By now, most people have seen the video circulating the Internet which features a fish that has been deep-fried, being consumed...alive. Yes, the fish is still alive during the deep-frying process and while it's being happily eaten by a raucous table of Chinese diners. They poke and prod the fish's face and mouth to force it to gasp desperately while laughing as it flails fruitlessly on the plate. To say the video is disturbing is putting it mildly.
By American dining standards, this practice transcends the boundaries of tastelessness into simple cruelty. But by Chinese dining standards, this is simply showmanship and presentation -- the equivalent of Bananas Foster flambeed tableside. The comments on every video you find on the web seem to have the same argument behind them: What we view as cruel is simply another culture's cuisine -- and we, as Westerners, are the originators and advocates of far more inhuman practices in the name of good food.
Could it be that we find the fish video more disturbing because very few videos exist of force-feeding geese for foie gras or confining calves for veal? Or could it be because we don't look at the roach-like crustaceans such as lobsters the same way we look into a fish's sad, milky eye, the way we assign it some sort of humanity as it flaps helplessly on the plate?
Below are five similarly inhumane practices that people across the world employ for the sake of fine dining. Are these better or worse than Chinese deep-fried fish? You decide.
Foie Gras Called the "delicacy of despair" by PETA and famously banned in Chicago for two years, foie gras is the artificially fattened liver of captive geese. We say artificially fattened because a goose's liver would never become as enlarged or fatty on its own. Instead, a tube is inserted into the goose's esophagus and the animal is force-fed corn mash for two to three weeks before its slaughter. The practice -- which has been condemned by welfare groups like the Humane Society -- remains banned in nations such as Turkey and Israel, although the practice is alive and well here and in many European countries.
Veal Veal is the tender, flavorful meat of calves that have been slaughtered when they're between a week old to more than two years old. Baby cow sounds bad enough, but it's the crates that those baby cows are kept in which nearly destroyed the veal industry in the 1980s when photographs emerged showing veal calves tied into crates where they couldn't move. And these dark, tiny, cramped crates weren't just a holding chamber; they were the calves' permanent homes until they were slaughtered. Veal crates have steadily been banned in U.S. states and countries across the world ever since (although they still remain legal in Texas), but the practice still exists elsewhere.
Dog Meat Considered a delicacy in China and -- to a lesser extent -- Vietnam, dog meat is valued for its taste, being compared to mutton, and for purported medicinal qualities. But because the dog -- like the horse -- is a service animal and one with which humans tend to form close relationships, the consumption of dog meat is reviled almost the entire world over. The consumption of dog meat is particularly controversial due to reports that dogs are skinned alive in China before they're killed, an inhumane treatment no matter how lamb-like Fido might taste.
Bushmeat If killing and eating dogs seems cruel, consider the practice of eating bushmeat. Although bushmeat can be any wild animal such as kangaroo or porcupine, one percent of bushmeat killed and sold is primate-based. That is: gorilla, chimpanzee or bonobo (you know the bonobo as the adorable miniature version of a chimpanzee). This is very nearly similar to committing cannibalism, but this doesn't stop African poachers from cruelly slaughtering entire families of great apes and selling them as food. See for yourself (note: don't click on that link if you've just eaten...).
Lobster Is killing lobster inhumane? People have argued that steaming a lobster is the quickest and kindest way to kill it. But would you want to be boiled to death in a pot of water or simultaneously suffocated and scalded to death by hot steam? Whether lobsters (or crabs, for that matter) can feel pain is still up for debate, but in the meantime there's a far less cruel way to kill them: Place a lobster in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, then split it in half with a large butcher's knife. Squeamish about that? Getting in touch with the food you eat might make you that way at first, but it brings about a deeper appreciation and understanding of what goes into your body in the long run.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.