So Whole Foods has banned the sale of live lobsters in its stores nationwide and PETA applauds this action. I know this because people are asking my opinion.
Here is my opinion: a stupid, simple case of a corporation trying to distract consumers from its shortcomings.
Here is my elaboration:
In general, I am of the opinion that food should be locally sourced and should be bought as locally as possible. For many ingredients, Whole Foods comes pretty early on my list of places to shop because I want to send the message with my spent food dollar that I would prefer more organic choices. But more than organic I would prefer food grown as close to me as possible, and if that is not possible I would rather keep my dollars in my community. I will go to Whole Foods for things not readily available at a local store, but only after checking. So it is far less than likely I was ever going to buy a lobster at Whole Foods (that's what the local fish guy is there for, so BFD).
The beauty of lobsters has always been:
1. They are pot caught so there is very little by-catch.
2. Being very low on the food chain, the PCB and Mercury concerns are much lower than other sea life popular with consumers at the moment.
3. They are fished by fisherman not farmed by corporations
4. They are purchased live, there are little processing concerns and even less freshness concerns.
5. Their cost to customers makes over-fishing prohibitive
6. They are why we know about good cholesterol.
7. They taste amazing, but only if they start live.
As for Whole Foods, they care about actual localness or quality of fish only in as much as they strive to be better rather than good, not the loftiest of ambitions. Just look at salmon. Although Whole Foods was one of the first to label farmed salmon as artificially colored, they did so only after the Times wrote the color wheel article. As far as pre-packaged smoked salmon, they offer about one wild-caught option for about every nine farmed. Although Whole Foods is very good at paying lip service to the belief in better choices and remains a far better choice than most super market options, it has clearly moved far away from its roots and at this point in its evolution seems to be doing more to arrest the progress of the organic and local movements than advance it.
All of these realities lead us to the reason Whole Foods has actually decided to stop selling lobsters at this point in time. Michael Pollan has written a book called "An Omnivore's Dilemma" that sheds light on the shortcomings of the realities of large scale organics, and since Whole Foods is as big as large-scale organic gets at the moment, they are the benchmark. Pollan simply points out things like how grass-finished beef from New Zealand, although better than corn-fed from Texas, may not be all that can be done by the industry leader to move us away from the horrible corn-based system prevalent at the moment.
Much like G.W. Bush pandering to his zealot base by suggesting a same-sex marriage amendment to distract from his needed house cleaning, Whole Foods is indulging its fanatic base by seeking PETA approval. In both cases, what is in order is addressing new issues that arise as the world changes and in both cases distraction is being used in order to maintain a status quo.
As far as PETA goes, I can't even begin to address their headline-seeking, donations-mongering, accomplish-nothing tactics. It is a bad organization that has constantly, for years, done nothing but hurt the cause of ethical treatment for animals. Their mission has seldom been more than to get fifteen year old girls to use words like lacto-ovo and nag their parents about the cruelty of gelatin in Jell-o. To these ends, they are constantly claiming insignificant victories like this.
No one buys lobster at Whole Foods really, unless there is a sale. Whole Foods has not chosen a higher ground. What has been accomplished is PETA has gotten air time on CNBC. PETA's petty and false victories are on easy to target luxury items, and in no way change the supply or demand for the items. As far as lobsters and foie gras go, these are both industries that support small sensible production with little environmental impact, the type to be embraced if what you care about is the health and welfare of all the animals on earth.
If the people at PETA actually cared about ethical treatment of animals, they would focus every single dollar and minute on the gross abuses that actually exist in the food world today. Like that corn is poisonous to cows, so much so that we need to fill them so full of antibiotics to keep them alive in spite of the poison diet we feed them that humans are developing antibiotic resistance as a result of consuming standard commercial beef. Through our unethical poisoning of cattle, we have created new sicknesses and the need to cook (pasteurize) our milk before we consume it. If PETA wanted to do the most good for the most animals, they would entirely focus their lobbying on ending government subsidies of corn. It causes far more problems for all life on earth than almost any thing other than fossil fuel dependence.
At best, PETA and Whole Foods have advanced the idea that lobsters have a central nervous system, equating them with earthworms. Pigs have such developed brains that the common industry practice of weaning them a few weeks early in order to get a head start on their hormone-laden fattening diet leaves them so distraught they develop an oral fixation that causes them to incessantly suck on each other's tails until they fall off, leaving sores that get infected. The pork industries solution? Cut the tails off (tail docking) at the time of the early weaning. But pay no attention to these grievous violations of ethical animal treatment, you can rest easy because PETA has convinced Whole Foods to stop selling the live version of what are essentially bugs.
Look, it ain't easy to know exactly what to do. I find it best to focus on getting the best, most tasty food available. I believe organic vegetables taste better than conventional, that wild salmon tastes better than farmed goes without saying. Although their legs are more sinewy, free range chickens have more flavor than Perdue, and grass-fed beef, although not quite as tender in many cases as corn-fed, has many more layers of flavor as well as six times the omega-3s of corn-fed beef.
My plan in reaction to this news? I suggest you try it. I am going to the Union Square Greenmarket to buy some grass-fed beef from Elk Trails Farm. Then, I'll stop at Flying Pigs Farms' stand and purchase some bacon to wrap around it. Once that is in the fridge, I'll call some local fishmongers to see who has the best price on live 1.5 pound lobsters and make Wife surf and turf for dinner.
Not lucky enough to have these options near you? Make a round of phone calls to your local purveyors and tell them you would be stopping in with money to spend if they did. They will get the message. By supporting small producers with better, more whole food, we have created such a network here in New York that I have many choices for all of the above. You can do the same.