Veganism is all about animal rights, but where do you draw the line if you’re a restaurant owner with a mouse problem, or a cook with cockroaches in the kitchen? According to Martin Mersereau, director of emergency response for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Washington, “Any vegan restaurant than kills rodents is absolutely hypocritical. If you’re going to exercise such conscientiousness in the cuisine that you prepare, then why not bring that same heart and soul to managing your little unwanted visitors?” Glue traps and poison, he says, “should be avoided like the plague.”
In Toronto, a vegan restaurant owner (who doesn’t want his name used) says, “You’re a vegan as much as you can be. Adequate pest control is a requirement of the Toronto Board of Health. We’re in Kensington Market. There are mice everywhere, so we have a service that comes by, and they put out a lot of glue traps. But I’ve actually caught a mouse on a glue trap and you can release them from the trap using oil. You put oil on the parts the mouse is stuck to, any kind of cooking oil, and it loosens the adhesive. You take him outside. It takes five minutes. The tricky part is, if their head is stuck to the glue trap you have to make sure you don’t drown the little guy in oil.”
In Victoria, at the Lotus Pond, a Buddhist restaurant serving vegan food, chef and part-owner Charles Cai says, “I’m Buddhist. I’ve never killed anything. Never, never, never. How do we solve it when we have a mouse? The best way is to block the holes,” he says. “The old buildings always have problems with holes. We’ve found over 10 holes in the last couple of years, but there’s not any mice now.” Occasionally, when customers enter, a bee flies in the door, in which case Cai traps the insect with a small homemade net and releases it back outside.
In Vancouver, at the landmark restaurant the Naam, manager Glen Delukas says, “We’re a vegetarian restaurant but we’re not a bunch of Buddhists here, that’s for sure! We have our own pest control. We absolutely don’t want any mice or any insects in the food, so whatever measures we have to take, we do. It’s more important to have a clean kitchen for people who are paying money than to have a clean conscience as far as the little bugs are concerned. Right now, we’re at the best we’ve ever been.”
Have they ever had a rat problem? “Rats? No, we’ve never had a rat problem. No, we did a couple of years ago, what am I saying? They were going up our grapevine, outside the restaurant. There were a couple of instances, in the middle of dinner service [on the patio], with rats running across the top there, and people were shocked. The following year, when the grapes came out, we removed them pretty quick, so there was nothing for them to go to.”
Delukas remembers only one time when the staff complained of seeing a mouse inside. “We have a hole in the floor over by the coffee station. We have a statue of a little frog over it. Every now and then a mouse would come up through that hole. I never heard customers say anything but I’d hear servers say, ‘Oh my God! There’s a mouse.’ I was like, ‘Well, who moved the frog?’ ”
In Parksville on Vancouver Island, Buddhist yoga teacher Penny McGuire uses a piece of paper and a glass to trap and remove spiders, ants and moths from her home. One time in Australia, where she grew up, she relocated a poisonous redback spider from her home. “I just used the glass and a piece of paper so I wasn’t actually touching the spider.”
The time McGuire had to de-flea her dog, she used a Buddhist prayer to counteract the negative karma incurred by killing the fleas. “Every life is a life,” she says. “So, yeah, I’m aware that fleas are living beings, too. I’d be saying prayers the whole time I’m washing the dog. It is said that if an animal hears the mantra ‘Om Mani Padma Hung’ in their next life, they’ll be born as a human and have a chance of being enlightened. So people can just do that,” she suggests. “To every bug you let go or step on, say, ‘Om Mani Padma Hung.’ Just saying that is doing a huge amount right there.”