Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral?"

Walrus and carpenter
 A most charming companion met me for coffee the other day bringing news (from NPR, I think she said) about the invention of new artificial heart that does not produce a beat or pulse. Without a heartbeat, the story speculated, should the person who wears one of these things be considered alive? 
   I rummaged through the high school Biology Department in my head for the orders of heartless, bloodless, pulse-less animals.
   "You wouldn't say a sponge is not alive, would you?" I said after several minutes.
   "No, I wouldn't," the charming companion said. "But did you know that some vegans think it's morally o.k. to eat oysters because they have no hearts?"
  Really? I have to concede this excellent point to the vegans. Just imagine plunging your cocktail fork into a live oyster knowing there's a beating heart inside.
  Walking back to the office, I was overcome by a feeling of deja vu. Haven't I heard this dialogue before? Yes! It was the famous bathtub scene in Spartacus with Larry Olivier as the lacivious Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus and Tony Curtis as the wary slave and towel-boy, Antoninus. Here's the clip. You'll love how Olivier steers the conversation around to reveal that he's not only bivalve-ular, but also bisexual.



  1. Dialogue from the Spartacus 'Snails Or Oysters' scene.
    Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
    Antoninus: When I have them, master.
    Crassus: Do you eat snails?
    Antoninus: No, master.
    Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
    Antoninus: No, master.
    Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
    Antoninus: Yes, master.
    Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
    Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.
    Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

  2. Much can be said about the morality of ingesting bivalve molluscs. However, one could question, is it moral for the man eating clam to ingest the pearl diver in search of the Pearl of Lao Tzu? It has been suggested that Tridacna gigas act defensively not aggresively. I suspect that is being taught by a seaweed hugging, man eating clam apologist.

  3. Thank you, Suzy. And there you have it: Giant man-eating clams vs. smallish clam-eating humans. There will be apologists on both side, I reckon. Please come forth. CS

  4. Oysters definitely have hearts and they are in fact alive when you eat them! To demonstrate, you can slide a prong of your fork along its mantle (the outer thin edge) and it will actually shrink back. I believe that I've read about vegans feeling OK to eat oysters because they do not have central nervous systems (thus don't feel pain in theory).

  5. Thank you, Julie, for the most enlightening comments on oyster anatomy. That's a beautiful, beautiful blog you write too.
    Your big new fan,