“Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that the questions of whether and how different kinds of animals feel pain, and of whether and why it might be justifiable to inflict pain on them in order to eat them, turn out to be extremely complex and difficult. And comparative neuroanatomy is only part of the problem. Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own; and even just the principles by which we can infer that others experience pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics. The fact that even the most highly evolved nonhuman mammals can’t use language to communicate with us about their subjective mental experience is only the first layer of additional complication in trying to extend our reasoning about pain and morality to animals. And everything gets progressively more abstract and convolved as we move farther and farther out from the higher-type mammals into cattle and swine and dogs and cats and rodents, and then birds and fish, and finally invertebrates like lobsters.
The more important point here, though, is that the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s also uncomfortable. It is, at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling. As far as I can tell, my own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing.”
David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster, first published August, 2004
The essay from which this quote is taken is particularly fascinating to me because my Uncle Bob, my father’s sister’s husband, is a lobsterman living in the exact same harbor that this article references. I know many of the towns, I know many of the industrial terms, and I am familiar with my own set of ambivalent emotions regarding the consumption of lobster because I’ve spent lots of time on or around lobster boats. My uncle doesn’t even eat lobster, he doesn’t like the taste. I’ve never asked him about his opinions regarding the consumption of animals or the relativistic notion of pain.