Louis Cole, star of the YouTube channel Food for Louis, has quickly become an Internet sensation, thanks to an offbeat form of stunt eating many would consider extreme: munching on live animals.
Since he started his YouTube channel last May, Cole has filmed himself chomping on — among many other gag-worthy delicacies — three live Madagascar hissing cockroaches, 21 live locusts, a turkey leg crawling with maggots, live ragworms, a live tarantula, a live crayfish, a live scorpion, a live Brazilian lizard, and even his pet goldfish ... live, of course.
Consumption of many of these meals would be unbearable for most people to stomach, let alone watch. Now the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), an animal rights group in the U.K., says that Cole may have crossed a legal line, reports the Daily Mail.
As a British citizen, Cole could be prosecuted for violating the U.K.'s Animal Welfare Act of 2006. While most of Cole's live meals have involved invertebrates, he may have finally broken the law when he began eating vertebrates, notably his pet goldfish. If found guilty, he could face a maximum fine of £20,000 (about $32,000 U.S.) or six months in prison. Videos that feature Cole consuming his pet goldfish and a live Brazilian lizard have already been removed for violating YouTube's terms of service.
As if eating live animals wasn't bad enough, Cole doesn't do himself many favors with his often nonchalant and frivolous manner in which he consumes the animals. For instance, before eating three live cockroaches, he can be seen playing with them in his hand. He also allows them to crawl in and out of his mouth as he prepares viewers for the event.
Cole's laid-back demeanor may give the impression that he is apathetic about the animals' welfare, but he insists that he is merciful in all of his videos.
"I don't want to inflict any pain on these animals," said Cole, in an interview with The Guardian, "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," he added. "But a much bigger problem is addressing human problems around the world like extreme poverty or the conditions that people are living in."
That latter comment may sound like he is gratuitously changing the subject, but Cole has walked the walk too. Before creating his YouTube channel, he spent five years as a community worker for an organization that sought to protect inner city children from gangs. Part of that work included escorting troubled youths to countries such as Zambia. He also claims to support a recent United Nations campaign that aims to battle starvation around the world by promoting insects as a food source.
To Cole's credit, he also argues that much of the disgust people experience when watching him eat live animals is cultural.
"I've been to lots of developing countries," he said. "In South Africa, we were in a food market in one of the townships and they were selling cooked sheep's heads. People were cracking them open and eating the brains the way you or I would eat a kebab."
Indeed, there are even cultures around the world that eat animals when they are still alive. For instance, there are restaurants in Korea where you can order live octopus, and in Japan some restaurants serve sashimi from fish that are still alive. (Sometimes the fish is temporarily returned to an aquarium to swim around and recover for a second course.)
Even so, it's difficult to interpret Cole's live meals as cultural lessons. Few of the "foods'" he eats are legitimate dishes served somewhere in the world. Rather, Cole seems to choose what he eats based upon shock value. He even admits that the moral message is often lost for the stunt.
"At the moment, I'm not saying anything particularly productive with this channel, but it'll be interesting to see where this goes and whether I'm a voice that can be heard," Cole said.
"I guess I enjoy riling people up a bit," he added, "and challenging them to the reality that to eat meat, they have to kill an animal. If they're genuinely vegetarian, then they have more of a valid point, but one girl once did this long rant to me about how evil it all was, and then said I should just have gone to McDonald's."
As for where Cole believes the ethical line should be drawn, he says he the prospect of becoming a cannibal gives him pause. He also suggests that eating live mammals would probably be unethical too.
"I'm still exploring where the boundaries are for me. I think I would probably draw the line at human flesh. Live mammals I wouldn’t want to eat," he told the Local Guardian.
Most of Cole's videos are currently viewable on his YouTube channel, though all of the clips should be considered R-rated.