Q&A: lobster murder exposure

Maeve writes:

"This Friday I plan to murder crustaceans for the sake of a tasty dinner. I plan to sever that nerve bundle in the back of their head, then plunge them live (but insensate, I hope) into boiling water. My sister will provide potato salad.

Now, I'm not too worried about the effect on my 23-month-old twin boys of watching whole potatoes being sliced with a giant knife. It did, however, cross my husband's mind that it might not be a good idea to show them a wriggling creature and then demonstrate how we kill then eat it. With emphasis on the kill part. Even though I do not sugarcoat where meat comes from, I know that it's all pretty abstract to the toddler set. I also try to eat "ethical" meat, and will pass on those values to my children, as they become old enough to understand such matters. What do you say about showing the boys live lobsters and what we do with them? At this age will they just think that's kind of a funny looking critter and not think about what happens next? Or will they be traumatized for life and become commune-dwelling vegans (not that there's anything wrong with that).

gotta run, one of the twins is awake. hope this email makes sense, I've written it in a rush."

This made me laugh, so I had to answer it today, especially after yesterday's question, which made me really sad.

First, I'd like to congratulate you on choosing the most humane method to kill the lobsters. We learned the knife-through-the-nerve-bundle method in culinary school, and it's so much more humane than just dropping them in boiling water is. (FWIW, probably the most humane method is to put them in the freezer for long enough to knock them out, THEN do the knife through the neck offing.)

Now, I doubt your kids are going to be that upset. They'll probably be more upset by the fact that you're all going to eat giant cockroaches than that you're killing them. (I'm now becoming extremely hungry for a lobster roll.)

But it depends on the kid. Some kids might be really, really upset about the killing. In which case, they should be sheltered from it until they're old enough to understand that animals are killed all day every day (and in some nasty ways) so that we can eat them, and then they can decide whether they want to keep eating animals or not.

I also think this goes back to our discussion on killing bugs. Some of us don't care about killing bugs, whereas it would really upset us to kill birds or mammals, etc. Others don't want to kill bugs, either. I wouldn't be too upset about killing a lobster or shucking clams, but would not want to see (or have my child see) a chicken or mammal being killed. Which may be hypocritical, but that's where the lines are drawn in my mind.

What do you all think? Is seeing an animal killed appropriate for a 2-year-old? For older kids? Does it matter if the animal in question is a crustacean?