When I first read David Foster Wallace's now famous story on the Maine Lobster Festival, which was published in Gourmet in 2004, I pretty much gave up on eating lobster. The brilliant article (you really must read it), entitled "Consider the Lobster," made many people, myself included, take a moment to genuinely consider, or reconsider, that delicious crustacean.
The crux of Wallace's article appears on page three in the online version. In it, he posits a few questions that still flash through my mind every time I eat lobster:
So then here is a question that's all but unavoidable at the World's Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does "all right" even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?
First of all, the lobster at Hai Cang is so good that part of me doesn't really care how it comes to be on my plate. It's somewhat like the attitude of the French (and, honestly, most people I know) when it comes to foie gras: It tastes really good, so I'm just going to look past whatever had to happen for it to get from point A to my plate.
Secondly, the lobsters at Hai Cang seem ... happy. I realize that having concern about the mental health of my food is a bit crazy, but yeah, I admit it, it's something I think about. You know that slogan for the Laughing Cow cheese company? "Great cheese comes from happy cows." I believe that. The bleeding-heart animal lover inside me is also comforted by the thought that my dinner lived a pleasant life (or at least one as devoid of pain as possible) before I ate it.
But back to Hai Cang. At the front of the restaurant are several large tanks illuminated by neon-blue lights and swarming with seafood. There aren't any castles or fake seaweed in them such as you might find in an aquarium designed for pet fish. Only water. The fish swim back and forth languidly in their tanks, but for some reason, the lobsters are electric with energy. They crawl back and forth on top of each other and swim the length of the tank in wide circles. They're constantly moving. They don't seem sickly or act as if they've given up now that they've been moved from their ocean homes.
I couldn't say for certain what a lobster endures, so I wonder. And I'm comforted by the fact that at Hai Cang the lobsters seem happy and that they're treated with the utmost respect on each plate. Because really, there's no better way to show that you've considered the lobster than to prepare it as simply and wonderfully as possible. And Hai Cang has that down to an art.