A pet goldfish, 21 live locusts, a live tarantula, a live scorpion, a live giant slug: a 28-year-old London man, Louis Cole, has not only eaten all of these but posted videos of himself doing so on his YouTube channel, Food for Louis, and gotten so many viewers that he was able to make a living from it. To keep his audience (as it were) “satiated,” Cole has made videos of himself eating a litany of what, to most Westerners, are not food: a “mouse shake” of ten rodents put through a blender, a raw bull’s testicle and various sorts of road kill.
Cole’s stated purpose is to get us to think about how what is disgusting in one culture is food in another — about the diversity of food cultures out there. In an April interview, Cole told the Guardian‘s Oliver Thring that he is “not a cruel person,” that he would not eat a live mammal (“I’ve got to draw the line somewhere”) and that
“I don’t want to inflict any pain on these animals which is why I try to kill them instantly. On all my videos, every animal dies within five seconds… Obviously we need to treat animals ethically. But a much bigger problem is addressing human problems around the world like extreme poverty or the conditions that people are living in.”
While it is not 100 percent provable that all the animals Cole consumes actually die “within five seconds,” it is certainly the case that many animals suffer far longer, painful deaths at the hands of humans. Care2 blogger Piper Hoffman recently described the numerous steps (including being shackled by a foot, having their carotid arteries cut and being cast into boiling water) that chickens at a meat-processing plant go through, too often while they are still conscious. The Guardian‘s Thring also points out that, after all, “it seems objectively less cruel to kill a scorpion instantly” than to keep chickens in cages or pigs in tiny stalls or lobsters in supermarket tanks.
Cole’s videos are a “stark and shocking reminder that all of our food choices are based on culture and prejudice,” Thring writes.
Why In the World Is Louis Cole Eating Live Animals?
Before embarking on his YouTube “career,” Cole spent five years working for an organization seeking to keep young people from joining gangs. He is certainly no saint, telling Thring that he first starting his eating “antics” on dares from friends (he first ate a spider). Cole says he started the YouTube channel because “I wanted to see if I could get a million hits” (he has far more than that now) and admits he “enjoy[s] riling people up a bit and challenging them to the reality that to eat meat, they have to kill an animal.”
While noting that vegetarians do have “more of a valid point,” Cole also recalls that, after a long exchange with a woman who did not eat meat, she simply told him he “should just have gone to McDonald’s.” But as Cole implies, eating a Golden Arches chicken sandwich makes you complicit in the very killing and suffering of animals that he seeks to highlight.
RPSCA Charges Cole With Animal Cruelty
Cole’s videos certainly raise at least a few ethical, and disturbing, questions about the food we eat or choose not too. He says he does not mean to be cruel towards animals, but is he?
The U.K.’s Royal Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) indeed thought so. At the end of April, the organization sent Cole a letter alleging that, for the goldfish-eating video, he was in danger of having broken animal cruelty laws — the U.K.’s cover fish and animals with a backbone but not inverte insects and other brates — and could be arrested by the police if he did not respond. Faced with a £20,000 fine and up to six months in prison, Cole hired a lawyer. He ended up settling with the RPSCA and, as he tells Thring in the Guardian in December, admitting his “guilt” and receiving a caution.
While acknowledging that Cole’s videos are certainly provocative, Thring argues that the RPSCA (the U.K.’s eighth-richest charity) “got Louis Cole wrong” in taking such legal action against him. From watching Cole’s videos and speaking to him a number of times, Thring says that he has “never seen any evidence that he wished to inflict cruelty on any animal”; he points out that “if you accept that it’s moral to eat another creature, then killing it is a necessary part of that process.” If Cole is accused of animal cruelty, should not anyone who eats animals?
What Do You Think About Cole’s “Antics”?
I do think Cole, whatever his original intentions with his Food for Louis videos, is raising some issues of pressing ethical importance. I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life and one reason I spurned eating meat was after learning about how livestock and other animals are treated and killed. But while Cole may not intend to inflict cruelty on the tarantulas, leeches and other animals he eats live, who can say they do not experience extreme terror to find themselves being broken, torn apart and who knows what else by his teeth? How dead were they when they went down his esophagus?
Cole’s “antics” in his videos are certainly sensationalistic. If he had just gone about eating spiders and such to answer his friends’ dares but not made all this public (and to the vast audience one can find online), it is arguable that he would never have been served with legal charges by the RPSCA. Surely Cole must have known — as, it can be said, did the artist Andres Serrano with his “Piss Christ” piece (in which a crucifix was placed in a vessel of his own urine) — that his videos are provocative?
Fame and infamy go hand in hand, one can say.
Is Cole guilty of animal cruelty simply by committing the acts he has in his videos? Was he “asking for it” by posting them? Now that he has made his point about the ethical issues of killing and eating animals, should he stop publicizing his “antics” and just stop them, period?
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