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How Bill and Lou Unmasked Our Hypocrisy

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How Bill and Lou Unmasked Our Hypocrisy

[Ed. Note: Also read , Bill and Lou and Shifting the Paradigm: Now Is the Time to Go Vegan, Lou: RIP, An Open Letter to the Students of Green Mountain College and Defending Death and Bill and Lou: Who lives, who dies, and why.]

By Michael Mountain, Earth In Transition
October 2012

Bill Lou Bill and LouBill and Lou still enjoy the sunny fall afternoons at Green Mountain College, a Vermont school that teaches sustainable farming to its students. The two elderly oxen, who have worked the fields there for more than ten years, are no longer good for tilling fields and pulling heavy carts, so they’re being retired. But what happens to them now – living out their lives at their college home ... going to a sanctuary ... or being killed – has sparked an uproar across the country and beyond.

The question, which goes to the heart of how we treat our fellow animals, has landed on the front pages of newspapers and websites all across the country, and beyond. Here are the basics:

Bill Lou Bill and LouE-mails have been pouring into the school's administration, pleading for the two oxen to be spared. Internet campaigns and petitions have been circulating around the world. But last Thursday, Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the school’s farm and food project, said the slaughter would take place within a week – so any day now.

Bill Throop, the school's provost, explained that any other conclusion would violate the principles of sustainable farming. He said that the campaigns and petitions fail to take into account the complexity of the moral issues the college faces in its food decisions and in having an educational farm.

“They see us as doing something terrible, rather than trying to provide humanely grown and sustainable meat for our dining hall," he toldthe Boston Globe.

All of which is true. If it's about "sustainable farming," then it makes sense to kill the animals while they're still edible.

But that's the whole problem with "sustainable farming." Once again, it's all about us – how to conserve our "resources" in a responsible fashion that's good for the ecosystem and therefore good for us. And it includes a consideration of "animal welfare." But it has nothing whatever to do with the ethics of how we treat our fellow animals in their own right.

The reason for letting Bill and Lou live out their lives at the school's farm, or for sending them to a sanctuary, has nothing to do with sustainability or responsibility. It has to do with how we see nonhuman animals: as things that are here for our benefit ... or as fellow beings with whom we want to have a deep and meaningful relationship.

People who want to spare Bill and Lou but who eat meat and dairy products are caught on the horns (pun intended) of a fundamental dilemma. That's because it's entirely hypocritical to want to spare these two, but to go on eating animal products from elsewhere – like from a factory farm. Why should another cow or bull pay for your squeamishness with his or her life?

(Farmers with any level of conscience have always had this problem. Hence the common farming maxim: "Don't ever give a name to an animal you plan to eat." )

The school's logic is inescapable: To keep Bill and Lou in retirement and, instead of killing and eating them, to buy meat from another farm, would be sheerest hypocrisy – devoid of moral sense and justification.

The simple fact is that Bill and Lou have given the lie to the entire philosophy of “sustainable farming” and "happy meat." Humans do not need animal products in order to survive. The only reason we eat them is because we enjoy eating them.

There's only one way out of the Bill and Lou dilemma: Stop raising animals for food. Instead, turn the farm over to a plant-based diet. Make it a farm that's sustainable not only to humans but to other animals who call it home.

It's a simple, logical solution that solves the moral and ethical dilemma – and one that teaches the students that we can, indeed, live in harmony with the natural world.