I know a guy who stopped traffic to save worms from being run over. He spent an hour rescuing what he said was “all the worms in Mount Albert”. Later that night he interrupted his evening run to carry a weta off the road. He’s the genuine deal: a vegetarian, plant-eating, insect-saving champion of invertebrates.
Another friend of mine had an ant infestation and was trying to figure out how to send them back outside. She refused to kill them.
Me? I would have driven straight to the supermarket for ant poison. I would have run over any number of hapless worms along the way.
I need worm saviours and ant protectors in my life: passionate people who challenge my assumptions about what is important in the world. Even if they appear slightly unhinged doing so.
Five years ago I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer; a think-piece on the ethics of killing animals for food. I can’t remember why I decided to read it, having never given animal welfare much thought. Animals are animals and some of them are tasty. What’s the problem?
Eating Animals didn’t quite turn me into a vegetarian but it did slow me down. It made me consider that a fish probably doesn’t fancy being stabbed in the face any more than I would. We assume that only cuddly creatures feel pain and that it doesn’t matter how a fish feels.
I found myself working through a range of arguments for and against eating meat. I started at the callous end of the scale where the miserable existence of a caged chicken is completely irrelevant. That chicken is merely a dispensable means to a delicious end.
At the other end of the scale, all life on earth is sacred and important. What right do we have to force other creatures into industrial systems of pain and death for our own convenience? It’s enough to make a guy feel guilty right down to his leather insoles.
I eventually settled on a position where I have accepted my meat-eating place in the circle of life but I only buy free range. That’s right, I only put happy animals out of their misery.
I’m aware of the contradiction. Every position is riddled with inherent hypocrisy.
The line I have drawn for myself shifts around a bit, but at least I know where it is. The most important thing is to have given it a bit of thought.
It is also important not to be too rigid. We all change our minds.
I am pretty good at changing my mind. On the one hand I am quick to trust in scientific principles over anything that smells like conspiracy or quackery. On the other hand I don’t want to get so entrenched in my views that I miss out on the bigger picture.
Mark Plotkin gives a TED Talk called What the people of the Amazon know that you don’t in which he describes how a shaman healed his foot where western medicine had failed. He also points out how a shaman uses three rainforest plants to treat something called leishmaniasis, a “really nasty protozoal disease” that afflicts 12 million people around the world.
My usual instinct is to disregard any sentence with the word ‘shaman’ in it. But there is so much more to the world than my own limited experience. That’s why I need friends who view things differently to me. I need someone to suggest that maybe those silly little worms are an important part of the planet we all share.
Sometimes the best response is, “dude, it’s just a worm.” But other times – more often, I suspect – a better response might be, “Wow, stop everything. Check it out. It’s a worm.”
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 14 August 2015. Reproduced with permission.