My grandmother always loved cooking crab for dinner. I can recall long day trips during my childhood to the Oriental market, where at the end of our shopping journey, we would shuffle to the back of the store towards the wall of crowded, cloudy aquariums. The acrid odor of fish and dirty seawater engulfed my lungs as we moved closer to the enclaves of snapper, catfish, and most importantly, blue crabs. Grandma, barely able to look over the tall counter with her remarkably short stature, placed her order with a smiling remark at the end: “be sure to pick the fast ones”—It was her way of ensuring that she gets some of the lively crabs to take home. Supposedly the ones that fight their fates end up tasting better than those that settle at the bottom and await death.
Upon arriving home, Grandma dumped the squirming contents of the plastic red grocery bag into the sink, releasing our newly-purchased crustaceans into their temporary new home. She turned away to do something else—like set the rice cooker or sweep the dining area—because she didn’t plan on cooking our meal quite yet. The three crabs scuttled to the front of the sink and waved their blue and orange-tinged claws in the air as if in protest of their current living conditions and the future that was to come. As my ten-year-old self played around and prodded their angry pincers with a fork, I never once considered their fate. I never wondered if these creatures had little crab families, or if they were scared after being plucked out of the big salty ocean only to be dropped in a damp and soapy kitchen sink. I didn’t even wonder if it hurt to meet their ends by boiling. I was a curious kid, but somehow I never thought to question the well-being of my future dinner. The curiosity didn’t even strike me as their claws clinked on the sides of the cooking pot, wordlessly pleading for escape as the temperature slowly rose to boiling. We cooked crab nearly every weekend; this was our normal. Why question it?
Turns out that with enough curiosity and digging through the web’s infinite library, boiling live crabs is actually an ethical issue. In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer argues that eating animals in this matter is a problem in that sense because they do feel pain and suffer. He quotes an unknown neurologist from a book on pain: “Apart from the complexity of the cerebral cortex (which does not directly perceive pain) [ most animals’] nervous systems are almost identical to ours and their reactions to pain remarkably similar.” Pain is a natural physiological response of the nervous system to stimuli that can be harmful to a creature (note: not only humans); it is essential for survival as it allows animals to avoid bodily harm (Singer 14-15). The animals that we commonly eat, including crabs, all share the same pain-response physiology in their nervous systems. In addition, though crustaceans do not express pain in similar ways to humans like many mammals do, there are still indicators that they are in distress when cooked. The stress-induced aggression in holding tanks and the clattering of the pot lids when trying to escape their boiling deaths both suggest that crabs are, in fact, aware of their deaths and suffering during the process (Wallace).
This situation is not only pertinent to food and the morality behind eating meat; being blissfully ignorant about things we feel comfortable about is a trend that makes its way through all aspects of our lives. In Nick Leither’s Critical Thinking and Writing course, my peers and I explored topics beyond what we were uncomfortable with. We uncovered the truths regarding cruelty and unsustainability in the meat industry through Eating Animals and Cowspiracy in CTW1, and we dove further into other topics like mental health and violence through Columbine in CTW2. Even with this plethora of different topics, one theme really stood out to me: people really don’t question the norm enough, which can be very dangerous for us all. Why do we do it? We do it because it is convenient for us to continue believing things we were comfortable with all along– inertia apparently isn’t only applicable to physics.
Another example that is perhaps even more jarring and potentially dangerous for us is the assumption that our primary care physicians (PCPs) are knowledgeable enough to be our main source of nutrition understanding. In the height of America’s obesity epidemic, it is alarming to observe that 74% of the young people I surveyed believe that their PCP is qualified to teach patients about nutrition because in reality, they’re not.
Dr. Pauline Chen, a renowned surgeon and author at the University of California, Los Angeles, shared her story about nutrition in one of her New York Times columns. She recounted also being asked questions about health and diet upon acceptance to medical school, and how these inquiries followed her until graduation and her transition to becoming a doctor. The fact of the matter is, even after more than 20 years of being a doctor she never found the right answers to give people in order to address their needs. She stated that she “wasn’t sure [she] knew that much more after medical school than [she] did before,” and that the issue lies in the quality of nutrition education given to prospective doctors during their medical studies (Chen).
Although the National Academy of Sciences requires that medical schools within the United States teach a minimum of 25 hours of nutrition instruction, the status of nutrition education looks bleak. Of the 106 American medical schools surveyed in a journal published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, only 99 of them required any form of nutrition education during the full four years of physician training. Furthermore, amongst the institutions that did, only 40 met the minimum of 25 hours of instruction– the remaining 59 fell short, and the nutrition advice that our physicians are able to give us falls short as a result (Adams et al.).
These two examples are just a few of many that reiterate the same point: do your research. Ask questions. Don’t just be comfortable with what you’re always told. We have horrible habits of using what we’re comfortable with to make and justify assumptions like “there’s nothing morally wrong with eating meat” and “our doctors always know what’s best for our health.” Sure it’s convenient, but is it really the right way to go? As seen through my research, believing these claims has its consequences. With regards to these two examples, millions of animals die cruelly for our consumption and people miss out on important nutrition advice from more qualified professionals because they thought they were already receiving the best.
This information is not hard to find, either. Although I did a few surveys here and there to
learn more about the lives and opinions of my peers and narrow the audience of my essays, most of my research was done online through database searches and Google Scholar. When there are people who devote their lives to researching topics like the ones I discussed, I believe that we have no reason to not use their findings to better ourselves and become more aware of the world around us. The information is out there, and you just have to be curious enough to look for it.
Adams, Kelly M., et al. “Status of Nutrition Education in Medical Schools,” The American journal of clinical nutrition 83.4 (2006): 941S–944S. Print.
Chen, Pauline W. “Teaching Doctors About Nutrition and Diet.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.
Durden, Catherine A. Nutrition Education Survey. 1 May 2016. Raw data. Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA.
Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York, NY: New York Review of, 1990. Animal Rights Library. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Wallace, David. “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet.com. Condé Nast, 1 Aug. 2004. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
Artwork by Derek Sneed [link]