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Woke eaters are giving up octopus

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On a rainy afternoon in April, Union Square Park was, as is often the case, home to a band of protesters. This time, the cause was not inequality or political oppression, it was a mollusk — an octopus to be precise. Protesters held signs reading “let’s stop this cruelty” and “#stopoctopusfarm” beneath images of the leggy creature.

Amidst rising demand for the tentacled delight, Spanish company Nueva Pescanova has announced that it will open the world’s first octopus farm in 2023. But the plan is mired in controversy with environmentalists, zoologists and animal lovers decrying that it would be a cruel practice. The creatures, who do poorly when confined, have been increasingly found to be intelligent and sentient.

“It’s a giant step backward with what we now know,’’ said Fleur Dawes, communications director for In Defense of Animals, the organization behind the Union Square rally. “Thousands of people have signed petitions trying to stop this farm, and we’ve received about 20,000 emails.”

The increased popularity of octopus as a dish has led Spanish company Nueva Pescanova to announce the world’s first commercial farm of the mollusk — and protests. Above, a still from the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher.”
Courtesy Netflix

Forget foie gras. The edible animal crusade du jour is octopus. In the wake of the 2020 Netflix release of the touching — and Oscar-winning — documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” and a growing body of scientific research around their problem-solving abilities and capacity to feel pain and emotion, people are decrying the practice of eating octopus as cruel and uncouth. Activists are advocating for the animal’s freedom, diners are asking waiters to omit it from their order and restaurants are hesitant to even offer it.

’’The last time I ate it, I was already deeply conflicted, and found myself crying in remorse even as I chomped down on a beautifully prepared baby octopus dish at my favorite Japanese spot,” said Megan Coyle, a hospitality worker based in Washington, DC. She could no longer stomach eating the sea creatures when she read about their forming societies, having dreams and lasting memories, and solving puzzles.

For Lindsey Bailys, a 32-year-old based in Tribeca, it was a National Geographic documentary that was a turning point. “My friends are surprised because I eat red meat and chicken, so it seems random, but I really feel better not eating it,’’ she said. “I learned how clever they are, and I thought, ‘How can I eat something like this?’ ’’ 

A woman hold a sign with an octopus that state's "Let's Stop This Cruelty."
A recent protest against the farming of octopus in Union Square.
@veganactivistalliance / instagr
a poster for the Netflix documentary called "My Octopus Teacher"
A 2020 Netflix documentary, “My Octopus Teacher,” has spurred people to think differently about eating octopus.
Courtesy Netflix

Matt Seidmon, 29, was sucked into the cause after watching YouTube. “I eat almost everything, but a couple years ago, I saw a video showcasing how smart they are, so I stopped [eating it], even though I love it,” said the Upper Easter Sider who works in software sales. “Some of my friends are a little sarcastic about it, but I’m not preachy.  I don’t miss it on a daily basis because I’ve just given up one thing, not a whole category like ‘red meat.’ “

Even seafood mongers are conflicted.

Lamia Funti, the owner of the swank downtown Mediterranean restaurant Lamia’s Fish Market, no longer partakes in the tasty dish herself, and many of her diners are also abstaining.

“We have a carbonara pasta with octopus and shrimp, and people are asking us to remove the octopus,” said the 41-year-old restaurateur who lives on the Lower East Side.

Earlier this week, she even swapped out a picture of octopus on the restaurant’s homepage for images of less fraught fish.

Charred Octopus with caramelized cipollini, fingerling potatoes and a poblano fondue from Lamia's Fish Market.
Lamia’s Fish Market’s charred octopus with caramelized cipollini, fingerling potatoes and a poblano fondue. The restaurant’s owner, Lamia Funti, told The Post that some of her diners are abstaining from octopus.
Lamia’s Fish Market

“It looked beautiful,” she said, “but some of our customers have become very passionate about this.”

Some are misplacing their outrage. Kathleen M. Quinn, 61 and a retired vet tech who lives in Syracuse, NY, was upset when she saw packaged octopus from Spain in her local Costco. She assumed it was farmed, although there are currently no octopus farms in operation. 

“I was so alarmed, I brought the package right up to customer service and asked them not to carry it,’’ she said. “The woman said other people had complained as well, but there were also customers who were happy it was being carried.’’ 



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