What's the sound of an oyster screaming?

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Shell shockMaybe it's time we face the uncomfortable fact that eating anything that was once living, whether it's the fattened liver of a goose or a lobster that spent its last weeks in a scummy tank, isn't "nice." Today, the city held off on a proposal to ban foie gras from New York restaurants, and Whole Foods has already stopped carrying live lobsters (though they still sell frozen—huh?) in the name of "humane-ness."

But the more choices like these come to the fore, the more the whole things reeks of hypocrisy. If it's "mean" to boil a lobster live or stuff a goose until its liver is about to burst, why stop there? I learned something from a book I'm reading, The Big Oyster, a fascinating history of the oyster in New York City by Mark Kurlansky. News flash: Oysters probably don't enjoy being eaten alive. (Oh yes—did you realize that a raw oyster is also a living one? Well, it is.)

An excerpt: "It turns out that the oyster has a brain and a nervous system... The creature is surrounded by what is called a mantle and this mantle has what appears to be a dark fringe, which is actually a battery of sensory nerve endings." And later: "If the oyster is opened carefully, the diner is eating an animal with a working brain, a stomach, intestines, liver and a still-beating heart. As for the 'liquor,' the watery essence of oyster flavor that all good food writers caution to save, it is mostly oyster blood."

I'm not citing this in support of banning oysters (or lobster, or foie gras). It's just another fact (and bit of responsibility we may not want) that comes along with consuming flesh. But one thing seems clear: The more we examine our food, the less comfortable we are about eating it.

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