Q&A: Killing Bugs?

  • July 18, 2012 8:48 am

The Question:

Hi! I am reading your blog, and I also love the eco life! I also try to teach my kids respect for all living creatures. However, yesterday when a big spider stumbled across the kitchen floor I calmly took a piece of kleenex and promptly squished it! But, when I am standing there, satisfied with dead spider in hand, I suddenly see the question in my three year old boys look, and feel ashamed! How do I explain this? I am not that afraid of spiders, I just killed it because it was there! How do you deal with these sorts of things? Do you also squish spiders in front of your kids, and do you own a fly swatter and swat flies and wasps? And how do you explain this to your kids?


The Answer:

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for writing. And good timing; I’m spending a lot of time in the buggy country this month to escape the heat of my urban hometown. When we’re in New York City and we find a bug–that isn’t a roach!–we tend to release it out the window. Not exactly sure a bug prefers being flung out of an urban window versus smushed, but my animal-loving 6-year-old daughter prefers it. That said, she also likes to capture fireflies and has killed more than a few of these beloved bugs herself, unwittingly.

Here’s the thing: We eat meat but we also have a family cat we refer to as her sister. I wrote a book with my butcher. During that research process I went to more than a few slaughters of local animals and toured a local slaughterhouse. This is complicated stuff. Is a spider more important than my cat? Is the cat more important than the pig or the steer I watched be slaughtered? You feel bad about that spider, but how about a mosquito? Or a tick embedded in your son? Or a water bug scuttling across your bathroom floor?

I was chatting about your question–and my above questions–with my lovely intern Kelley and she wrote me a very thoughtful email I want to share with you:

“This question made me think about my environmental ethics class I took last
semester.  In one unit we talked about what things in nature get
respect, so what has value in nature.

And there are these different ethical theories to it:
Biocentrism (or taylorism)–ALL things in nature have value, whether a
dolphin, ant, or flower. Killing either would be wrong.

Strong Anthropocentrism–Only humans matter, and we should not be
concerned about harming the environment or animals

Weak Anthropocentrism–Humans still matter the most but some things in
nature count too. So killing an ant wouldn’t be wrong, but killing a
whale would not.

I wrote a paper on it somewhere on which theory was the most
justifiable. But this just reminded me of what you said about your
book on butchering. How people are very concerned about slaughtering
pigs, and cows, but people never think twice about squashing a bug.”

So this is a long-winded answer from me and Kelley that isn’t really an answer. Most humans, devout vegans aside, do some sliding scale of animal killing. I certainly have done my fair share and I have mixed feelings about all of it–minus what I somehow believe can bring me and mine “harm” like those mosquitoes and ticks. My daughter is basically a vegetarian who devours bacon, and claims she wants to protect all animals, but also likes to pull worms apart and poke jelly fish with sticks. It’s complicated. If the look in your kid’s eyes gives you pause, take that pause and think about how you feel about what you’re doing, and the message it gets across. It may not change how you react, but it’s certainly a good thing to think about.

Hope this helps in some way.



Good Day New York

  • August 25, 2010 2:10 pm

Here’s a clip of me talking natural pest control on Good Day New York.