Ikizukuri – cruelty or important custom?
A commenter on a previous post called me out for defending ikizukuri, calling it “cruel”, but I think it’s complicated and full of logical pitfalls. I don’t want to belittle the widely held opinion that he articulated. Nor do I want to fail to explain why I think otherwise.
The commenter is certainly not the only one who feels this way, there are even critics in Japan who say it’s cruel. Certainly it’s not the way we prepare food animals for consumption in the West! In this style, the shrimp/lobster/fish/squid is not actually killed before preparation. Fish are hit on the head to stun them, for example, then filleted.
Westerners almost never even see the animal that provides us nourishment; we simply purchase a filet from the store or restaurant. We are rarely served a fish or even shrimp with the head! That way we’re never forced to mentally reconcile the fact that we slaughter a lot of animals to provide ourselves with a variety of food. We’ve totally disconnected ourselves from our food sources.
I would first point out that not explicitly killing the creatures until the cooking or eating process kills them is also found in other Asian cultures. When you consider the wet markets in China with live skinned reptiles and amphibians, or the dancing shrimp in Southeast Asia, or so many other examples, this Western viewpoint sounds a bit like cultural bias.
“San Nak Ji” (live octopus) is popular in Korea. The octopus is consumed while it is still moving, with tentacles sticking to the roof of the mouth. Apparently there are on average a half dozen deaths in South Korea each year from choking on this.
Also I’d like to suggest that it’s hard to know what the animal’s experience is. Can we say they feel pain if they don’t have an advanced nervous system? And if so, how similar would that sensation be to the pain we humans experience? And how is it worse than leaving freshly caught fish to slowly suffocate instead of killing them promptly?
I think the notion of suffering is at the heart of this idea that the practice is cruel, and it’s not clear that a shrimp, for example can be said to suffer any more than a plant does. And why is there no objection to so many other Japanese techniques? What about the uni I love so dearly? Sea urchins are simply sliced open and the uni is scooped out. As in so many cases, they are not deliberately killed; it’s incidental.
Next the cultural issue. Just because we don’t like something in our society doesn’t mean we should disrespect another culture’s traditions. For how many centuries have Westerners been “civilizing” those who live differently or waging wars against those don’t believe in the same God. A little more respect for the customs of other nations is long overdue.
Finally the philosophical. What other things do we do that are “cruel” to animals? Is this practice relatively more cruel than other things like raising millions of chickens in tiny cages their whole lives? How about cutting down forests that eliminate the territory large predators need to survive? Or being careless and letting hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spill into the water killing countless sea creatures? How about systematically replacing all the wild food sources with farms full of domesticated animals?
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