Considering the Lobster by David Foster Wallace Essay

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David Foster Wallace's Considering the Lobster is a piercing take on the brutality and inhumanity of the lobster cooking process. He is known for his literature that does a lot to criticize the current status quo within human culture. "Lobster was literally low-class food before sometime in the 1800s, consumed mainly by the needy and institutionalized." Foster (55) defines formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formally, However, owing to its undeniable culinary appeal, the cuisine continued to win favor with the upper social classes. Wallace notes that the love of lobster has been heavily abused, especially in states such as Maine, which has hosted the Maine Lobster Festival for over 56 years. Wallace's bone of contention with lobster and its preparation is that the crustacean is kept alive during the process of cooking to enhance its gastronomic appeal. Though boiling lobster alive may indeed improve on its taste, it does subject the animal to a gruesome death, arguably, one involving immense torture and pain. Wallace utilizes a myriad of literary and argumentative techniques, key among them, ethos, pathos and logos, to persuade the reader to appreciate and perhaps even join his assertion that boiling lobsters alive is wrong.

Ethos in Wallace's Considering the Lobster

Beginning with the taxonomic classification of the lobster, Wallace slowly builds an ethical case against the boiling and preparation of lobster while it is still alive. It is imperative to note that Wallace does not critique the actual eating of lobster, as their exponential breeding habits in the ocean make it an abundant source of food. However, Wallace does draw contention with the process of lobster preparation, which has become so synonymous with boiling the animal alive that it no longer says to do so in many recipes. "A detail so obvious that recipes don't even bother to mention it is that the lobster is supposed to be alive when you put it in the kettle." (Foster, 56). He argues that subjecting any animal to the fate of boiling them alive places undue stress on the physical bodies. This is particularly so when you consider the enormous antennas that the lobster has for sensory purposes. Ethics dictate that when hunting and consuming an animal, it is moral for one to provide the animal with the quickest and most humane death. Failure to this, as is the case with the lobster, constitutes torture of the animal, which stands as an affront to fundamental ethical principles. In this regard, Foster points out that boiling an animal represents an unethical means of ending its life.

Pathos of Foster's Considering the Lobster

Beyond the ethical obligations bestowed on human beings, regarding the treatment of animals for consumption, it is necessary to consider the emotional perspective on the same. Foster draws on the emotional response elicited by the enumeration of the process of lobster preparation; namely boiling of the creature alive. Foster engages with the reader on the reality of cooking an animal live, and the excruciating pain it must go through during its last days. He does this to bring about an emotional response within the audience that sway them to his argument concerning the wrongness of boiling lobsters alive. "If you're tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container's sides or even hook its claws to the kettle's rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof." (Foster, 62). Furthermore, Foster points out that the question of whether it is right for one to boil an animal alive just to achieve a culinary experience, is a pertinent one that explores the depths of our emotional connection to nature, or lack thereof. "Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?" (Foster, 60). Though the lobster cannot be said to encompass emotional responses, human beings who elect to boil it do. Is it proper to ignore the violent physical response exhibited by a lobster as it boils to death in a pot? By exploring the emotional aspect of lobster preparation, Foster efficient enhances the persuasiveness of his article, and consequently, convinces the reader of the adverse nature of the process of boiling a lobster alive.

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Logos of Foster's Argument

Foster also builds on his argument by purposing that lobsters have life within them, a fact which is evident by their undertaking of processes synonymous with living such as birth, feeding, maturation, breeding and eventually death. All forms of life, have evolved to perceive their environment, whether hot or cold or wet or dry, to ensure that the life of the animal is preserved against these harsh conditions for as long as possible. The lobster is no exception to this. Just as is the case with human beings and other animals, pain is registered in the brain when the body is being subjected to severe or extreme environments. "Pain reception is known to be part of a much older and more primitive system of nociceptors and prostaglandins that are managed by the stem and thalamus." (Foster, 62). Using this logic, Foster points out that lobsters too experience pain at death, particularly when such death comes in the form of a boiling pot of water. Considering this, any acts of boiling lobsters are entirely uncalled for and defy all logic. This is mainly the case when the aim is improving on the taste of the animal, which, at least according to Foster, not incentive enough to subject an animal to the torture of being boiled alive.


Lobster has become a favorite dish not only in Europe and America but also the world over. Its abundance and taste give the plate a culinary experience like no other, one which many people endeavor to recreate over and over. The Maine Lobster Festival is a testament to how the world has been captured by the taste of lobster. David Foster Wallace, in his discourse, Considering the Lobster, focuses on the process of lobster preparation, to wit he brings to light the grisly fact that lobsters are boiled alive during their preparation (McCrum, 24). While this may be aimed at improving the taste, it does subject the poor crustaceans to a terrible fate. Foster points out how the culinary world has glossed over this animal rights violation and affirms that no longer can he be mum on the animal cruelty that boiling lobsters alive constitutes. To build his argument, Foster draws on moral, emotional and logical appeals and does an excellent job of convincing the reader of this heinous nature of this activity. Foster's Considering the Lobster, brings to light the fact that though a delicious consumption for people across the globe, lobsters need to be prepared more humanely, preferably in a manner that does not involve subjecting them to agony and death within the confines of a boiling pot of water.

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Works Cited

Foster, David W. Considering the Lobster and Other Essays. 1st ed., Clement, Little, Brownand Co., 2005.

McCrum, Robert. "Observer Review: Consider the Lobster By David Foster Wallace." TheGuardian, 2017,

October 26, 2021

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