Is eating shellfish natural and ethical? So far, we have had a look at whether it is natural and ethical to eat chicken, lamb, pork, beef and fish. We are now moving on to creatures that have no skin, as humans, mammals and fish do, and some that have no eyes.
I’m sure everyone can agree that we connect with other creatures through the eyes. They say that eyes are the windows to the soul. So, does it mean that if a creature has eyes, it has a soul? Also, does that mean that creatures with eyes can feel pain? And that those without, don’t?
Obviously, to make food ethical, in our definition, depends upon whether we are causing the source any harm. Pain is harm. Death is harm. So let’s investigate…
Is it natural?
Can we (human primates, equipped only with our bodies and natural items such as rocks, sticks, soil, fire, etc) catch, prepare and eat shellfish? What, exactly, are shellfish?
Shellfish are creatures with an external skeleton surrounding a soft body. They include:
- Crustaceans (prawns, lobster, crayfish, crabs) which are closely related to insects and spiders
- Molluscs (bivalves: clams, mussels, oysters, cockles winkles, scallops; cephalopods: squid, octopus, cuttlefish) which are related to snails and slugs
- Echinoderms (sea urchins (roe), sea cucumbers)
Crustaceans have eyes and legs; bivalves don’t have eyes and stay stuck to rocks; cephalopods have eyes and can swim; echinoderms don’t have eyes but they do move about slowly on the sea bed or rocks.
So, how do you catch shellfish? Crustaceans and cephalopods are the most difficult since they not only frequent ocean depths but some also move about very quickly. In the scenario of not using man-made tools, a human primate would have to free dive into the ocean and be able to hold their breath for a long time. But, it’s possible to catch lobsters, crayfish and octopus like this.
Bivalves like mussels and oysters can be gathered at low tide. They can be pulled off the rocks, but opening them cleanly requires a knife, which our human primate does not have. The next best thing is breaking the shell with a rock.
So, without going into all the ways of gathering different shellfish, we can say that, on the whole, they are natural food if they can be caught and eaten without using man-made tools.
Is it ethical?
a) Has it suffered the least harm?
No matter how gently you catch one of these, you would have to kill it to eat it, which makes it unethical. Commercial preparation of these creatures can often be needlessly cruel, as shown in this video:
Not only can lobsters live to 100 years old, but they certainly feel pain. It’s not yet known whether mussels and oysters feel pain, but killing them is unethical, anyway.
Octopi are among the most intelligent creatures, and would certainly feel pain and try to avoid it. Have a look at this:
b) Has it had the best life possible?
Most wild shellfish live a natural life. Farmed oysters and mussels may not. Overcrowding and lack of enough oxygen and fresh water can cause stress and disease.
c) Is this food good for us?
As with fish, heavy metals are found in shellfish, which can have serious effects on humans if consumed. Shellfish are also one of the top allergens. That aside, oysters are full of zinc which is good, while all shellfish is high in protein and low in fat. So, if humans hadn’t contaminated the oceans with heavy metals and radiation (see the post on fish), this would be good, healthy food.
Final verdict in my opinion
Most shellfish is natural food for human primates. But, since the creatures have to be caught and killed to be eaten, this is not ethical food.
So, shellfish is off the list.
Do you eat shellfish? Or, are you allergic or simply don’t like to eat it? Do you think oysters feel pain when they are killed?
Next post: insects