something you've never had before.
But is it cruel? Is it unethical?
As many would argue: Yes. The tradition has been banned in many countries. For years PETA has been after U.S. restaurants -- particularly in New York -- for serving live lobster, fish, and octopus, arguing that the sea creatures feel pain and that the practice violates anti-cruelty laws.
And, even some experts agree. Here's Professor Andrew Linzey, who is director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and author of the book Why Animal Suffering Matters, explaining his stance on eating live animals:
... there are strong grounds for supposing that all mammals and birds ... experience pain and mental suffering, and there is now increasing scientific evidence that sea creatures, notably [squid, octopus, shrimp, and lobster] can as well -- at least to some degree.
My take? All I have to go on is the tremendous guilt I felt after my meal of live fish and the fact that years later I'm remembering their quivering mouths more than the fresh taste of their flesh. It may seem silly to preach about consuming live animals when so many animals that are conventionally killed and processed before they make it to the table suffer just as much. But there's something so unnecessary and swaggering about the tradition that makes a personal repeat of the situation highly unlikely.
It's cruelty for the sake of pleasure. And I literally don't have the stomach for it.
Do you think eating animals that are still alive is cruel or yummy?
Image via tuppus/Flickr