In a letter dated Friday and addressed to Great America General Manager Hank Salemi, Vergerio described the concept as "barbaric" and wrote that PETA asks "that you consider the cruelty associated with this promotion and either cancel it or replace it with a harmless alternative."
"As a corporation that owns animal theme parks, Six Flags has no business encouraging the inhumane treatment of any animal," the letter states. "Presumably, the cockroach was chosen for this 'gag' because of the species' extremely negative image. However, this much-maligned invertebrate possesses keen senses, is quite docile, and has an amazing evolutionary history.
"Every creature on earth is ideally suited to its purpose, whether we know what that purpose is or not. It is unlikely that the purpose of Madagascar hissing cockroaches is to serve as appetizers for an unimaginative marketing scheme."
Great America Public Relations Manager Jim Taylor said Friday that he had not received the letter or heard of any animal-rights protests over the event, but he added that cockroaches are essentially no different from any other animal used as food in the park.
"It is important to point out that cockroaches do provide nutritional value. (They) are high in protein and they have no fat," Taylor said. "They are a common part of a lot of other diets in the world, (and) we do eat some things in this part of the world that might be frowned upon in other parts of the world."
Vergerio also questioned the practice of staging live bug-eating in front of children, writing that "Six Flags is meant to be a safe place for family fun, not a place to teach children insensitivity to animals of that 'might makes right.'"
Taylor said that the cockroach eatings are "not going to be forced on anybody," and he noted that Fright Fest will have two designated children's areas and a general theme that he described as "family by day, fright by night."
Taylor also pointed out that Great America and the other Six Flags parks staging the contest during their Fright Fests will not be the first to do so — Wild Waves & Enchanted Village, a Six Flags-owned park in suburban Seattle, had the same eat-and-ride promotion at its 2005 Fright Fest.
"Seattle tried it," he said, "and they actually ran out of cockroaches."