Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vegans and Black Widow Spiders

One of those "gotcha!" questions that vegans often get is, "What do you do about poisonous animals/insects?"  For example, "What if you find a black widow?"

The New York Times published a really interesting story on the true nature of black widows, which shares some unexpected information.  First off, they're clumsy outside of their web.  They're not so brave either.  If their foe is formidable, they'd rather escape than try and bite you.  For those few of us humans that are unfortunately bitten, very few of us will actually die.

Well, I didn't know that when I came face to face with one.  Living in rural Virginia, I've seen a few over the years, but I'd never been in a dangerous situation . . . until last summer.

I was home alone preparing for a tubing trip on the river that weekend.  I had a stack of old inner tubes piled up in the backyard.  I dragged them out and tried to hose some of the mud off, then started cramming them into the trunk of my car.  We had a big tubing party, so I had about 8 tubes I was trying to fit in there so I could take them down to the gas station and fill them with air.  I probably spent a good 5 minutes jamming them in, repositioning them, and smashing them with my bare hands.

My friend met me at the gas station a few minutes later to fill them up.  As I handed him the second tube, he recoiled and let out a yell:  There was a black widow.  He was shaken; he could have been bitten.  My heart skipped a beat:  I had been pushing my hands all around her trying to fit the tubes into my trunk not long before.  Very scary!

Knowing how the wheels were turning in my vegan mind, my friend said: "You know we can't let that spider live."  I considered the fact that he may be right.  But he didn't kill her, and neither did I.  She clung to the air pumping station while we worked, and when we were done, we loaded up and left.  I didn't see her anymore, and presumed she had scuttled away.

Of course, not everyone's choices are so simple.  Some families have children or elderly persons.  Some people have far too many black widows to safely live side by side with.  For those who are bitten, the antivenin (for those lucky enough to receive it . . . and not die from it) is produced by hurting other spiders.  Horses and other animals were also used in testing the stuff.

Most of our relationships and encounters with Nonhuman Animals are not life or death situations, but people like to hone in on those to test our limits.  Just how far will we go?  Being vegan isn't about perfection.  Rather, it's about striving for perfection as far as is reasonable. "The grocery store was sold out of tofu, so I got a hamburger," doesn't count.  I'm talking about serious conundrums.  My friend texted me yesterday asking what to do about bedbugs, they're eating him up, what should he do?  My tiny chihuahua has fleas--repellents aren't working and his life is in danger, what do I do?  These are real conflicts.

Just because some people may resort to killing insects in rare and regrettable situations like this (it's not something vegans take likely or enjoy doing), that doesn't mean the entire principle of veganism flies out the window.  For example, I may hit another person in self defense, but that doesn't mean my commitment to the principle of nonviolence means nothing.  The best solution to these problems is to avoid them in the first place and take preventative measures.  Keep your house clean, don't leave shoes in places where poisonous insects can enter, etc.

On a related note, I was cleaning out the kitchen this weekend and tossed out all of my mom's fly "swatters" and insect sprays.  A few hungry ants, lost flies, nonlethal spiders, and friendly crickets are welcome in our home.  Constantly cleaning up old cobwebs and the occasional cricket poops gets old, but such if life.

Although, perhaps I could get into the cricket poop business . . .