All Creatures Great and Small – Unless They Taste Good?

I have a hard time killing anything. Even bugs –  I do! I’m not the type to run screaming from a spider* or anything (tho’ I will back the fuck up from bees/wasps/yellowjackets – those scare the pants off me), but in general, I really don’t like to kill them. I do my best to catch them and get them outside. For reals. I suffer moral dilemmas over gnats.

The long and short of it is, I really dig animals. Every close encounter with a deer or a garter snake I’ve had has been exciting. The winter a mourning dove nested in my windowsill and hatched her chicks despite the snow, I felt trusted and honored. When I’m out and about, I look for chipmunks in flower beds. Neighbourhood cats gravitate toward me. We have skunks, opossums, squirrels, raccoons, and all kinds of birds in the area around our house, and we have feeders up around the house with the windchimes. I have a family of squirrels that live in one of the maples by our house who jump down to our balcony to take peanuts from my hand. We put out vegetable scraps for the bigger critters.

Inside, we have four cats, a tank of fish, and a rat living with us. The cats are indoor cats, and I worry that I should let them outside until I take note of how many dead cats there are on the sides of the roads, then I don’t worry anymore. I agonize all the time about the rat’s quality of life, that he doesn’t get enough stimulation (they’re so smart!) or exercise in a cage, and so I make sure that he spends a few hours out and about every day.

I had a moment the other day while making bread when I was overcome. And maybe this is hard to understand – removed from it by a few days,  even I have trouble understanding it. Earlier that day, my son, who is eleven and knows everything (this is what eleven is all about, I’m told) proclaimed yeast to be a fungus. I explained to him that yeast is not a fungus, but a very small animal that reproduces by budding (wait for it). I explained budding to him, and we were both momentarily grossed out, and that was the end of it. Until I proofed the yeast to bake the bread. I put the sugar in the bowl with the warm water. I dumped in the yeast. I watched. Bloop! Bloop! Bloop! Like little fireworks exploding in the warm sugar water, the yeast budded and broke off and budded some more – it was beautiful and amazing.  And omigod, I was going to kill them all in a few hours, after lulling them into complacency with the addition of flour and a warm place to reproduce**. Granted, it was just a momentary pause, but the fact that I paused at all is kinda remarkable to me. (you waited for this part:) I have since found out that yeast is not a small animal, but is indeed a fungus, and I feel better about it. Also, I apologized to my son, who, to his great credit, did not gloat.

And yet I eat meat. I’m not a vegetarian, much less a vegan. I was vegetarian for years in high school and college, and then I just wasn’t anymore. Nothing shocking, no big dilemma, I just wanted a chicken burger all of a sudden. I did another stint of vegetarianism in the late nineties, and that lasted about six months. And I always think about it – at every meal, every time I grocery shop, any time I cuddle with the cats or let our rat out for playtime on my desk while I answer emails.

This makes no sense to me.  I don’t like that I’m so removed from the whole cycle of life thing that I handwring over chicken in the grocery store. I can bring down a chicken on my own – I have, in fact, brought down a chicken before. I’ve plucked a turkey, I’ve prepared rabbit. But it doesn’t mean that I like to do it. Or that I’d be comfortable butchering a cow. Drinking milk bothers me on a low level, because all I can think is That’s milk for cow babies, not for people – yet, cheese? I don’t even think a second time.

At the same time, I really have no intention of going vegan. But I’m still left kinda bothered by the whole thing, and I don’t know what to do with that.


*I will tho’, call for Will’s help with our eight-legged friends, as I’m super allergic to them. If I even brush up against a spider web, I break out in a rash. It’s both gross and humiliating to not be able to deal with spiders on my own.

True story:
Once at two in the morning, at my parents’ very fancy house in a gated community in FL, I had just gotten off  the phone with Will when I noticed a really big spider on their rug in the living room. It was convenient to the sliding glass door to the yard, so I figured I could pick it up on a piece of paper, and get it back out to the jungly goodness it ought to call home. So I slid a piece of notebook paper under her, only to find the most horrific of surprises – spider mommies carry their young on their bellies. Which meant that something like a zillion little tiny spiders came zooming out from under her when I slid the paper into place. Which is when my survival instincts kicked in, and I began to panic.

First thing first, I had no interest in going all blue & unable to breathe. Second of all, I did not want to wake my parents up at two in the morning. I ran into the laundry room, a few paces from the spider invasion,  grabbed a can of Raid, and emptied like half of it onto the spider and her kin. They stopped moving almost immediately, but I kept spraying until I was sure they were dead – my intention was to wait until people were awake in a few hours, then vacuum the mess up. Once I stopped shaking, I looked at the can. Yes, friends, I spray-starched a spider family to the wall-to-wall grey carpet. As I vacuumed them up the next morning, which was considerably harder than I had bargained for, I cried tears of shame and guilt over slaughtering the spider family.

That may be the last time I ever killed a bug without thinking it over. I can probably count on my hands the number of bugs I have killed in the last fifteen years.

**It was pretty good bread, just for the record.