Last week a vegan restauranteur in Canberra, Australia, said he had refused to kill the cockroaches infesting his kitchen because doing so would have involved "killing little insects" and violating his beliefs. He violated the food safety code instead, and wound up being fined about $12,000.
Kingsland Vegetarian Restaurant owner Khanh Hoang went to court on Thursday over eight health code violations uncovered in a 2013 raid. Live and dead roaches had been spotted in the kitchen, but there were plenty of other problems. "Parts of the walls and floors had not been cleaned for a considerable period and had a thick accumulation of grease, dirt, and other material," reported the Brisbane Times. "Surfaces and equipment—such as stove top and dirty pots, pans and trays—had been left uncleansed, and covered in dirt, food waste and debris."
Hoang clearly had more problems than an aversion to slaughtering bugs, but for people who try not to kill animals, the question of what to do about roaches depends on which animal rights activist you ask. There's Animal Liberation author Peter Singer, who was asked by the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof in 2009 how much he worried about the ethics of killing a cockroach and unexpectedly said "not much." PETA, as you might expect, has a more hardline stance. According to the activist organization's site, "All animals have feelings and have a right to live free from unnecessary suffering—regardless of whether they are considered 'pests' or 'ugly.'" That page also offers some alternatives to roach genocide:
If cockroaches have moved in, place whole bay leaves in several locations around the infested rooms, including inside kitchen cabinets. Bay leaves smell like dirty socks to cockroaches!
According to Richard Kaee, professor of pest management at California Polytechnic University, the bay leaf method is probably unreliable, and "might be a bunch of crap." In an interview, he explained that one of Australia's invasive roach species, the German cockroach in particular, "has such a high reproductive capacity that some of the so-called natural techniques just don't work." His explanation sounded reminiscent of every Raid commercial I've ever seen. "If you've got one female, and she lays all her eggs, and that goes on for two or three months, you're into the hundreds of thousands," he said.
What if you have to deal with a Joe's Apartment–style insect army of that sort? PETA offers some guidance:
For a serious infestation, you may need to resort to an insect growth regulator, called Gentrol, which nips the cockroach reproductive cycle in the bud (cockroaches exposed to it produce sterile offspring).
"That could work, but it depends on the species," said Kaee. The chemical in Gentrol, hydroprene, can tamp down an infestation of beetles or moths, but could it handle a serious job? "You would never control the German roach with Gentrol," he said.
The professor of pest management offered a caveat, however: Having roaches in your kitchen may not be as bad as people think. "It's never really been proven that cockroaches are a vector for disease," he said. "The diseases health departments are worried about could be transmitted by human hands, or with knives," just as easily as they could be carried on a roach's carapace. "But they're a health hazard, yes," he hastened to add.
In any case, by the time he got to court, Hoang had lawyered up and gotten his shit together. He brought in photos of his roach-free kitchen, which the judge called "immaculate," and said that he now called for regular visits from pest control. According to the Brisbane Times, his lawyer described Hoang as having "passionate vegan values," but now realized "in hindsight, that his morals had been misguided." It's also worth noting that customers love Kingsland Vegetarian Restaurant, and speak highly of its well-seasoned meat substitutes.
Maybe someday we'll invent a roach spray that compels the little guys to march out of our kitchens and move into nice compost piles around the corner to live out the rest of their days in happy exile. But until then, even vegetarians like me will have to deal with the roach blood on our hands, preferably by washing them.
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