Sunday, May 8, 2016

Learning to Love (or at Least Respect) Insects

Learning to Love (or at Least Respect) Insects; The Vegan Vine
Leaving for work one morning, I noticed a solitary Crane fly in the corner of a hall window in my apartment building. He was so still that I feared he might be dead. Upon closer inspection, he moved his long legs and crawled up the glass, frantically trying to get out. The window is inoperable, so I cupped him in my hands as gently as I could and brought him outside, being careful not to squeeze him. When I opened my hands, he flew up and away. I imagined he was pleased to be outside once again.

It just so happened that the day before I had caught a housefly in the same location. It's generally difficult to catch a fly, but this particular fly was in obvious trouble. She was seemingly exhausted and weak, desperate to find an exit.  I ran upstairs as quickly as I could to retrieve my humane bug catcher to scoop her up. As soon as we were outside, I let her out and she flew away, presumably to find some water and nourishment.

When I see insects flying back and forth along windows and doors, especially during the spring and summer months, it's clear that they're lost and just trying to get back outside, and sometimes they just need a little help from us.

Like most people, I'm squeamish when it comes to certain bugs like centipedes and large, hairy spiders, but my respect for insects has grown immensely since becoming vegan. I eventually conceded that they are sentient beings too, struggling to survive just like the rest of us and are no less worthy of self-determination than anyone else. With each passing season I try to challenge myself to coexist alongside them and see life through their eyes. They may be small, but they are incredibly significant and quite amazing.

One day at work I heard a tapping, tapping noise and looked up to find an insect caught behind the plastic of the ceiling light. He was flapping around, trying to get out. I wondered if he had noticed the others up there who had gone before him and lost the good fight. I tried calling the building manager, but I couldn't reach him, so I hoisted myself onto my credenza and was able to remove the cover myself. With a paper cup in one hand, I coaxed out a seemingly grateful stink bug who, incidentally, didn't stink at all. He hung on to the rim of the cup, and I safely deposit him outside on the grass.

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me 
than the fear of appearing ridiculous. Emile Zola

Spring is the time of year when advertisers push products that prey on those awakening from winter dens and sheltered slumbers. Raidthe insecticide that is toxic to everyone, not just insectsis well known for the commercial tagline: "Kills bugs dead!" By design, a male voice recites the phrase after which (without a hint of irony) a woman's voice sweetly chimes in with the slogan: "SC Johnson, a family company." Killing is something the Johnson clan is well-versed in with over a century of experience creating harmful, poisonous products and testing these products on animals.

Another company, Tomcat, makes light of destroying mice and claims their product is "engineered to kill!"

Such indifference toward other living beings, especially those labeled "pests", is commonplace. When an insect is found roaming in an uninvited or inconvenient place, our typical reaction is to kill him or her.

None of us prefer to have a swarm of insects invade our homes or take over our lives the way bedbugs and cockroaches can and often do, but the ease with which they get into our spaces in the first place usually depends on us, not them. Cleanliness, regular maintenance, weatherproofing, and being careful not to bring unfamiliar furniture and items into our homes can go a long way in keeping our homes insect free.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive approach to managing all kinds of critters and relies on a combination of common-sense practices like sealing holes in walls, siding and foundation; cleaning floors, properly disposing of trash, and putting food away. Instead of toxic chemicals, IPM encourages natural alternatives like essential oils. For example, spiders do not like peppermint. (Note: essential oils are toxic to cats so avoid them if you have feline friends.)

A few years ago I was living in an older apartment. After a warm and wet winter, I was finding a lot of ants on and around my stove. There were so many at times that I panicked and killed them, feeling awful about it after. Seeing as this was neither a moral nor a long-term solution (and chemicals were out of the question), I resolved to find the cause. I moved the stove and discovered that the ants were coming from a hole in the floor. I was so grateful; I promptly sealed the hole and voilàno more ants!

In my last apartment I was saddled with very large house centipedes and ascertained that they were coming up from holes in the walls connecting the electric baseboard heating. With great relief, I managed to seal those up, tooand finally get some sleep!

Not all scenarios are that simple or easy, especially when those contributing to insect infestations are thoughtless neighbors and negligent landlords or slumlords. Sometimes the only solution is to move.

As I become more attuned to other creatures, I am also more conscious of our speciesist conditioning. One evening, I caught a disturbing piece of All Things Considered on NPR. It described the efforts of students and faculty at Texas A&M University to implant mechanisms into the brains of Latin American cockroaches so they can be programmed and controlled for surveillance.

Learning to Love (or at Least Respect) Insects; The Vegan Vine
Latin American cockroach with
surveillance implant. NPR
The segment on the now dubbed cyborg cockroach was sad and disturbing on many levels and started out grimly with the following statement: "Cockroaches are gross! They're vile! They're disgusting! They love filth and they spread it..." Upon hearing this, I couldn't help but be reminded of similar statements humans have made against other animals and humans throughout history in order to demean, kill, and wage wars.

Researchers manipulated an admittedly fatigued cockroach to perform for the NPR reporter, who asked whether roaches feel pain like humans. "I don't think so. I haven't heard any complaints from them," a PhD student responded with an ambivalent laugh. "We both have nerves but roaches brains are much smaller so they probably don't remember pain," said the reporter. What a convenient assumption for both of them to make! Of course, it's not their brains being puncturing and inserted with electrodes.

It may be easier to love bees and butterflies and ladybugs, but all insects deserve our respect and consideration, regardless of their usefulness. Showing the maligned mosquito reverence may be challenging, especially with the encroaching Zika virus, however, their spread is directly linked to our own, not to mention our actions resulting in an ever warming climate and building resistance to insecticides and pesticides. So, the next time you want to knock the lowly mosquito, remember that they managed to outlast even the dinosaurs; they were here before we arrived and will most likely be here when we're gone.

May compassion and love reign over all the earth for all the tiny beings who live in the soil, the trees, the water, and the air, creating harmony and balance with your songs, your pollinating of flowers, your graceful flight, your mysterious transformations, and your miraculous ability to literally create soil in which new plants can take root. Dear dragonflies, bees, wasps, butterflies, mosquitoes, moths, beetles, cicadas, crickets, spiders, ants, and all of you who suffer immeasurably at the hands of people who do not understand the miracle of who you are, who poison you, stomp on you, and destroy your homes. You are so small, and many of us who do care about you find ourselves bringing you harm. We ask for your forgiveness and your help and together we bear witness to your suffering, take action to permanently end it, and send out our love and compassion to comfort you and to transform the hearts and souls of those who support the violent oppression of all of you. Divine Love and our love is all around you. Compassion encircles the earth for each of you and for all beings.

How Do I Go Vegan?

1 comment:

Richard Evert said...


Here's a haiku by Kobayashi Issa [1763-1828], as translated by Robert Haas:

Don't worry, spiders,
I keep house

Richard Evert