By Nikki Neu
Since before I can remember, I’ve been eating lobster.
When I was adopted from Korea at three months old and landed in Manhattan, my first meal off the plane was at the Palm Too restaurant, sitting on the table in my carrier, wishing I had teeth while my parents feasted on lobster. As soon as could, I joined my parents in what became our traditional Saturday night meal for years.
I love lobster.
So it caught me off guard when I was particularly disturbed and angered by a recent find. While doing research at the Fremont Street Experience, I stumbled upon a machine in the Las Vegas Club’s Tinoco’s Kitchen that looks much like the carnival or arcade game. It’s a vending machine with a claw at the top. You position the claw to descend down and grab the toy or stuffed animal so you can give it to your girlfriend.
Only this machine wasn’t filled with soft, fluffy stuffed animals, it was filled with water—and in the water—live lobsters.
I know how cooking a lobster works. Back in my culinary school days, I had the pleasure of dropping one of these live crustaceans in a pot of boiling water and you had to hold the pot cover to keep the lobster from escaping. Not a great visual, but necessary nonetheless. The difference between this game and cooking it in the kitchen would be in a kitchen, the ingredients and preparation are sacred and respected–not mocked.
But it was something about trivializing this process as part of a game, where guys would egg on their friend desperately trying to maneuver the joystick and position the claw so he could “win” a lobster. Cries of joy ring out as the poor, relatively helpless lobster gets jostled and grabbed by the claw—much the way the demolition crane would pick up an ‘86 Cutlass Supreme in a junkyard.
Then after you “win” the lobster, the restaurant cooks it and you get to eat your “win.”
But this lobster fan isn’t hungry, and neither is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In an interview with the “Denver Post,” PETA’s Vice President, Tracy Reiman, called the vending device a “machine that turns torture and death into a game.”
While PETA’s reaction is certainly an intense one, I didn’t really see the “fun” in catching my own lobster out of a measly tank either.
Within a 25-minute time period downtown, I managed to find two of these lobster games, one at Tinoco’s Kitchen and one at Micky Finnz. The latter even has a special sign that advertises a $2 lobster dinner—if you catch it.