This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES.
You've seen it on TV: Korean restaurants serving up plates of still-wriggling octopus tentacles, chopped up feet from the table while still alive. Now, those killjoys over at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—more commonly known as PETA—are petitioning to get live seafood dishes taken off the menu, reasoning that butchering a living creature and then consuming its still-convulsing limbs for pleasure is somehow cruel.
Live seafood is a popular delicacy in both Japan and Korea, where live octopus, fish, prawns, and even frogs are all commonly found in a number of dishes. (Full disclosure: One time, in Hong Kong, the author of this article downed a shot glass swimming with little fish, after being told to pour vinegar on them because the "burning makes them more frantic and better to eat.") The most common live seafood dish and the one that PETA seems to be targeting in particular is san nag-jik, or "still-living octopus." Beloved in Korea, the dish has unexpectedly become a popular order in Korean restaurants in the United States as well.
In Koreatowns from Los Angeles to New York City, adventurous diners who want to show what good foodies they are (or who want to make sure a first date doesn't lead to a second) seek out the dish, following in the footsteps of the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, and sharing their experiences to social media.
On Tuesday, PETA released a viral video of their own showing operatives ordering various live seafood dishes at Korean restaurants in Los Angeles.
Warning: The video is not for the faint of heart, but good if you want to know what sad-hungry feels like.
Food shows and restaurant reviewers have been writing about live seafood dishes for years without much fuss. Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Peters said it was "chewier and perhaps not quite as flavourful, and cut a little thicker" than sashimi. But many experts have spoken out about the problems associated with eating sea creatures alive. First of all, octopuses are famously intelligent; think of them as slimy golden retrievers.
As cephalopod experts have told MUNCHIES before, they're actually quite sensitive animals, both physically and mentally.
Back in 2014, Jennifer Mather, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta and author of numerous studies on octopus and cephalopod sentience, including "Cephalopod consciousness: Behavioural evidence" and "Ethics and invertebrates: a cephalopod perspective," told us: "If you've got pieces of arm ... they might react to the painful stimuli that they get, but they're probably not exactly 'feeling pain,' because they're disconnected from the brain. But the octopus, which you've been chopping to pieces, is feeling pain every time you do it. It's just as painful as if it were a hog, a fish, or a rabbit, if you chopped a rabbit's leg off piece by piece."
Yikes. However, as we also noted at the time, meat-eating is still prevalent, slaughter methods vary, and standards of welfare and the definition of cruelty are not always congruent across the globe, making it difficult to single out one animal, or one dish, that doesn't make the ethics cut.
So far, PETA seems content to fight back with a viral video and a petition, but at least one activist hinted that more sinister action may be around the corner: "We're taking no other options off the table until live animals themselves are taken off the table."