When I was about nine years old, the school year started off with an episode where a kid I will call Ronnie K. ran up to me and my best friend and forced us to watch while he pulled the legs off of a spider.
The spider was a variety known as Daddy Long Legs, a non-biting, peaceful, ecologically important animal that eats chiggers, gnats, and mosquitoes. The poor spider’s legs and body wriggled violently for a full minute after Ronnie’s display of malformed proto-masculinity. I had never been so disgusted in my life. To this day, I do not remember Ronnie K. with fondness, to put it in the politest terms possible.
Bug-eating, or entomophagy as it is formally known, has been heralded as the “way of the future” by popular scientists everywhere. The practice is de rigeur, with bloggers jumping on the insectovore trend en masse and various folks proclaiming it as the solution to world hunger. There has even been a vegan going out on a woodlice-infested limb in the form of James McWilliams, whom you might remember for his eloquent defense of Bill and Lou, the two oxen who were used as mascots for college sports team their entire lives only to be thrown away like so much trash after a lifetime of service.
McWilliams seems to believe entomophagy is the answer to the “how can vegans eat in a way that causes the least amount of harm?” question, and he has arrived at insect consumption as the most logical answer. Though any biologist would admit we humans know only a tiny fraction of information about the spectrum of sentience presented by Gaia’s creatures, McWilliams presumes insects are not sentient and are unable to feel pain, even though there is much evidence to the contrary, such as the rather obvious phenomenon of ants trying to run away when presented with the scorching heat of sunlight focused through a magnifying glass. He trots out an array of entomologists to confirm his bias much in the same way a true believer in Jesus trots out a piece of toast with a fuzzy chiaroscuro that is supposed to be an image of Christ or the way a Fox News talk show host trots out “evidence” global warming isn’t happening. Like his impractical counterparts in the world of religious fundamentalism and climate change denial, McWilliams neglects to mention the evidence right in front of his eyes.
Insects try to run away when you stab at them with a fork. Vegetables do not.
McWillams also forgets the prime directive of all ethical vegans: the goal to cause the least amount of harm possible. He claims that eating bugs is necessary, with a bizarrely obtuse argument that the amount of critters killed for a vegan’s plate via insecticides is somehow as significant an impact as a meat-eater’s bacon cheeseburger:
“The suffering that’s required to bring seemingly ‘humane’ foods to our plate is thereby just as palpable as the suffering of those animals slaughtered to feed us chicken, pork, and beef.”
Now I shall interrupt this program for an episode of a game I like to call ANIMAL HABITS.
Do forgive me; this game is best suited to children.
This game is played with the help a toy called the Fisher Price See ‘n Say, which is a round chunk of brightly colored plastic that provides education and doubles as a music box. The general concept is this: identify one of sixteen pictured animals by the sound he or she makes. Pull the string to wind the noise-producing mechanism and the arrow will point to one of the sixteen. A sound will be made and it is up to you, the eighteen month to four year old, to identify an animal by his or her characteristic utterance.
Let’s give it a pull, shall we?
The cow says…
Bonus round! For 300 points, WHAT DOES THE COW EAT?
No, not small rocks. No, not air. No, not rainbows, unicorn farts, or leprechaun’s gold.
That’s right, the cow eats grass! Or in the case of a factory-farm cow, a slurry of corn, soy, trawled ocean by-catch including the occasional dolphin, feces, slaughterhouse waste, and rendered shelter animals.
Wait a gol-durned second! That means…
It takes seventeen times the amount of plants to feed a cow as it does to directly feed a human being!
More math, oy vey, my aching head.
That also means… seventeen times the insects die to feed a cow when the cow’s soy and corn are harvested by the thresher!
It is profoundly disappointing when a vegan hero starts spewing a variation of ad plantarum. The fact remains that eating the huge array of plants Gaia offers to us is the best way to cause the least amount of suffering possible.
Which brings me around to Ronnie K. and his victim. The real reason any person would eat a basket of fried crickets and why Ronnie K. pulled the legs off a Daddy Long Legs spider is because he can. Ronnie K., a powerless, unpopular nine year old boy who would later become a fast food wage slave in a paycheck to paycheck existence, pulled the legs off a spider for the same reason the geniuses at Monsanto pour Round-Up on previously healthy topsoil. They CAN and there is nobody who will try to stop them!
The vegan way is the exact opposite approach to that of Monsanto, Ronnie K., and James McWilliams with his bug-eating fetish. It is a simple, easy to remember rule:
If in doubt, leave it the F**K alone.
Let’s put it this way. If all the insects in the world died tomorrow, the entire biosphere would go belly up and Earth would quickly become a lifeless rock of crushed, non-functioning ecosystems. If all humans were wiped out tomorrow, guess what? The Earth would be absolutely fine.
The last thing this planet needs is cicada breeding programs and cricket factory farms with myriad unknown consequences. What we need to do is to stop overpopulating as humans by deciding not to have any more children until things get much, much better for Gaia and her other non-human denizens. Any focus upon “how we are going to feed ten billion people” is ludicrous when the fact is we never should have gotten to seven billion. Human overpopulation is a real, biting problem and proposes a far more lethal sting than any supposedly delicious insect on a plate.