David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster”

This article defied my expectations of what it would or should be. Since it was written for a culinary publication I assumed that the main focus would be on the actual dining at the lobster festival, or an appreciation or assessment of its culinary worth. Instead, David Foster Wallace forced me to do something I didn’t expect to do, but should have realized by just reading the title: consider the lobster.

It’s not straightforward-the author doesn’t just list the usual “important details”: a brief history, when it took place, what can be found there. Wallace doesn’t follow the traditional form of an article written about some event. Wallace turned his coverage of a rather ordinary Maine Lobster Food Festival by uncovering things that may have otherwise been left unknown and unquestioned by the reader.

On the first page, Wallace tells us something that the audience is already familiar with. The rest of his essay explains some things the reader may not have already known. As he states: “For practical purposes, everyone knows what a lobster is. As usual, though, there’s much more to know than most of us care about—it’s all a matter of what your interests are”

By the second page, I was hungry. The author gave a nice factual history of lobster and the atmosphere of the festival, a far cry from the ritzy expensive dinner platters you’d normally find lobster on- “lobster is now the seafood analog to steak, with which it’s so often twinned as Surf ’n’ Turf on the really expensive part of the chain steak house menu.” In his explanation of the lobster, the author points out what we already know-seeing the tank of lobsters in the supermarket “from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point”

And then the tone of the article turns. Wallace makes a transition from his almost encyclopedic explanation of lobster to a hefty analysis into whether the pain we feel as humans and the emotional distress that accompanies it is the same as a lobster feels. The author gives us some scientific terms that seem to point towards the conclusion that these lobsters are not completely docile and complacent with being boiled until death in the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker. He actually poses the question, after supplying the reader with all of this food for thought (no pun intended)- is it alright for us to be boiling these creatures alive for our consumption when evidence so undeniably points to the fact that they are feeling pain?

The author acknowledges that this question is met with uncomfortable feelings and no definitive answers. He gives the reader a break by assuring them that he feels just as they do: uncomfortable facing this reality, unsure of the route of action to take, still enjoys the consumption of animal flesh as much as the next guy. Wallace says “I’m not trying to give you a PETA-like screed here—at least I don’t think so. I am also concerned not to come off as shrill or preachy when what I really am is confused.”

 

 

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