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October 3, 2014 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Why not eat octopus? [New Yorker]
"I like to think of an octopus as a blobby, eight-fingered hand with a mind of its own. And then I’m suddenly not so keen on the idea of eating it."
posted by Fizz (73 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
with a mind of its own

More like 8 minds: recent research suggests those arms may have minds of their own. Studies indicate that octopus arms each have their own independent nervous system [source: Mayell]. It turns out the brain may simply delegate orders, while the arm is responsible for deciding exactly how to execute the order.
posted by GuyZero at 4:08 PM on October 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


So it's an independent contractor arrangement.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:11 PM on October 3, 2014 [19 favorites]


Interesting timing. Just a few months ago I decided that, as tasty as they are, cephalopods are just too awesome and smart for me to eat them.
posted by brundlefly at 4:12 PM on October 3, 2014 [29 favorites]


Eating your relatives is considered rude.
posted by The Whelk at 4:15 PM on October 3, 2014 [22 favorites]


I mean, it's great that this thinkpiece is making a fumbling, aestheticized gesture towards the notion that it's morally unacceptable to torture and kill individuals with more intelligence than many categories of human. But FFS, animal rights has been around for 40 years. It frustrates me that writers like this treat it a sort of tasty intellectual morsel to savour before scrolling onto the next article on artisanal ramen or whatever, rather than a serious and profound ethical problem with a vast amount of scholarship and moral philosophy underpinning it.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:23 PM on October 3, 2014 [27 favorites]


The real quandary here is, when we find them, what if aliens turn out to be delicious?

The vice versa seems just as likely. We eat octopus, and the aliens eat us with just as little compunction.
posted by wilko at 4:24 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


> The real quandary here is, when we find them, what if aliens turn out to be delicious?

No.... I think a more relevant quandary is whether they find us first and think we are some super tasty half-wits, after all we're "made out of meat".
posted by Poldo at 4:25 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


The real quandary here is, when we find them, what if aliens turn out to be delicious?

Pop a Poppler in your mouth
When you come to Fishy Joe's
What they're made of is a mystery
Where they come from, no one knows
You can pick 'em, you can lick 'em
You can chew 'em, you can stick 'em
If you promise not to sue us
You can shove one up your nose
posted by Sys Rq at 4:35 PM on October 3, 2014 [25 favorites]


It frustrates me that writers like this treat it a sort of tasty intellectual morsel to savour before scrolling onto the next article

I feel you, but this is basically what The New Yorker is designed for. Think of it like recreational "intellectualism" as a lifestyle accessory: something not designed actually to affect what the reader does or thinks, but rather to make the reader feel happy they're the kind of person who thinks about such "hard" topics by the mere act of consuming it. The mission is basically to provide the very established and comfortable with something serious enough to be amusing to talk about at parties — but definitely no more than that, because that could end up being gauche.
posted by RogerB at 4:38 PM on October 3, 2014 [37 favorites]


As usual Futurama was here first. Pass me the speech center of the brain!
posted by bleep at 4:45 PM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not going to get into the ethics of whether it's OK to eat them at all, but eating them when they're alive is evil. It just is. That's not about some exotic gastronomic experience, that's about people getting a sadistic kick out of making another creature suffer. You don't need to eat a creature when it's alive, but you're choosing to do so. The creature is suffering. You know it's suffering, you're watching it suffer, and you're eating it anyway. That "morally dubious thrill" line is utter shit. There's nothing morally dubious about it. It's evil.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:46 PM on October 3, 2014 [41 favorites]


I had sworn off octopus. Too many fascinating videos of jar-openings and flashy demonstrations of camouflage. I felt pretty committed too. Then I went with my Basque wife to San Sebastian and that boycott went out the window.
posted by firemouth at 4:48 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


If any more intelligent life finds us (and really, what are the odds that it could be less intelligent than we are?) then we've already given them preemptive approval to eat us raw, possibly while still alive, if they find us tasty. Or even if they don't but have a traditional hairless ape-hunting industry to protect.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:53 PM on October 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


> "That 'morally dubious thrill' line is utter shit. There's nothing morally dubious about it. It's evil."

> posted by Ursula Hitler

EPONHYSTERICAL
posted by wires at 5:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [11 favorites]


guess what you get when you order taco in a sushi bar?

most octopus is not to my liking, rubbery little segments with suckers on them, but one of my favorite restaurants when i lived in the SF bay area was the really good mexican "guaymas" in tiburon, overlooking the golden gate ferry dock, which served a scrumptious plate of grilled baby squid and octopus. i would eat that while swilling margaritas and staring solemnly across the water at the skyscrapers of my adversaries. well-known people would occasionally drop in, here a federal judge, there a famous musician, but i maintained my anonymity.
posted by bruce at 5:28 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I second The Whelk. There are dozens of us (dozens!) on Metafilter that would prefer to be never-gnawed.
posted by argonauta at 5:52 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why not? Besides the fact that octopi are super intelligent? This is why not.

This is why I pretty much don't eat seafood anymore, even though I love sushi, calamari, shrimp...
posted by limeonaire at 5:52 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I would miss octopi if they were pulled off the menu because I don't really care for them, but intelligence doesn't get anyone off my dinner plate. Sorry little dudes.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:17 PM on October 3, 2014


I've only had octopus twice, both raw. The first time, it was sliced paper-thin, so the texture wasn't really an issue—and it was delicious. The second time, it was thicker, and too chewy and rubbery for my liking.

I was a vegetarian for fifteen years, and I still avoid pork and beef. But I always have to wonder about the "don't eat things that are intelligent" stance. Why is intelligence the standard?

I mean, consider a human being who has profound neurological disabilities—leaving them with very low intelligence—but who can still experience pain and fear. We can all agree that it would be immoral to kill, cage, maim, or torture that person, right? Even if we had some economic or culinary incentive for doing so?

So if intelligence isn't what gives humans the right to not be harmed in these ways, why is the debate over the rights of animals always framed in terms of intelligence?

What we should be concerned with is sentience—the creature's ability to experience pain and unpleasant emotions. A trout may have 0.2% of the problem-solving ability of a pig, but I suspect that its experience of consciousness is just as vivid.

Of course, sentience is even harder to measure (well, impossible to measure, really) than intelligence. So intelligence serves as a (very crude) proxy for sentience.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:19 PM on October 3, 2014 [26 favorites]


I definitely decided some time ago that I won't eat octopus anymore, because of the reasons mentioned here. However, unlike veal (which is one of the only other things I don't eat on moral grounds) it's not like it's a quandary I'm faced with very often given my current location and diet.
posted by rollbiz at 6:19 PM on October 3, 2014


I always have to wonder about the "don't eat things that are intelligent" stance. Why is intelligence the standard?

This. Arguments for not eating any animals are as convincing to me as those for not eating octopus, but I'm not going vegetarian or vegan any time soon.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:20 PM on October 3, 2014


I stopped eating octopus a few years ago. Everyone has their line, and octopus is on the other side of mine.
posted by zippy at 6:26 PM on October 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's too close to eating a sentient being for my comfort.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:34 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


C'mon, gandhi. That octopus would eat you.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 6:40 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Humboldt squid even eat each other.

Hey, octopus do too...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:42 PM on October 3, 2014


In my younger and more romantic years I used to avoid eating duck because I learned that they were monogamous but now I come to realize that if you're lucky to find love in your life at least once and you lose that great love, then a life spent alone is still a life lived. I salute you noble duck! Now get in my stomach.
posted by cazoo at 6:47 PM on October 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


I mean, consider a human being who has profound neurological disabilities—leaving them with very low intelligence—but who can still experience pain and fear. We can all agree that it would be immoral to kill, cage, maim, or torture that person, right? Even if we had some economic or culinary incentive for doing so?


Unless he's someone's pet or extra cute or something, we should totally be eating brain dead and profoundly neurologically disabled people. To argue otherwise is being overly sentimental.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:51 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


...what if aliens turn out to be delicious?

OK, now I'm scared.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:02 PM on October 3, 2014


I was a vegetarian for fifteen years, and I still avoid pork and beef. But I always have to wonder about the "don't eat things that are intelligent" stance. Why is intelligence the standard?

People get it backwards: intelligence is exactly why we should eat them.

Octopi, pigs, dolphins, whales...anything smart is a potential threat to us and must be annihilated.

It's too close to eating a sentient being for my comfort.

Precisely, which is why they must be struck down now before we wake up one night with eight knives pressed to our throats.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:02 PM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


The rules we make to determine what is okay to eat are really strange. So yeah, often times people say 'intelligence' is a rule... But pigs are really really smart.

People often have rules against eating cute animals... But that seems strange as well.

Some people recoil at the idea of eating a cat or dog (as we keep them as pets), but then a pig isn't a problem (it's smart and kept as pets in some places as well).

Personally I'm a vegetarian, but I've often considered eating geese and certainly chicken - because I have a deep deep animosity towards those animals. I'm not sure I could eat one, being a vegatarian for so many years - but I think I could kill both chicken and geese if given a half a good reason and a social situation where it would be acceptable (I have a feeling parents would get all upset if I killed a random goose at the park). I'll admit I'm not the best vegetarian in the world (and feel about cheese the way some people feel about steak, rennet be damned).
posted by el io at 7:05 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I always have to wonder about the "don't eat things that are intelligent" stance. Why is intelligence the standard?

You're right, of course. But sometimes logic can't do the trick. There are plenty of things I already think are ethically lousy, and I do them anyway. But then some incident brings things home on a visceral level, and then I can't bring myself to do that thing any more.

If learning about octopus intelligence does that for someone, that's a win. Maybe a subsequent incident will broaden things further.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:07 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know why eating the intelligent, vertebrate pig with human skin and cute big-eyed babies gives some of us less pause than eating the eight-legged backboneless freak from the bottom of the ocean. Maybe because we ate the pigs mother and grandma, great-grandma and so on. We've always associated them with farms and food while octopuses are wild animals and we imagine them having greater free will? This is deeply flawed thinking, of course. In my heart of hearts, I think you vegetarians have it right and the rest of us are trying to rationalize into some moral space that can make sense personally.
posted by firemouth at 7:45 PM on October 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


I like others have recently floated into the eating-octopi-is-not-right way of thinking. It definitely helps that my daughter has taken up octopuses and squids as her dæmons.

But I'm not an essentialist. An octopus (or a human) is not only a sentient, feeling being. We are also small blobs of anti-entropy, local leftovers of the big bang, looking to extend our run.

We'll all fail to stave off entropy eventually, and if we absorb each other along the way, well there is no big difference between us in the end. That's been the large sticking point for me in the vegan, anti-eating-of-other-feeling-things view. It treats us all as unique, special individuals. All life is one.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:46 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Lately I have really really wanted some fresh takoyaki.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:46 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


There are some reasonable health risks associated with long term cannibalism, so it's unlikely eating humans will become a thing. Unless they're processed and packaged as Soylent Green of course.

In my younger and more romantic years I used to avoid eating duck because I learned that they were monogamous but now I come to realize that if you're lucky to find love in your life at least once and you lose that great love, then a life spent alone is still a life lived.

Also, there's this.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:11 PM on October 3, 2014


Also boy ducks are violent rapists.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:24 PM on October 3, 2014


"I don't know why eating the intelligent, vertebrate pig..."

Citation, please (for the intelligence, not the vertebrate).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:27 PM on October 3, 2014


I don't know why eating the intelligent, vertebrate pig with human skin and cute big-eyed babies gives some of us less pause than eating the eight-legged backboneless freak from the bottom of the ocean.

Because with pigs, it's very clearly a case of "them or us". It's my duty t eat bacon at least once a week lest they overwhelm and devour us all.
posted by happyroach at 8:41 PM on October 3, 2014


Also boy ducks are violent rapists.

For real. The local duck ponds turn into total rape tests every spring, with the poor girl ducks being chased around by lines of boy ducks and missing most of the feathers on the back of their necks. How that relates to octopus sex I'm not sure, and I have no ethical leg to stand on as I have eaten both.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:43 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I said something similar in response to The Whelk's comment in a recent octopus thread, but I reiterate: we are lucky octopodes are short-lived solitary animals. Otherwise, this article would be in the Long Island Sound Times about the ethics of eating humans.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:51 PM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Citation, please (for the intelligence, not the vertebrate).

Well, google can get you some stuff pretty quickly, but I found this lovely quote inside an NYT article on pigs intelligence (and vanity):

“Pigs like to lie around, they like to drink if given the chance, they’ll smoke and watch TV.”
posted by el io at 8:52 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Some people recoil at the idea of eating a cat or dog (as we keep them as pets), but then a pig isn't a problem (it's smart and kept as pets in some places as well).

I think the sweet spot is rabbits. In the west, anyway, rabbits are both meat sources and pets. Everything else lies on one side or other of the cultural dividing line.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:29 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


How that relates to octopus sex I'm not sure, and I have no ethical leg to stand on as I have eaten both.

Clearly illustrating the untenability of autocannibalism as a lifestyle choice.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:44 PM on October 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


I mean, it's great that this thinkpiece is making a fumbling, aestheticized gesture towards the notion that it's morally unacceptable to torture and kill individuals with more intelligence than many categories of human. But FFS, animal rights has been around for 40 years. It frustrates me that writers like this treat it a sort of tasty intellectual morsel to savour before scrolling onto the next article on artisanal ramen or whatever, rather than a serious and profound ethical problem with a vast amount of scholarship and moral philosophy underpinning it.

Wow, this so very much. It's funny that the author jokes about the concept of "ethical heartburn", because it actually describes to a T the way ethical decision-making is typically dealt with in upscale liberal media: as something unpleasant that forces you to stop and acknowledge it for a second or two but ultimately has no bearing whatsoever on your actual life or decisions.
posted by threeants at 10:47 PM on October 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm kind of an asshole, but I like to eat things based on how many more of them they are. With the exception of the Pacific Northwest tree octopus, I think I'm allowed the occasional wavy tentacle.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:56 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


You know, on the octopinternet, they make fun of us. Like, really bad. "Blurble," they snicker into their bubble-to-text aquaphones. "Blurp!"

All y'all octohaters are going to be up against the seawall when the revolution comes.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:41 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


All y'all octohaters are going to be up against the seawall when the revolution comes.

No worries; half of them are actually deep-cover mimic octopuses.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:15 AM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


No worries; half of them are actually deep-cover mimic octopuses.

*sprays ink*
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:42 AM on October 4, 2014


If it's good enough for Choi Min Sik, it's good enough for me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:41 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


EPONHYSTERICAL

Really? I thought I'd been around these parts long enough that we were past the hacky Hitler jokes. Sorry to get snippy, but man, that shit's as tired as Hugh Hefner's dong.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:00 AM on October 4, 2014


Ursula Hitler... I think it's the combination of Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Hitler.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 4:44 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's an obscure Monty Python reference. You can Google it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:04 AM on October 4, 2014


OCTOPUSES!!!!
posted by pompomtom at 5:36 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, your name's from Monty Python. And yes, you've been around long enough that we're past straightforward Hitler jokes. But this isn't a straightforward Hitler joke. This is a Hitler joke that plays on Ursula, the giant evil octopus witch from Little Mermaid. And I don't think MetaFilter has even existed long enough for jokes that simultaneously play on both the "Hitler" and "Ursula" parts of your name to be played out. I mean, seriously, can you throw me even a single link to an example of one?

Sorry to get snippy, but it's grating to hear someone characterize a joke that's been made...maybe once?...twice, max?...as shit that's "as tired as Hugh Hefner's dong."
posted by Bugbread at 5:44 AM on October 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


Hugh Hefner's dong aside, I guess for me too it's either full-on vegetarianism and not wearing leather or eating animals that have been humanely killed. Full-on vegetarianism would be a bit difficult for me health-wise, so I have a hard time setting aside a special refuge for octopi as I slurp down my pork, beef, and boy rapist ducks.
posted by angrycat at 5:59 AM on October 4, 2014


Yuummm. Looks like Calamari. Chewy like Calamari. Its Bung!
posted by xtian at 6:49 AM on October 4, 2014


I have a good friend who argues that it is her duty to eat octopus because of they could spend enough time on land to hunt her down, they would certainly eat her. I won't eat them, but I admire her philosophy.

Chickens, though. FUCK chickens. I will eat every evil, smelly, delicious chicken.
posted by a hat out of hell at 7:09 AM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of an asshole, but I like to eat things based on how many more of them they are.

Chickens Humans, though. FUCK chickens humans. I will eat every evil, smelly, delicious chicken human.


(fwiw I think chickens are mainly smelly because they get raised in pretty awful conditions, not becasue chickens themselves are particularly smelly)
posted by edgeways at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Humans are pretty nasty tasting, too full of chemicals. Except the free range kind, but they're expensive.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:04 AM on October 4, 2014


[Maybe let's drop the Hitler/dong/eponysterical thing already.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:31 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Eating octopie?

via
posted by dragonsi55 at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2014


I have never eaten octopus because my grandmother used to mae it all the time. I hated the smell and never got over my dislike. So I guess I didn't eat octopus before not eating it was popular.
posted by Splunge at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2014


I'm a poor from Poortown who eats the conventional foods that people in my demographic and hometown eat. My family was always meat-and-potatoes, no spices, no variety, nothing unconventional for us. As a result, I've never eaten octopus or squid, and I reject the idea of even trying either one out of respect for both species, which is odd and kind of irrational when you think about it, because one person's choices are not going to stem the intense flow of demand for octopus and squid.

That said, I strongly agree with the point made earlier about intelligence versus sentience as a metric for how to arrange one's dietary habits.

As a hypocritical non-vegetarian, I care the most about how the animal lived its life and whether or not it died as humanely as possible. The idea of devouring an animal alive squicks me out. It reminds me of a former friend who bragged about swallowing live goldfish for his sexual pleasure. (We weren't friends after that incident. How did I miss the warning signs?)
posted by quiet earth at 12:20 PM on October 4, 2014


Here's the line that offends me:

I have eaten live shrimp and ants, and I wonder if the frisson I felt wasn’t some kind of dormant predator instinct.

What? No. To either quote or paraphrase Erich Fromm, eating meat does not a predator make.
posted by quiet earth at 12:27 PM on October 4, 2014


I don't know why eating the intelligent, vertebrate pig with human skin and cute big-eyed babies gives some of us less pause than eating the eight-legged backboneless freak from the bottom of the ocean.

“Lisa, honey, are you saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?”
“No.”
“Ham?”
“No!”
“Pork chops?”
“Dad, those all come from the same animal!”
“Yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.”
posted by kirkaracha at 2:54 PM on October 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I live in Seoul, and I'ma eat all the octopus. Pretty hard to avoid it here, and fuck that, it's awesome. Yep, even sannakji...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:26 PM on October 4, 2014


I care the most about how the animal lived its life and whether or not it died as humanely as possible. The idea of devouring an animal alive squicks me out.

I have an old FujiTV news video stored somewhere about a sushi fad from a few years back. It is common for a sushi shop to have a salt water aquarium full of live fish, to keep them alive and fresh up until they are eaten. One shop had a particular specialty. The chef would grab a live fish and deftly slice off one side of the flesh without cutting through the spinal cord. Then they would serve you the slice of fish, and return the other half of the fish to the aquarium so you could watch it swim in a circle. I am not sure what the point of that was. Does he serve the other half to someone else?

I did once eat at a sushi-ya in the Ginza, where itamae proudly demonstrated the freshness of his octopus by placing it in his palm and slapping it, then holding it up to me and showing me how it curled up and twitched.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:31 PM on October 4, 2014


I live in Seoul, and I'ma eat all the octopus. Pretty hard to avoid it here, and fuck that, it's awesome. Yep, even sannakji...

And this is exactly why I'm not eating any. 'Cause there are entire parts of the earth where seafood is just what you eat, and that's where much of the overfishing is now occurring, as fisheries send out bigger and bigger boats farther and farther from shore to catch dwindling numbers of fish. Sigh.
posted by limeonaire at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm actually eating an octopus panini sandwich right now of my own making. It's pretty freaking tasty.

Soon, I also hope to have Dr. Strangelove powers in my extremities!
posted by organ_monkey at 11:46 AM on October 5, 2014


There seems to be an assumption that animals would eat us, as we eat them, which is an assumption not based on fact. Probably related is the extinction of the megafauna due to the sociopathic paranoia that seems to dominate the outlook of the human race.
posted by asok at 5:24 AM on October 6, 2014


Humans eat all kinds of things that are crazy and wrong (google frog heart sushi), but like limeonaire points out above, it looks like populations of wild animals have decreased by 50% in the last 40 years. Once of the reasons is simple lack of respect for any beings that aren't us, whether or not they're edible. What are the chances there will be anything left by the time we're done?
posted by sneebler at 6:45 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Don't give human beings the credit of implying they have respect for other human beings.
posted by bleep at 4:19 PM on October 6, 2014


(google frog heart sushi)

No. Don't do that. I regretted it immediately.
posted by brundlefly at 4:31 PM on October 6, 2014


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