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kottke.org posts about Switzerland

Switzerland makes it illegal to boil a live lobster

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2018

Come March 1, it will be illegal to throw a lobster into a pot of boiling water. Chefs and home cooks alike will need to quickly kill the lobster first and then cook it.

The first such national legislation of its kind in the world calls for a more humane death for lobsters: “rendering them unconscious” before plunging them into scalding water. Two methods are recommended: electrocution or sedating the lobster by dipping it into saltwater and then thrusting a knife into its brain.

The same law also gives domestic pets further protections, such as dogs can no longer be punished for barking.

The measure is part of the broad principle of “animal dignity” enshrined in Switzerland’s Constitution, the only country with such a provision. The Constitution already protects how various species must be treated and specifies that animals need socialization.

That means cats must have a daily visual contact with other felines, and hamsters or guinea pigs must be kept in pairs. And anyone who flushes a pet goldfish down the toilet is breaking the law.

But really, this is just an excuse to revisit a sublime piece of journalism that David Foster Wallace wrote in 2004 for Gourmet magazine called Consider the Lobster (later collected in a book of the same name). In it, Wallace travels to the Maine Lobster Festival and comes away asking similar questions that the Swiss had in formulating their law.

So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?

Wallace being Wallace, he then dives deep into these questions at a length of several thousand words, a bunch of which are:

Since, however, the assigned subject of this article is what it was like to attend the 2003 MLF, and thus to spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster, it turns out that there is no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.

There are several reasons for this. For one thing, it’s not just that lobsters get boiled alive, it’s that you do it yourself — or at least it’s done specifically for you, on-site. As mentioned, the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, which is highlighted as an attraction in the Festival’s program, is right out there on the MLF’s north grounds for everyone to see. Try to imagine a Nebraska Beef Festival at which part of the festivities is watching trucks pull up and the live cattle get driven down the ramp and slaughtered right there on the World’s Largest Killing Floor or something — there’s no way.

The intimacy of the whole thing is maximized at home, which of course is where most lobster gets prepared and eaten (although note already the semiconscious euphemism “prepared,” which in the case of lobsters really means killing them right there in our kitchens). The basic scenario is that we come in from the store and make our little preparations like getting the kettle filled and boiling, and then we lift the lobsters out of the bag or whatever retail container they came home in …whereupon some uncomfortable things start to happen. However stuporous the lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. If you’re tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster’s fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around. The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water (with the obvious exception of screaming). A blunter way to say this is that the lobster acts as if it’s in terrible pain, causing some cooks to leave the kitchen altogether and to take one of those little lightweight plastic oven timers with them into another room and wait until the whole process is over.

Switzerland’s elaborate Cold War defenses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2012

In the event of an invasion, the entire country of Switzerland is rigged to destroy all of its road, bridges, railroads, and other infrastructure. Or at least it was during the Cold War. Geoff Manaugh reports on a John McPhee book about the country’s defenses.

In any case, the book’s vision of the Alps as a massively constructed-or, at least, geotechnically augmented and militarily amplified-terrain is quite heady, including the very idea that, in seeking to protect itself from outside invaders, Switzerland is prepared to dynamite, shell, bulldoze, and seal itself into a kind of self-protective oblivion, hiding out in artificially expanded rocky passes and concrete super-basements as all roads and bridges into and out of the country are instantly transformed into landslides and dust.

The first reader comment is more than a little eye-popping:

I have seen this with my own eyes as a foreign student in Switzerland in 1981, when a MOUNTAIN “opened” up and four jets flew out of it, near the quiet town, Martigny.

Update: About a minute into this clip from Rick Steves’ Europe, Steves takes a tour of some of the hidden defenses of Switzerland.

(thx, nils & dennis)

The web was invented in France, not Switzerland

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2012

David Galbraith updated his post on where the web was invented (which includes an interview with Tim Berners-Lee) to include the juicy tidbit that the building in which TBL invented the web is in France, not Switzerland.

I’ll bet if you asked every French politician where the web was invented not a single one would know this. The Franco-Swiss border runs through the CERN campus and building 31 is literally just a few feet into France. However, there is no explicit border within CERN and the main entrance is in Switzerland, so the situation of which country it was invented in is actually quite a tricky one. The current commemorative plaque, which is outside a row of offices where people other than Tim Berners-Lee worked on the web, is in Switzerland. To add to the confusion, in case Tim thought of the web at home, his home was in France but he temporarily moved to rented accommodation in Switzerland, just around the time the web was developed. So although, strictly speaking, France is the birthplace of the web it would be fair to say that it happened in building 31 at CERN but not in any particular country! How delightfully appropriate for an invention which breaks down physical borders.

A boring drill builds an exciting tunnel

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2010

This is the massive drill that was used to bore a 35-mile-long tunnel underneath the Alps from mid-Switzerland to near the Italian border:

Big drill

Boring operations in the east tunnel were completed on 15 October 2010 in a cut-through ceremony broadcast live on Swiss TV. When it opens for traffic in late 2017, the tunnel will cut the 3.5-hour travel time from Zurich to Milan by an hour and from Zurich to Lugano to 1 hour 40 minutes.

Swiss mountain cleaners

posted by Ainsley Drew   Apr 01, 2009

Switzerland is more than cheese, alps, and a blonde serving cocoa. It’s also the home of the slightly neat-freak mountain cleaners.

via swissmiss

Swiss Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2008

From an article in Monocle about the Baselworld watch fair.

Swiss watch brands are patriotic to a fault. Rolex is one of the few high-end manufacturers that does not stamp “Swiss Made” on the watch face in the belief that Rolex defines Switzerland rather than the other way around.

Now *that’s* a brand.

Wurst vacation ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2006

For some, a trip to Austria steers their gastronomic attention to wiener schnitzel, but for me, it’s all about the wurst.1 Following the good advice of a reader to ignore the sausages on offer in cafes and restaurants, we hit up every lunchtime sausage stand we could find during our visit for the real deal.

In Salzburg, the typical stand offers 8-10 different kinds of wurst, from the familiar frankfurter to the spicy pusztakrainer. You can get your wurst on a plate with mustard and a piece of bread or as a “hot dog” (in a bun with mustard and ketchup). For my first wurst, I had a kasekrainer, hot dog-style with ketchup, and it turned out to be my favorite of the trip. Melted cheese (kase) filled the sausage and the bun was perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Meg sampled a burenwurst. The next day, we hit up another stand; I tried the frankfurter while Meg had a delicately flavored weisswurst (her favorite of the trip). She speculated they didn’t grill the weisswurst because it would interfere with mild flavor; the spicer wursts seemed to be grilled.

From thence to Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps. At 10,000 feet above sea level, we had an unspecifed wurst (the restaurant called it, basically, “the sausage of the day”) that ranks among the best food I’ve ever tasted, but that assessment may have been colored by the fact that we’d hiked up a glacier to get it. On our last day in Innsbruck, we surrendered to the comfort of cafe chairs and had bratwurst (mit sauerkraut und mustard) at a small place in the old town. After a hard day of walking, it beats eating standing up, which is how it works at the wurst stand.

Our final link in the sausage trail was Zurich, which is not in Austria but in the section of Switzerland near Austria and Germany. From a stand by the lake, we shared a pork-based sausage I forget the name of and another beloved weisswurst. Based on the relative unavailability of the wurst there, I get the feeling that the Swiss don’t take their sausages as seriously as the Austrians, at least in cosmopolitan Zurich. Not that the Swiss wurst wasn’t good; they just have other things to worry about…like fondue.2

But to focus entirely on the wurst is to ignore the equally fantastic brot (bread) that accompanies it and many other Austrian dishes. My favorite bread growing up in Wisconsin was called “Vienna bread” and I had always assumed that the cheap loaves we got at the local chain supermarket approximated something found in the Austrian capital. We didn’t get to Vienna, but the Austrian bread we had was indeed like the bread of my childhood…except about 1000 times better. The small, crisp roll we got with our wurst, called a semmel, was not unlike what’s called a roll or kaiser roll at an NYC deli. These rolls, accompanied by some richly flavorful butter, were also available at the complementary breakfast served at our hotel and I was tempted to violate the no-taking-food-from-the-breakfast-area rule and cram my bag full of them. If the bread at our hotel was that good, I can’t imagine what the best bakeries of the region have to offer. The French, whom I’ve always considered the champions of all things bread, might have something to worry about from Austria. Clearly, more delicious research is called for.

[1] Not that the rest of Austrian cuisine wasn’t uniformly excellent. I had a pork dish with spatzle in a creamy mushroom sauce at a Salzburg restaurant that I will crave for months to come. And that garlic soup at Ottoburg in Innsbruck!

[2] I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for the title of this post (the other option was “It was the wurst of times”). But count your blessings that you’re not reading an article on the yummy fondue we had in Zurich entitled “You’re damned if you fondue, and you’re damned if you fondon’t”. (I know what you’re thinking: “oh no, he fondidn’t…”)

New Swiss banknotes, the result of a

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2005

New Swiss banknotes, the result of a design competition, feature an embryo, the AIDS virus, and a skull. “Considering the history of Swiss banking, one cannot help but make the connection between the gold bar on the 1000-Franc bill (the gold of African dictators hidden in Swiss vaults) and the skull on the same bill (that of their victims).”

The Swiss are putting a blanket on

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2005

The Swiss are putting a blanket on one of their glaciers to keep it from melting.