Ackerman-Leist: Bill and Lou are a parable for saving our broken food system

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Philip Ackermen-Leist, a professor at Green Mountain College and author of the forthcoming book, “Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems” (Chelsea Green).

Our society has become increasingly divorced from agriculture, and our assumptions about food and farming are too often based more on emotion or business interests than those of real, on-farm experiences and community decision-making about the food we raise and eat.

The scenario unfolding at Green Mountain College in Vermont is a perfect example of how the narrow, self interests of a few are being used to trump the difficult decisions made by a community connected to, and engaged with, its food and farm system.

By now, you may well have heard the story of Bill and Lou, the team of oxen at Green Mountain College who, after much open discussion within our campus community, will soon be sent to slaughter.

What may not be so evident in the debate now swirling around the periphery of our small Vermont campus is that this decision is another step in our college’s longstanding effort to foster a community-based food system.

However, given the pressures exerted from outside interest groups that know neither the facts nor the animals nearly as well as our students do, it is beginning, to feel more like an issue of food sovereignty.

Green Mountain College is a thoughtful and diverse community charting its own course in an industrialized food system that typically relegates choosing to a grocery store grab-bag experience.

Bill and Lou came to the college a decade ago as our first team of oxen. They were male calves on a local dairy, facing the same fate that most male calves on dairies face these days — an early death. Farm managers and students trained Bill and Lou and have used them for a variety of farm tasks. As Bill and Lou have gotten older, we have been preparing for a transition to a new team, a decision expedited this past summer when Lou injured his leg after stepping in a woodchuck hole. However, we decided not to finalize the necessary decision during the summer, when most of our student body was absent. Rather, we waited until the students returned to help us reflect upon the fate of our livestock, as has been our tradition for more than a decade when we first began rebuilding our college farm and food system.

In 2000, my Sustainable Farming Systems class proposed rebuilding the farm that the college had abandoned 50 years prior. To my surprise, the vegetarians in the class insisted that livestock be incorporated into the farm. They wanted a working farm, not a petting zoo or an animal sanctuary.

These vegetarians wisely observed that the college had a responsibility to provide students with the opportunity to take ownership of their decisions to eat meat and to come face to face with those realities. Furthermore, they believed that contrasting livestock farming practices and the “mystery meat” streaming through the dining hall freight doors might help expose the ills and injustices of industrialized livestock farming.

Bill and Lou have names, faces, and a connection to our community, and others are now telling us how to make decisions for our community and foodshed. Isn’t this the kind of food system we’re trying to avoid — allowing for those with the biggest voice, the most money, or partial facts to make decisions for entire communities to which they have no connection?

Since that time, faculty, students, and administrators from all disciplines and dietary perspectives have gathered to make decisions about the fate of livestock on the college farm: cattle, swine, poultry and sheep. Sometimes, the dialogue has been heated, but on most occasions, the discussions have been tempered and frank, with give and take from all sides.

Such discourse is in sharp contrast with the voluminous, and misplaced, reaction that we have received from outside our community regarding the fate of Bill and Lou. Clearly, this Internet buzz being generated by outsiders is designed to be loud enough to drown out our own community’s difficult decision. That leads to the greatest contradiction: Bill and Lou have names, faces, and a connection to our community, and others are now telling us how to make decisions for our community and foodshed. Isn’t this the kind of food system we’re trying to avoid — allowing for those with the biggest voice, the most money, or partial facts to make decisions for entire communities to which they have no connection?

For anyone who cares about farm animals, caution is warranted in precluding the slaughter and consumption of livestock due to the depth and longevity of the human-animal relationship. If the extensiveness of that relationship is the rationale for not slaughtering an animal, then the logical conclusion is that relationships with any animals used for food should not be fostered. Run with that argument far enough, and you end up smack-dab in the middle of a “concentrated animal feeding operation,” otherwise known as a CAFO.

As a grass-based livestock farmer myself, with 50 head of rare breed cattle, I covet a deep relationship with my animals, and I think that the abolition of livestock farming is unlikely to happen. However, the transformation of livestock farming has to happen, and it will not happen through polarizing polemic. It might happen when communities take ownership of their food systems and responsibility for their own decisions. What better place for it to occur now than at a community-minded liberal arts college, where the pragmatism of the farmer meets the kaleidoscopic prisms of the liberal arts?

If we have any hope of transitioning away from industrialized factory farming and reinvigorating democracy in our food system, it depends more upon rich community dialogue than single-minded activism.

Comments

  1. Joslin Murphy :

    In my effort to understand the stubborn conviction of Green Mountain College and its “community” on this issue, I have done my best to read the opinions of both sides.

    I struggle with this one. It is apparent to me that the “narrow, self interests of a few” are what have, in fact, sentenced this loyal pair of oxen to a death sentence simply to make a point.

    The author’s purported concern that “others are now telling us how to make decisions for our community and foodshed” says it all.

    Empathy and compassion is a much greater lesson.

    • Patricia Erickson :

      The handling of Bill and Lou has disturbed me in ways that I can not find appropriate words for. The feelings that it conjures for me are mean,vindictive,stubborn. I do not “feel” sustainability emanating from the words in the paragraph above. I feel frustration and anger, and a sense that the humans involved believe that they have the right to proceed over the lives of animals in any way they see fit.
      I do not feel compassion, kindness, love.
      I do not feel compassion, kindness, love.
      I do not……………………………

  2. Debilyn McPhate :

    What I don’t understand is why is it so hard for you and the community to understand what made this become global.

    It was said it was part of your sustainable program. If that were true,they could have been sold like other livestock from your project and been sustainable.Proper meat could have been purchased from a farmer. Thereby helping him or her too.

    The mistake you and other made was this,you shared it was not a petting zoo. Yet so many pictures were shown of the students loving, petting, kissing and holding them as if they were puppies!Apparently no one taught these kids the difference between training and taming an animal.Of course the people of the world are going to see them as pets, animals who lift up their head to be scratched are showing trust, friendship!

    That is common sense!
    Also if your teaching sustainablity was true, you would be teaching how to grow corn, grains and grasses. Teaching how to harvest, transport and store it. Dry the meat all the while using the least energy possible. Btw not one of your students could answer me when I asked them how their college powers that be define sustainability. That is really inexcusable!

    You had to have know this would destroy your reputation! People are not going to be impressed when someone says they graduated from this college.

    I agree some on both sides were very inappropriate. That was uncalled for. All I can answer to is myself. I am so sickened by this mess for all the people who care. Also so ashamed of a college who allowed their students to be the only ones standing up to speak to this issue. Many who proved to me their education is lacking in many areas.

    The thing is this is not over. In fact it probably will never be. College reputations are so important. How could you all make so many mistakes?

    I am saddened, truly saddened for all involved.

    Sincerely,Debilyn McPhate

    • I am bemused by the term “proper meat.” I’d love to see a definition of what that is. Here is what I think it means: “An animal we don’t know personally.” In other words, one out of sight, one removed from conflicting emotions and reality that won’t confront us with the paradoxes in our thinking? Someone else’s ox, in other words.
      But sustainability is confronting and meeting your responsibility, not shuffling it to the farm down the road.

  3. jack rose :

    Bill & Lou’s fate has been sealed by a anthropocentric action and nothing else,this as quoted “is the narrow self interest of a few” To sacrifice them will do nothing it is a waste of resources these animals have a value other than food, they can educate, they can teach one of the most important values a community must have compassion.

  4. Nancy K Brigden :

    Do unto others…. earn their trust, then…the ultimate betrayal! I

    • Stuart Nickel :

      So … if you treat your farm animals well, you earn their trust and therefore you can’t kill them … but if you don’t treat your farm animals well then you are inhumane and cruel.

      Strange logic.

      • Eric Rosenbloom :

        These are work animals and deserve consideration as such.

  5. Lydia Cypher :

    I am one of those “outsiders” petitioning the college to spare the lives of these two faithful oxen who have lived their lives in communion with the land and the students these many years. The article above does nothing to persuade me that the decision to slaughter these oxen is the right thing to do. On the contrary, the most noticeable argument is simply that “outsiders” are sticking their noses in the college’s business. Yet that should hardly be a surprise under the circumstances. If it was truly necessary to kill these oxen for food, that would be a different story. However, it seems to me this is just another example of a throw-away society deciding to discard these two sentient beings simply because it is essentially time for them to retire. Why not take a stand based on compassion and gratitude for their service and simply care for them in their twilight years? Wouldn’t that demonstrate a much greater lesson than killing them because their “usefulness” has passed? I say they have earned their retirement and should live out their lives in peace. There simply is no pressing need to kill them! When they become too infirm to carry on, then they should be spared the trauma of slaughter, be humanely euthanized and buried at the farm, where they can return to the land that has been their home these past 10 years.

  6. Renée Carpenter :

    My questions to each of these responders: Have you have ever farmed? Do you eat meat? Where does it come from?

  7. Barry Kade :

    Holy cow!
    The criticism of the college’s decision does not come from “self-interest” but from a not very well thought out sense of compassion and justice.
    To be sustainable a farm must either have working stock and livestock for food and fertilizer, or it must burn fossil fuels in tractors and buy fossil fuel based fertilizer.
    The critics of Green Mountain College are advocating India style Hinduism.

    • Paula Schramm :

      I’m speaking as a Vermonter who has earned a living with working animals. Lots of Vermont farmers over the years have allowed this special relationship to temper the otherwise practical necessities of farming and food sustainability. They haven’t looked at it as India style Hinduism, I’m sure !

      There is no reason one cannot raise animals intended for slaughter kindly, and have a good relationship with them leading up to the time of slaughter. In fact this makes the whole thing a lot more harmonious & respectful.

      But it occurs to me that old oxen don’t make the best meat anyway. Couldn’t they benefit the students equally well as reminders of the unique & wonderful co-operative relationship that two species can enjoy to get a bunch of work done? They could have a well-deserved retirement, helping to train new teams and teamsters the skills of fossil-fuel-free farming ! YAY, Bill and Lou !

      • Stuart Nickel :

        “old oxen don’t make the best meat anyway.”

        They make MUCH better meat than you’ll find at the local Price Chopper.

        These oxen are a good, safe, healthy, ecologically friendly food source.

        The GMC community deserves great credit for being so thoughtful and informed about their farm practices and their food choices.

  8. Barb Latifi :

    I beg to differ with Mr. Kade. The “outsiders” are not advocating what he suggests but are attempting to facilitate a happy ending for two service animals that have done a great job and deserve retirement. We also advocate for the dogs used in Iraq and Afghanistan that have served so well. These animals do not deserve to die like this. They deserve to be honored for their service and then allowed to lead the normal lives they were meant to have.

    While many of the “outsiders” are Vegans and Vegetarians, not all are. We do consume meat and DO understand where it comes from. But, we do advocate for those animals that have given trusted love to their humans only to have that ultimately cause their death.

    Please allow the VINE Sanctuary to adopt these two oxen. Race horses are “sent out to pasture” after winning millions for their owners. Don’t Bill and Lou deserve the same thing?

    Respectfully,
    An Outsider looking in and hoping to see a school that also teaches respect for service animals

  9. patricia rodriguez :

    Bill and Lou should be at Vine Sanctuary right now living out the rest of their lives in peace. The whole world of sustainable farming wouldn’t have come crashing down because of these two school mascots being allowed to live. one of the mascots was in good shape. where was the sustainability in slaughtering that animal?

    You had a choice to let them go to a sanctuary. instead you CHOSE to slaughter them. Way to go Green Mountain. you are heartless.

    BTW how sustainable is Philip Ackermen-Leist? He should check the ‘made in’ labels on his shirts. or does he get to CHOOSE what is sustainable or not in his narrow little world. Philip Ackermen-Leist is one heartless soul. RIP BILL and LOU. I know you must have been frightened on the ride to the meat processing plant and then again when you heard and smelled the death in the meat processing plant. If it was really all about sustainability then Ackerman-Leist could have let you be slaughtered after you lived out the rest of your lives at the Sanctuary.

  10. Lee Ann Lapierre :

    I hope your soul heals one day

  11. Viki Singleton :

    I am truly saddened to learn of the deaths of Bill and Lou. The ultimate betrayal. What were you thinking? RIP Bill and Lou…

  12. Sue Gentle :

    It broke my heart to see, that while there was a movement to save these beautiful creatures, that they were Destroyed… Shame on you Green Mountain and double shame on Philip Ackerman-Leist… you have this legacy to follow you for the rest of you life…

  13. Ervin Phillips :

    I signed the petition and I am a vegan. If the human race survives, we’ll all be vegan eventually and we’ll look back in horror at the barbarity of our ancestors.
    The fact that we’re still calling other sentient beings food in the 21st century is appalling and embarrassing. If a much more advanced race than ours came here from a distant world and began to harvest us for food, could we even object to it on moral grounds without seeing the blatant hypocrisy in such a stance?

  14. kimberley richardson :

    I think that Philip Ackermen-Leist is an ego maniac who is enjoying wielding the power of life and death over two oxen. They have become sad pawns in his game.

  15. Rhonna Gable :

    The scheduled slaughter has been delayed. This is not over. No matter how self-aggrandizing and condescending Ackerman-Leist and the institution that he represents may be, they are obviously nervous about the impact that their decision will have on their reputation and pocketbook. As they should be.
    Email the board and the president, call the college. Post on social media. Ask your friends to do same. If you believe that Bill and Lou deserve a peaceful retirement, do all that you can to make it so.

  16. Nick Young :

    Learn more about the ghouls at GMC:

    http://www.facebook.com/GreenMountainCollegeGhouls

  17. Grace Gershuny :

    Wow – the forces of Food Fascism are alive and well. I’m with Philip and the GM College community 100%. Sustainability and face to face democracy are interdependent, and this process is a shining example of ethical decision making that empowers everyone to control their necessities of life in collaboration with their neighbors and the non-human lives (plants included) that sustain us. Thank you Philip for your passionate eloquence!

    Full disclosure – I am an instructor for the GM College on-line MA in Sustainable Food Systems – and more proud than ever of this affiliation.

  18. peter harvey :

    As someone who abhors the inhumanity of corporate CAFOs, I raise our own chickens, pigs, and beef for ourselves and our neighbors. I strive to give our animals a life of comfort and dignity. They are respected for their part in our lives. They do not become conveniently unrecognizable as plastic wrapped “product” purchased at a supermarket. Raising our own animals has taught me to value their contribution. I now eat much less meat and appreciate it more for having known it’s life. For me, my gratitude for their sacrifice is the good life I give them and the humane slaughter that I assure them. I hope I am treated as well at the end of my life. Life is a cycle, not a cute Kodak moment. My animals and myself are moving through that cycle of life together, each taking our turns.
    My initial thought was that I am saddened that so many people fear the reality of life so much that they refuse to hear you. But the viciousness of the attacks against you has caused me to wonder how many people have been bullied into staying quiet in fear of being attacked themselves. Thank you Green Mountain College for your thoughtful perseverance toward a real full education.

  19. Asher Miller :

    For those of you so quick to vilify a man and institution who have made this difficult decision with transparency and the engagement of the student body, but a decision of which you clearly disagree: What specifically have you done to oppose the CAFO industry? I’d love to hear details.

    And to Patricia Rodriguez and others who question how sustainable is Philip Ackerman-Leist: Do you grow your own organic food? Tell me, please, what is more sustainable than that?

  20. Karen Sterling :

    Can we please have some sort of official confirmation as to whether or not Bill and Lou are still with us or if the slaughter has already taken place?

  21. As a reporter who has written and thought about sustainability and farming and rural life, I’d like to disagree with those who call for the oxen to head off to a petting zoo.
    The comments of those advocating for Bill and Lou to be “retired” to a happy life, while based on a generally altruistic emotion, miss the larger point. (There is nothing wrong, either, with loving and petting your animals and providing them a good life that still ends with slaughter.)
    The heart of farming is to raise things for consumption – it has been ever so. But today we have a largely urban populace out of touch with nature that has anthropomorphized animals and ironically, disconnected itself from the more serious and invidious issue of how meat shows up closeted in plastic and styrofoam in the supermarket cooler or bagged into “reformed” nuggets in the grocery cooler or at fastfood emporiums.

    If we are to ever confront the ignorance about the horrors and indignities of industrial livestock raising, we need to grow an understanding of what sustainable farming is and the hard truths it embodies. An animal CAN have a good life and still go to slaughter. It happens on many Vermont farms I have visited. Small farms are run by folks who love their animals and what they do, which is raising livestock in ecological harmony with the land and feeding their neighbors. This is something to be celebrated. Producing and eating locally raised meat is the essence of sustainable agriculture that supports the land and local economies, whether it’s a chicken, goat, pig or lamb (if you don’t eat meat, well, that’s a whole ‘nother argument).

    Eating meat, of course, is a human tradition that predates biblical times, and is steeped in many ethnic and cultural traditions around the globe: The lamb or goat roasted on a spit at a wedding, the roast whole pig at harvest fall celebrations.

    Those who excoriate the college, which is trying to teach what sustainable eco-friendly farming is all about, should turn their attention to what really needs reforming and let the students and faculty there make their own REASONED & THOUGHTFUL decisions, as this was – though you might not agree with it. If this is not a proper academic pursuit, what is?

    These oxen will provide enough hamburg for a month for the school. If not from there, then where? Some feedlot-raised poor steer, stunned, dragged, hung and ground up in an industrial factory by minimum-wage illegals working in dangerous conditions, is the answer.Which would you prefer? I would contend, in light of that, it is hard to make an argument against the oxen’s slaughter.

    • Bruce Post :

      Two thoughts:

      First, I have friends who live on a small, family farm, and they use their animals for food. They tell me that this is why they never name their animals.

      Second, I have an herbalist friend who owns some forested land here in Vermont. She allows folks to hunt on it — with permission. She has said, “I believe that there is life and spirit in animals and plants, and while I don’t hunt deer, I don’t want to judge those who do. After all, I hunt carrots.”

      I recommend folks read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” It may have been published in 1906, but it is still worth a read today.

  22. Dominique Pennegues :

    I just can’t beleive those two sweet animal have been killed !!! I signed so many time for them, just couldnot beleive this manager would do such horror.
    Shame on him, shame on his school,shame on the students who find normal to stay at this school.
    Compassion is not for sure in human nature, it’s an animal habit,see those dogs and else who have save human lives so often.

    Such a sad word.

    BY THE WAY : I AM VEGAN SINCE I WAS 15 MY 3 CHILDREN ARE VEGAN, MY GRAND DAUGHTER IS VEGAN. AND WE ALL ARE AS HEALTHY AS ONE CAN BE. NO CANCER IN OUR FAMILY, NO HEART DESEASE NEITHER. NOT EVEN A COLD !
    NOW DO TELL ME IT’S NOT POSSIBLE TO LIVE WITHOUT KILLING ANIMALS AND EVEN VEGETABLES !
    IF YOU RESPECT LIFE THEN LIFE COMES BACK TO YOU EVEN STRONGER.

    • Joshua Wronski :

      Let me ask you something. Do you know where your vegan produce comes from? After the U.S. the largest producer of soy is Argentina, where you have no way of knowing how farm workers are treated and whether they are systemically oppressed. The vast majority of soy produced in the U.S. comes from large factory farms which receive massive subsidies from the Untied States government and are in no way sustainable. This can be said for most food consumed in the U.S. Unless you are purchasing your produce from local sustainable farms such as GMC, you aiding the environmental degradation of the planet and doing far more harm to wildlife then GMC ever will. I hold issues with those who claim to be supporting “compassion” through a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle while supporting an industrialized agriculture system. Unless you only purchase your food from local sustainable farms, then you have no leg to stand on in this fight. Your time would be far better spent fighting factory farms and industrial meet producers.

      and FYI, most of my friends are Vegetarian, but also understand the importance of sustainable agriculture.

  23. kimberley richardson :

    Andrew Nemethy – how can the farmers you talk about LOVE their animals yet slaughter them? That is insane.

    • Raising an animal for meat production while treating it humanely, letting it live in a natural environment, and getting to know it and appreciate it, is not insane. It is , as I noted, at the heart of farming. Two oxen “put out to pasture” at the end of their useful lives would consume huge amounts of hay or grain that a farmer cannot support. If you are a working farm, not a petting zoo, that is the bottom line truth. The animals have reached the end of the useful lives as working oxen.
      Also, I might add another aspect those detached from rural life don’t consider. When a 2,000 pound ox dies, what do you do with the carcass? Farm disposal is a major issue; it is often difficult and costs money to get rid of the body. Would it not be better to use the meat to feed people? The farm needs the income too. It is not easy being a farm these days.

      It strikes me we are a prisoner of our culture in terms of our mental attitudes about animals. The web is full of save this or that animal; would that we had as many petitions for saving people. When I served in Vietnam I discovered they eat everything without qualm: Dogs, snakes, pigeons, lizards, if it moved they ate it, including unsavory body parts. In the affluent U.S., we draw lines: Is it cute animals we don’t eat or want to kill? Why is horse a delicacy in Belgium yet the thought of eating it here horrifying? Is it wrong to view a farm animal only in terms of its “useful” life – such as killing a chicken when it stops laying eggs? What happens when you raise a pet duck and then decide it’s time to make roast duck?

      I think our views are a confusing and fascinating mix of the romantic, unrealistic, unnatural and altruistic. Farmers can indeed love Bossie and then decide her time is up. That is what farmers do. Life and death occurs at a farm all the time – and is usually far more humane, by the way, than what happens in the natural world in my rural environs, where deer (or a farmer’s sheep) are torn to death by coyotes (not to mention our beloved Fido), just for one example.

      • kimberley richardson :

        You said “When I served in Vietnam I discovered they eat everything without qualm…”. Well Andy, you may also have observed that in Vietnam soldiers on both sides of the conflict killed and tortured human beings on a huge scale! Does that make it right?
        As stated so eleoquently by John Sanbonmatsu “it is hypocritical and contradictory, not to mention pathological, for us to profess to “care” for other sentient beings while at the same time or in the very next instance to ruthlessly exploit or brutally kill them. To take such a position is not to lay claim to a “transparently clear” set of beliefs, but to make a judgment call about the value of nonhuman beings, about the scope of our duties toward them as moral subjects, and ultimately too about the purposes of human life”.

  24. kimberley richardson :

    Peter Harvey – Humane Slaughter ? These are two words that are diametrically opposed. Don’t try and assuage your guilt by pretending that cutting an animal’s throat is in any way “humane”. Did you know that there is actually a medal for Humane Action? It was given to soldiers who SAVE lives rather than taking them.

  25. Steven Moyano :

    The author does not make a distinction between animals raised for food and the two animals in question who have labored for the benefit of GMC. Does a distinction need to be made here? Does GMC owe the animals for their labor, particularly since a 3rd party is willing to take them? Retirement is not unprecedented in agriculture.

    If I understand the argument, I should have a relationship with the animal I eat or I am not dealing with the reality of food which leads down the slippery slope of CAFOs. In that case why not have the students and administrators slaughter the oxen at GMC instead of sending them to a slaughterhouse? It seems that outsourcing the dirty work to a slaughterhouse is a step away from the reality of your food. If the lesson to be taught is so important that an offer of retirement is turned down, then embrace that lesson completely and kill them yourself.

    This cultish dogmatism, in addition to the lack of necessity is what has people up in arms. It is ritual killing and pedantry. You set up a straw man (most people do not realize that red stuff in plastic came from an animal) to knock it down with sustainable farming. Please, of course people know that meat comes from animals.

    You want to raise meat for slaughter with less cruelty and pollution. Excellent. But that is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    You have the opportunity to save two lives. Unlike an animal raised for meat, you have received years of labor from them which might require ethical consideration. Perhaps you have a tab to pay.

    Best to let the students speak for themselves. That will take the shine off sustainability at GMC. They serve us! They serve me! This is agriculture! Work em till you can’t work em any more. Me Me Me. I never thought I would have anything good to say about CAFOs but I may have to reconsider.

    http://www.causes.com/causes/644857-let-s-turn-facebook-orange-for-animal-cruelty-awareness/actions/1696966

    • Joshua Wronski :

      Vermont state law requires that animals can only be slaughter in permitted slaughter houses. It is a major issue for many small farmers, and am sure it is one of the main reasons they are using an off site slaughter house.

  26. Steven Moyano :

    Please note the line “others are now telling us how to make decisions for our community and foodshed. Isn’t this the kind of food system we’re trying to avoid — allowing for those with the biggest voice, the most money, or partial facts to make decisions for entire communities to which they have no connection?”

    Here is the pivot from sustainability to control and property. We seem to be dealing with a grossly trivialized form of food sovereignty that, instead of dealing with monopoly, glut, low wages and displacing local production, is instead yet another variation of you can’t tell me what to do.

    I notice a recurring assertion of we discussed it and put it to a vote, as if that is the end of the discussion. Majorities and justice are not identical of course, but we may be dealing with a more pernicious assumption of local control. They belong to us, they serve us and we decide what to do with our resources. More decadent libertarianism. The problem is that ethics cannot be determined with a vote. The program’s ethics seem limited to carbon and eating good stuff but do not include obligation to another (irrespective of species), fair compensation and even kindness to those who labor for us, self-abnegation, paying your debts, compassion and generosity. Ethics without values and defined locally to boot.

  27. kimberley richardson :

    Excelelent responses Steven Moyano. Thank you.

  28. Julie Ciapas :

    Thanks Steven Moyano for providing the most intelligent rebuttal to Ackerman-Leist’s drivel.

  29. jack rose :

    PLEASE CALL THE COLLEGE CALL THE MEDIA !!PROTEST!! ITS YOUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO PURSUE JUSTICE FOR THESE ANIMALS THEY MAY BE JUST “OXEN” TO THE COLLEGE BUT THEY REPRESENT THE STIFLING OF THE MAJORITY & THE TRUTH USE YOUR VOICE USE YOUR LOCAL MP WALK! YELL ! DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO< THE REST OF THE WORLD IS WATCHING

  30. Holly Tippett :

    Wow, what a wonderful opinion piece. You strike at the heart of the issues. Having been a vegetarian for 38 years and an advocate for humane certification, I wholeheartedly support your work. It is true that only when people can face the animal they’re going to eat that they can make an informed decision. Thank you for all you’re doing. It’s hard work but the best things usually are.

  31. Steven Moyano :

    Thank you for the clarification of Vermont law. In that case every effort should be made to allow GMC supporters to witness the slaughter from transport to packaging and allow interested parties to record it. This would make the reality of food available to all, pro or con.

    Consistency, while important, is secondary to the lack of necessity. That is what is fueling anger and disbelief. Once the rhetoric of sustainability is stripped away we are left with mundane arguments like not eating Bill and Lou would force GMC to get meat from a CAFO. But why is GMC’s meat dilemma Bill and Lou’s problem? Because they are seen as property and resources subjected to maximum utilization. The ethics practiced at GMC do not recognize any obligation to offer them retirement (even on someone else’s dime) because caring for them as long as they are able to work is seen as sufficient. People are angry because GMC ethics are limited to carbon and food.

    An alternative approach is to work with state legislatures to regulate factory farms (such as the actions in California) and to work with retailers to demand higher standards from their suppliers. Incremental change over a vast supply chain can have meaningful effect. Much more so than the eco Kabuki taking place at GMC.

    • Stuart Nickel :

      “But why is GMC’s meat dilemma Bill and Lou’s problem?”

      Because they are farm animals.

      “they are seen as property and resources subjected to maximum utilization”

      Correct! Welcome to the agrarian state of Vermont!!

      “An alternative approach is to work with state legislatures to regulate factory farms.”

      It sounds like you aren’t against ‘factory farms’ you are against killing any animal for food regardless of how it was raised.

    • Joshua Wronski :

      Food activists and many folks at GMC are doing all of those things, and have been for decades. You may not be aware that there is a great deal of action on the part of activist groups in Vermont working on legislation to require the labeling of GMOs. The bill failed this past legislative session due to the threat of a successful lawsuit from Monsanto. Strategically speaking it makes far more sense for a state like California to take the lead on constitutionally questionable legislation due to their ability to muster far greater legal resources then the small state of Vermont (population 626,000). This is just one of many pieces of legislation being worked on. In regrades to working with retailers, the point is a bit off base, as Vermont has the largest number of CSO’s in the country with one of the smallest populations. Additionally, we have very successful organizations such as the Vermont Farm to School program, the Interval Food Hub, The Vermont Fresh Network, and many others. Quite frankly, Vermont is leading the nation on issues of local sustainable agriculture. According to the Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index, Vermont ranks number 1 in the country for locally produced food as of 2012. California ranks all the way down at 41.

      Simply put, America and Vermont eats meat. GMC could not be a viable university if they only offered vegetarian food. Given this paradigm, I would much rather know that the meet I am eating is free range, grass fed, and being produced in a sustainable manner, while feeding local consumers. This is the mission towards which GMC is working towards. You say that GMC should spend their time working on legislation. Wouldn’t the folks protesting GMC’s decision better spend their time working to fight the industrialized food system by all the means you mentioned, rather then targeting an institution like GMC trying to create a better alternative to industrialized farming? Quite honestly I see the efforts against GMC as a misguided attempt to vilify meat producers at larger, a message which will never resonate in this agricultural state.

  32. This letter from John Sanbonmatsu is thought provoking and worth sharing.

    Bill and Lou are scheduled to die today, and it is unlikely that anything will prevent their being killed. Despite the pleas of thousands of concerned citizens and animal rights activists, and notwithstanding a gracious offer from an animal sanctuary in Vermont to take the animals so that they might live out the remainder of their lives in ease and dignity, the community of Green Mountain College has turned a deaf ear to any talk of sparing the two gentle oxen, who have been found guilty of the one unpardonable sin for draft animals on a working farm–to have outlived their usefulness as exploitable labor. And for that they must die.There are any number of nauseating aspects to this controversy: the hypocrisy of those who would claim to “care” about animals, yet who think nothing of killing them; the bunker mentality of the campus community, which believes that moral and political decisions are proprietary to their tiny hamlet, while the rest of the world has no standing to speak on universal matters of justice; the sadism of the GMC students, some of whom have been quoted in the press as eager to sample Bill and Lou’s “delicious” flesh. Yet, and here I speak personally as someone who teaches ethics, what I find most depressing about the whole spectacle is the sheer tawdriness of the arguments advanced by GMC’s administrators and faculty in defense of the planned killings. It is nothing new that those who would defend an unjust act should go about it in an intellectually disingenuous and cheap way. But it is always upsetting to see, especially when some of those who would defend an injustice are themselves professional philosophers, as is the case here.William Throop, the college Provost, for example, who has a background in environmental ethics, has made such logically fallacious arguments to the press that they would make even an undergraduate philosophy major cringe. “Our choice,” he solemnly told the New York Times this week, “is either to eat the animals that we know have been cared for and lived good lives or serve the bodies of nameless animals we do not know.” This false dilemma–either we eat Bill and Lou, or we eat some wretched animal who was raised in intensive confinement on a factory farm–is but one symptom among many of the bad faith that has infected the GMC campus. Throop of course ignores the existence of a third choice, which is simply not to eat the bodies of animals at all. He does not bother to explain why killing Bill and Lou constitutes an important moral good. It is enough for him that they have previously been categorized as objects for free manipulation and use. “Bill and Lou are not pets,” he told the Times reporter, but “part of an intimate biotic community” based on “relationships of care and respect.” It is this self-same “intimate community” of “care and respect” that will shoot Bill and Lou in the head and cut their throats. But if Throop senses the doublespeak required in making such public utterances, he has so far not let on.Perhaps the most detailed defense so far of the GMC decision by an academic is that by Steven Fesmire, a philosophy professor at the college, who this week dashed off a testy reply to James McWilliams’ eloquent blog entries in defense of the two oxen. For this reason it will be Fesmire’s missive I’ll focus on here.The first thing to note is the tone of Fesmire’s letter, which is one of strident indignation. Fesmire’s tone in fact coincides with the general feeling of the college’s faculty, staff, and students at Green Mountain College that they are being unfairly singled out for criticism in a world that treats nonhuman animals with indifference and cruelty. The gist of the campus response has been, in fine, “How dare you outsiders judge Green Mountain College, or second-guess its communal decisions?” What is odd, or simply curious, about the GNC community’s palpable irritation is that college wears its environmentalist ethic openly on its sleeve, proudly and publically touting its working farm as a “caring” place for “its” animals. Indeed, the college invests good money in promoting this ethical image nationally, to attract students as well as external grants. Why then should the GMC community be so irritated, or surprised, that the world has at last come around to take a look, to take the college at its “ethical” word? Yet here is Fesmire, sneering in his letter to McWilliams at the “righteousness” of animal rights activists, even while mounting his own self-righteous defense of Green Mountain’s civilizing mission.Fesmire’s strategy is simply to dodge the ethical issues at the core of the controversy. He does not bother to explain why it is morally acceptable to kill these two animals. Instead, he settles for defending the process by which his community arrived at its decision. He argues, first, that because the decision to kill the animals was arrived at democratically, the decision must be just. Second, he suggests that because that decision (or the deliberative process–it isn’t clear which) was just, no one outside the community has the right to question or to criticize it. Third, he implies that morality is relative to local cultural practice. The rest of the letter is mostly ad hominem.Let us consider Fesmire’s first claim, that the decision of the GMC community is just because everyone had a say in it. No serious ethicist would buy such nonsense. The fact that the GMC community voted to kill the oxen tells us nothing whatsoever about whether that community’s decision was a just or fair one. As a professor of philosophy, Fesmire will have no difficulty, I hope, recalling the trial of Socrates, who was unjustly sentenced to death on the basis of a scrupulously democratic process by his fellow Athenians. In that instance, Socrates of course chose to abide by the court’s judgment, in order not to subvert Athenian institutions of law. Yet neither he nor his followers made the mistake at the time of believing that the verdict was just, solely because a majority of free Athenian men voted to kill him. (Few commentators in the 2,500 year interval since have found the verdict just, either.) So we must first of all separate out the question of rational or transparent procedural democracy from the question of justice: while the two may overlap, they are not the same thing. Democratic process is surely an admirable value, but it is not the only value, nor even the most important value. What could be more valuable than democracy? Truth, for one thing. Justice, for another. Perhaps saving the life of an innocent, for another.Fesmire might reply that, whether or not the GMC decision was just “as such,” the oxen should nonetheless heed Socrates’s example and go meekly to their deaths, out of bovine respect for due process of law (or at least college proceduralism). By the same token, Bill and Lou’s thousands of sympathetic advocates ought to shut up, too, for daring to question the community’s “verdict.” If this analogy to the trial of Socrates seems far-fetched, consider Fesmire’s contention that among the “voices” included in GMC’s “inclusive deliberation” were those of the victims themselves. Just as Socrates, a prominent member of Athens, was allowed to speak his mind at his trial before being sentenced to death, Bill and Lou, we are told, were allowed to be “heard.” As Fesmire writes: “We strive to be a community that listens to, responds to, and thoughtfully incorporates different voices. Yes, Bill and Lou’s voices too….” Here, though, the analogy begins to fail, since Socrates was a full citizen of Athens, whereas the GMC oxen have the status of dependent slaves, mere property. Nonetheless, in both cases we have what is essentially a communal show trial ending in the forgone conclusion of a death sentence. Whereas the Athenians believed Socrates had to be killed for raising too many uncomfortable questions about the hypocrisies of Athenian society, however, the GMC-ers seem to believe that Bill and Lou should be killed so as not to further blur the boundaries between companion animals and workable commodities. Those boundaries must be maintained at all costs. For to allow the oxen to live would be to compromise the college’s mission as a place where unjust killing of defenseless beings is the norm, not the exception. The college will not show any mercy or compassion for these animals because it cannot. To do so would be to carve out a dangerous exception, one that would implicitly call into question the moral justification for GNC’s whole animal operation.When I first glanced through Fesmire’s letter and saw his language of “voices” in reference to Bill and Lou, I thought he was at least granting them a degree of subjectivity of will and interest. But I was mistaken. Fesmire is merely speaking figuratively. He does not mean the community literally tried to listen to what Bill and Lou had to say. He did not mean, for example, that members of the community tried to attend phenomenologically to Bill and Lou’s embodied practices and states of being as eating, cuddling with one another, responding to the affection of their keepers, expressing curiosity, and so on, to glean a sense of their relative affirmation of life. (Perhaps, had the oxen been present at their own hearing, their living, breathing bodies would have constituted eloquent enough proof of their desire not to die.) What, then, does Fesmire mean when he says that the GMC community tried to listen and to respond to Bill and Lou’s voices too? We explains: we should listen to their voices “so long as we acknowledge that their interests are not obviously best represented in this instance by those distant from the thicket of actual, on-the-ground considerations.”What Fesmire means is that anyone who lies outside the insular, self-confirming community of GMC is by definition too “distant” from the “actual, on-the-ground considerations” to have the right to an opinion about the animals’ fate. It is true that hundreds of Vermonters, including some local residents in the small town of Poultney, where the college is based, have expressed their desire to see the oxen spared the indignity of being bled to death to make hamburger meat for the school cafeteria. But such facts are seen as irrelevant by Fesmire, Throop, and others. By “distant,” let us be clear, Fesmire refers to an impassable moral, rather than geographical, distance. But if even local animal advocates are too “distant” to qualify to know what is in the best interests of Lou and Bill, who then is “close enough”? If the animals’ voices are not to be heard literally, who will “translate” their speech for us? Who will tell us whether they want to live, or whether they would prefer to die?We come now to the sick essence of the thing. According to Fesmire, the human beings best situated to speak for Bill and Lou are the very same overseers who have exploited Bill and Lou all these years, who have goaded them and coerced their labor. Yes, it is “the teamsters who have worked with Bill and Lou for a decade” who “are obviously the best-positioned proxies to speak for the oxen’s interests.” By the same Orwellian logic, the best advocate and “proxy” for the interests of illegally held prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is the US military: the human rights lawyers with Center for Constitutional Rights are by contrast too “distant” from the on-the-ground “actualities” of Guantánamo to defend the interests of the souls incarcerated there. All morality, in other words, is local.Now, as an ethicist himself, Fesmire surely knows how perilously close he is to making an argument from moral relativism here. The relativist of course believes that whatever a group of people happens to believe is morally right is morally right. And Fesmire does seem to be staking out relativistic ground when he chides GMC’s critics for lacking “fine-tuned awareness, rich responsibility, and cross-cultural understanding.” (One wonders what “awareness,” exactly, the abolitionists are lacking in. In what sense have the abolitionists not “understood” GMC’s position? Do they mistake the facts of the matter?) He also writes, “our Farm offers a culturally realistic, workable option….” That is both true and beside the point, at least from a normative ethical standpoint, unless Fesmire really is a relativist. For while a farm that kills animals for commercial sale and for human consumption is indeed engaged in “culturally realistic” practices, all that means is that it is enacting normative behaviors that are sanctioned by the dominant majority. Fesmire seems to be implying that what makes such practices on the farm morally legitimate is the fact that they coincide with the prejudices of the existing culture.But history has no shortage of cautionary lessons about mistaking the common sense views of a dominant majority for certain moral truth. Consider the logic used to “rebut” the abolitionists of an earlier era–those “intemperate” activists who condemned human slavery as an abomination that should be eliminated. Apologists for slavery made virtually the same arguments as the ones issuing today from the GMC community: the slaves are “pampered” and well-treated; the slave drivers and owners have the slaves best interests at heart, and are in the best position to serve as their “proxies,” since the slaves themselves are too incompetent to state their own preferences; the “workable” and “culturally realistic” solution to the slave controversy is not “inflammatory” denunications of slavery as such, but the reform of slavery as an institution, in line with well-recognized “humane” guidelines; outsiders (Northerners) are too “distant” from the facts on the ground, and ought to shut up about it. Fesmire’s apologia for the GMC decision is little different in form from these earlier attempts to redeem slavery. The existing norms must be just and appropriate, because those who participate in the system or profit from it believe it to be so.Sensing perhaps the weakness of his own reasoning, Fesmire goes beyond dismissing animal rights critics as outsiders who have no standing to speak out to attack them ad hominem. Borrowing a page from Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and countless other apologists for the meat industry and for the killing of animals for commercial and aesthetic reasons, Fesmire attacks thoughtful critics like James McWilliams, Karen Davis, and dozens of others who have disagreed with the GMC decision by implying that they are uninformed, naive dolts. It is by now a tedious staple of this “literature” that anyone who advocates for the interests of nonhuman beings must be either a simpleton who fails to grasp the “complexities” of the situation or else a close-minded ideologue (or, sometimes, and paradoxically, both). Fesmire implies as much when he writes that “the abolitionists suppose, wrongly, that there’s a single right way (theirs) to reason about this vexing ethical matter.” Is he saying that the abolitionist side is wrong simply for believing that they are right? If so, since when is it objectionable for someone who takes side in a political or ethical debate to identify themselves with a clear position, or to defend that position passionately? Is Fesmire suggesting that it is wrong to have strong opinions about moral controversies? Or that moral problems always, or often, admit of multiple, equally valid conclusions? If the latter, then we are back in the mire of relativism.In fact, none of GMC’s critics have claimed “that there’s a single right way (theirs) to reason about” the issue, only that the conclusion Green Mountain has reached through its reasoning is erroneous. Nor have critics of the GMC plan to kill Bill and Lou denied that the pro-killing position is, in Fesmire’s words, “a plausible expression of an ethical worldview.” They have only said that it is wrong. The larger point is this: it simply doesn’t matter that, as Fesmire writes, “On complex ethical matters, thoughtful and well-informed people may reasonably disagree.” Disagreement is the basis of moral and political life, an ineradicable feature of the human condition. So while I agree that, as he puts it, “Democracy requires a keen ear to other voices,” democracy does not require me to accept as true, or just, whatever it is those other voices happen to be saying. “Thoughtful and well-informed people” also disagreed over slavery, the rights of women, Jim Crow, the Vietnam War, and the invasion of Iraq, to name just a few issues. That did not keep anti-war activists from oppoing wars or civil rights protesters from getting arrested to defend the interests of the vulnerable against other “thoughtful and well-informed people” who nonetheless proved to be on the wrong side of history.Ending his epistle on a final note of outrage and indignation, Fesmire writes: “Perhaps you think meat is murder, or at least that it’s transparently clear to anyone with any moral sensibility that you cannot simultaneously care and slaughter. It’s the pristine clarity that’s worrisome in a warring, polarized world with such an array of competing certainties. Perhaps try to live in another country, ideally in circumstances that will repeatedly place you in the position of an honored guest at the banquet table. Meet a wider range of farmers.” So much for liberal tolerance. Fesmire first tramples another straw man–the notion that GMC’s critics believe it to be “transparently clear to anyone with any moral sensibility that you cannot simultaneously care and slaughter” other sensitive beings. Obviously, though, if advocates for nonhuman beings believed such a thing, then their work would already be done. In reality, their task–our task–is rather to educate our fellow human beings that, yes, it is hypocritical and contradictory, not to mention pathological, for us to profess to “care” for other sentient beings while at the same time or in the very next instance to ruthlessly exploit or brutally kill them. To take such a position is not to lay claim to a “transparently clear” set of beliefs, but to make a judgment call about the value of nonhuman beings, about the scope of our duties toward them as moral subjects, and ultimately too about the purposes of human life. Fesmire is of course under no obligation to be swayed by the abolitionist critique. But it seems to me that he and others at GNC should have the decency to acknowledge it as an intellectually serious position, one that is well-grounded in several philosophical and theoretical literatures. Moreover, it is unmannerly of him, not to mention out of keeping with his liberal outlook, to tell vegans to go “live in another country” so that they can better appreciate “cultural diversity.”With a final angry thrust, Fesmire would have done with GMC’s critics by accusing them of (of all things) moral lucidity. What Fesmire ultimately seems to find threatening is not veganism or abolitionism at all, but the very possibility that someone–anyone–might have a strong feeling about a social or ethical issue. If “pristine clarity” of moral perspective is indeed the reason why we live in a “warring, polarized world,” as Fesmire suggests, and not, say, poverty and injustice, the ecological disaster, capitalism, male violence against women, racism, or–yes–speciesism, then presumably the cure is to exchange our moral “clarity” for the brand of muddy thinking and moral relativism being bottled at Green Mountain College. But I for one find moral clarity to be a bracing tonic. For one thing, it is a useful remedy for the sort of mealy-mouthed and equivocal moral declarations that have been coming over the PR transom at GMC these past few weeks.In the final analysis, the attempt by Fesmire and others to swaddle the GMC’s community’s moral blunder in the garb of Yankee independence and grassroots democracy will only convince those already trapped in the fold. Only they will see GMC as a courageous bastion of liberality, diversity, and democracy under siege from without by illiberal, close-minded, democracy-hating barbarians. The rest of the world will on the contrary will see a close-knit, and close-minded, community that has become so attached to its own ideological shibboleths that it would fain kill two of its “beloved” members to prove a point.Far from being a “vexing” moral problem of great “complexity,” as Fesmire and others suggest, the case of Bill and Lou is in fact remarkably uncomplicated. There is simply no morally compelling reason, none, why they should be put to death, particularly when there is an offer on the table from a sanctuary to care for them. What is so “vexing” for Green Mountain College community is only the fact that the college has become embroiled in a public controversy over the animals’ fate. That is the real source of the campus’s generalized indignation. And while indignation in the face of an ethical challenge to one’s actions is not always the sign of a bad conscience, it often is. So it is in this case. Year after year, Bill and Lou, lovely, gentle, intelligent, feeling beings, were coerced by their human overseers to labor for the college. They plowed its rain-laden fields and pulled its heavy machinery, in inclement weather and in virtually all seasons. The college has now decided to “repay” this debt by cutting their throats and dismembering their bodies, so that in this way they might be exploited one last time, in death too. And it is finally this grotesque and unfeeling utilitarian logic, I suspect, that accounts for the cheapness of the “rationales” being offered by Throop, Fesmire, and others at GMC. Because deep down, even they must know that they are participating in injustice, by lending intellectual legitimacy to what can only be described as a vicious act of communal violence and betrayal.

    http://james-mcwilliams.com/?tag=bill-and-lou

    • Stuart Nickel :

      Sounds like your “beef” isn’t with GMC as much as it is with anyone who eats meat, drinks milk or wears leather.

  33. Joslin Murphy :

    Senator William H. Carris – [email protected]
    Senator Peg Flory – [email protected]
    Senator Kevin Mullen – [email protected]
    Rep. Andy Donaghy – [email protected]

    Dear Senators Carris, Flory and Mullen and Represtentative Donagy:

    I write to you as representatives of the Poultney district, to request that you use your influence as legislators to prevent the senseless killing of Bill and Lou, the oxen that have been “retired” from their work at Green Mountain College. Although the College has made its position clear, there is so much more than the lives of these gentle creatures at stake. The ill will that people throughout the world will feel toward the College, and Vermont, will remain in place long past the day Bill and Lou are slaughtered. The world is watching, and remains hopeful that compassion for these bovine souls and the people who care about them will prevail over the stubborn conviction of a College that insists on standing by its purported “mission.”

    Respectfully, Joslin Murphy

    • Stuart Nickel :

      Joslin: Serious question: Why not ask these legislators to promote legislation which would ban the killing of any animal, for any reason, in the state of Vermont?

      Why do you focus your efforts to these two animals?

      • The efforts are not mutually exclusive Stuart and the abolitionist stance can be pursued as well as trying to shave a percent or two off Walmart’s supply chain (which does not address cruelty and over consumption but does yield serious tonnage in pollution reduction).

        What is significant about the GMC case is its very smallness. The demonstrated impact is zero and nothing but ideological purity is at stake.

        • Stuart Nickel :

          The efforts don’t NEED to be mutually exclusive — and yet you pursue one effort and not the other. Where are the sanctimonious cries for a total ban of meat?

          You don’t protest the serving of meat at any other college in Vermont. You don’t push lawmakers to shutter slaughterhouses. And yet you focus so much wrath on this one institution that is actually raising healthy meat in a sustainable way.

          Leave GMC alone. The own these animals and they have the right to slaughter them & eat them.

          • Laura Slitt :

            Yes WE DO! There is far more at work here than meets the eye. This just happened to come to light when our environment suffers like never before in human history, from our arrogant entitlement that every life on earth, be it birds, fish,
            bees, belong to, are the property of, humans. Ask your Chaplain, she’ll tell you. Dominion over earth is interpreted as human lords, everything else subjects. That is what students at GMC are taught. The boys are OURS, here to SERVE US, right up until they serve our addiction to flesh.

            SO entitled. Who gave us jurisdiction over other beings anyway? Can you tell me who gave humanity the position to take any life for our own purpose?

            We ARE protesting whenever and wherever possible, and will continue to support the most sustainable, most healthy, least harmful(FOR ALL, not only humans, one specie of mammal amidst many others)food systems that EVERY species depends upon, not only humans.

  34. Steven Moyano :

    This proposed compromise is really cheesy (sorry Vegans) but I thought it would not hurt to lighten up. It was sent to GMC:

    Dear Provost Throop and Professor Mulder,

    When time permits, I would like your input on the following idea.

    Both sides are united against CAFOs. Could we design a common pledge along the following lines?

    United as we are in opposition to industrial farms and as we all appreciate Lou and Bill’s hard work over the years, we will come together in an extended Honoring Lou and Bill Retirement Festival. All sides agree that the Honoring the Lou and Bill retirement festival in no way shape or form renders a judgement on the question of sustainable meat, the GMC program or any other party involved in the debate. If fact, we are declaring a moratorium on debate for the duration of the festival.

    All parties will donate to Lou and Bill’s retirement. Meat eaters (within and outside the GMC community) will donate meat eating for the number of months that Bill and Lou would have stocked the cafeteria. Their retirement will not necessitate CAFO purchases. Vegetarians and vegans will also donate something of great importance during the festival. Folks outside the GMC community will use the online petition software to sign the pledge and specify their retirement donation to Bill and Lou. People outside the GMC community will vow not to cheat on whatever they hold dear.

    All parties will dedicate themselves to the virtues of generosity, consideration, kindness to the old and infirm, gratitude for work rendered, affection, friendship and humility. Parties outside the GMC community will also chip in to cover any expenses relating to Lou and Bill not covered by VINE as helping to sustain the farm is the least we can do.

    Humans will drop the sword, Bill and Lou can enjoy the simple joys of existence and when old age and infirmity erode their quality of life (as it will for all of us) hopefully people who care for them will be there to say good by.

  35. Laura Slitt :

    It is nothing of single mindedness to challenge the ancient thought processes, behaviors, and dominionist behavior, religiously sanctioned, that paved the path to human exploitation of nature for our own self centered gratification and economics.

    It is not single mindedness to ponder our speciesist attitudes towards animals, learned when humans “domesticated” wild creatures and manipulated their bodies and DNA into what we commonly refer to as “farmed animals.”

    Read The World Peace Diet, by Will Tuttle or Eternal Treblinka, Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, by Charles Patterson for the history of human barbarity towards other humans, ALL learned from our first learning to use force and brutality to animals, before the behaviors became entrenched in human society,

    Single minded behavior is talking about “health care” only as it benefits drug companies, research, medical institutions all raking it in from donations from every disorder our environmental poisons and food system have created.

    Humans are adept at crisis management, and very poor, unlike our animal captives before we domesticated them( a neat word for made into slaves)at living in harmony with the natural world we elect to consider ownership over.

    Bill and Lou have nothing to do with a broken food system. They are tragic victims of the very mind set that enslaved them, and enslaves us under the weight of a system that yokes its victims to it, chews them up, and turns them(US)into commodities, valued for what we give back through taxes, blood, more work hours than is humane, until we are too old to carry the load, and become helpless to that system.

    The food system was hijacked by the American Dream of wanting everything fast, cheap, available, with no regard for the life, interconnected life, that this earth depends upon for survival. The food system is broken because of the same exact mentality that Lou and Bill are threatened by, they belong to us, therefore, we can do with them what we will.

  36. Joslin Murphy :

    Frankly, Professor, it appears that the College made its decision and simply waited until early October to “offer students a forum to discuss the ethics of slaughtering draft animals.” Isn’t that more accurate?

  37. I understand the concept of sustainable farming. I grew up on a self sustaining farm in Michigan and homesteaded organically in Oregon in the 70’s. I now live on a small farmette where I grow fruit and garden and farm eggs. I am a vegetarian but understand those who eat meat as long as the meat is raised and dispatched humanely. And here is the problem. Had Bill and Lou been “raised” for food then the point would be moot. I would be in absolute agreement with you and the college. The return for being raised humanely, well fed and allowed to “enjoy” your life unfettered is that you must give it back to feed meat eaters.

    But Bill and Lou were NOT raised for meat. They did not live the lazy, unfettered life of meat steers. They were worked and they were worked hard. I notice that Lou’s leg was “re-injured” stating it was not the first time he had been hurt while toiling for his human overlords. And what is the reward for a lifetime of service to man? Just like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm it is death in a strange slaughter house. How is that a lesson in anything other than human arrogance and disregard for all other earthlings with whom we share our planet? When a sheepdog who has spent 10 years working hard for his shepherd to care for his sheep gets too old to work is he eaten? When the cat who has kept vermin out of the granaries, barns and hen houses for two decades gets too old to be efficient is she eaten? These are not “pets” they are farm hands just like Bill and Lou.

    This is becoming so typical of people who only pretend to want sustainability and balance in the world. And it is irresponsible for someone who is charged with the task of shaping the attitudes and hearts of the young people who will inherit the earth. All you can think about is your bottom line and how much money you will save by serving these two old friends in as hamburgers in the cafeteria instead of allowing them to go into retirement on someone else’s dime. How are you any different than Con-Agri or any other agricultural conglomerate in this?

    Farm animals suffer horrifically because of this disconnection. Most dogs in puppy mills have it better than many intelligent animals raised for meat in situations that make Nazi Concentration Camps look like Spas and all using the same argument you are disdaining; ”others are now telling us how to make decisions for our community and foodshed”.

    If you kill and eat your faithful workers of over a decade, instead of allowing them a peaceful retirement how does that send any message other than your own stubborn arrogance?

  38. Eric Rosenbloom :

    There seems to be a conflict of interest in Ackerman-Leist’s facilitation of the “discussion” about GMC’s food sourcing, since he himself would probably benefit handsomely in providing the college with local grass-fed beef. Just one more sign of the utter lack of academic rigor there, as evidenced already by every member of the faculty and administration who has written or spoken about this issue.

    Since when does a college present such a unified front? It’s one thing to accept the decision, but it’s quite another to then support it if you didn’t before (as has been expressed by many of the faculty and students). It doesn’t suggest academia, but rather Lord of the Flies.

  39. Elaine Sloan :

    It’s time that GMC, which I attended yrs ago, come to terms with the fact that a plant based diet is the way to save lives – human and animal – and to save the planet!!! GIVE UP farming animals. ALL animals have the right to live a full and peaceful life on this earth. Do the RIGHT THING and GO VEGAN.

  40. Shelby Anewwe :

    VINE Sanctuary Members are in the game for one reason only. VINE stands for “Veganism Is the Next Evolution.”
    VINE members believe that anyone who eats meat is a sinner and a liar. They seem to especially target small scale farms, perhaps because the small farmer is not subsidized by big companies and corporations.

    VINE is not from Vermont. Nor do they pay Vermont taxes. On top of all this, they want to cease all animal farming, including the production of milk and eggs.

    Vermont is filled with farmers. Surrounded by farms. Steeped in agricultural history. Vermont has the highest rate for colleges per capita and Vermonters LOVE TO VOTE.

    QUOTE FROM MIRIAM JONES: “Factory “farmers” tend to be more honest about their motivations for doing the things they do than happy meat “farmers,” even though they all do the same thing: use and murder animals.”

    QUOTE IN REFERENCE TO SMALL SCALE FARMERS (by Miriam Jones): “They want a paycheck – they want to grill something out in their backyards and it ain’t tofu – and they don’t give a shit about the environment or global climate change or sustainability.”

    If you live in Vermont, if you are a farmer or if you know/knew someone who was a farmer, please take care and take note.

    These people will say anything to put you, your family, your friends, or your local farms out of business.

  41. Eric Rosenbloom :

    I add this late comment only to correct Shelby Anne We’s claim that VINE is not from Vermont. VINE Sanctuary is in fact in Springfield, Vermont. So are many of the people — vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike — appalled by GMC’s heartless plan to kill their beloved oxen.

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