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From “Today” Show Frying Pan to Animal Rights Firestorm

June 12, 1994

BOSTON (AP) _ Was it cruelty to crustaceans, or gourmet cooking?

Animal rights activists are in a stew over the dismemberment and sauteing of a live lobster on NBC’s ″Today″ show.

The dish was Lobster Fra Diavolo, Sicilian-style, prepared by chef Geraldo Andrade at the Boston seafood restaurant The Daily Catch.

″Today″ show host Katie Couric looked away as Andrade pulled off the lobster’s claws, chopped off its tail, removed its innards, sliced the upper body in half and threw the pieces into a hot frying pan with olive oil and garlic.

″What a way to go 3/8″ Couric exclaimed.

The pieces twitched for several seconds in the pan. That wasn’t due to pain, said Barbara Beltz, an associate professor of biology at Wellesley College, just a reflexive reaction of the muscles to the heat of the pan.

The May 18 episode reignited debate over the most humane way to kill lobsters - or whether they should be killed and eaten at all.

″Both the chef and the owner of the restaurant ... were just chillingly desensitized throughout this whole process. There was not a clue that there was any cruelty taking place,″ said Michael Giannelli, director of the Ark Trust, an animal rights group based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., that asked NBC producers for an apology.

″If a life is taken, there should be a good cause for it. If suffering is caused to a sentient being, there should be a good reason for it,″ he said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in Rockville, Md., plans to sue restaurant owners Maria and Paul Freddura for cruelty to animals, said Mary Beth Sweetland, director of investigations.

She said PETA has wanted to sue seafood chefs for cruelty before, but was hindered by a lack of proof: ″We’ve never had videotaped evidence.″

Maria Freddura said she is puzzled by all the fuss over the fate of one lobster, when millions are boiled, broiled and baked each year - not to mention what human beings do to each other on a daily basis.

She said she concluded the lobster is basically a ″sea roach″ that doesn’t feel pain in the manner of mammals.

″I mean, how you kill the lobster, it doesn’t matter - you’re killing it,″ Freddura said.

Beltz, who studies the nervous systems of lobsters, said it probably doesn’t matter how the lobster is killed, although that doesn’t mean lobsters don’t suffer in their own invertebrate way.

″If they’re using the cleaver, given that lobster is a food source, and just doing things as quickly as possible, that’s probably as humane as any way of going about this,″ said Beltz.

Because lobsters have a special joint that allows them to let go of their claws when they are attacked in the wild, Andrade caused no pain by pulling off the claws, Beltz said.

When the tail was cut off, the lobster almost certainly felt pain, she said. But at that point it went into shock and began to die, and probably felt nothing more as it was eviscerated and its abdomen cut in half.

Still, she acknowledged many humans - including herself - have a hard time watching the dissection of any live creature.

″I’m so glad I didn’t see that,″ she said.

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