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Killing Bill and Lou
October 23, 2012 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Two oxen are slated for slaughter at Green Mountain College (VT). The Oxen, named Bill and Lou, have worked for 11 years on the rural campus. Now Lou is injured and, consistent with college policy, both are scheduled for slaughter to provide hamburger for the student dining hall. This has provoked much discussion, including editorials and opinions from many sources. Many of the students, even vegetarians, support the decision.
posted by Michael_H (69 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, this is in line with the retirement options for many people, so there's that.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:31 PM on October 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


If you're not a vegetarian I don't really see what possibly ethical principle you think you're appealing to in suggesting that they not be slaughtered. If you are a vegetarian then I don't see why this case is more compelling than any other. I guess it's just case number eleventy billion in the "people are weird" files.
posted by yoink at 12:35 PM on October 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


The outrage here is that it will all be hamburger. No brisket? No fajitas? No filets? Philistines.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:39 PM on October 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


If there's an apocalypse, I plan on eating my dog and she plans on eating me. Fair is fair.
posted by SnuffyMcDuffy at 12:39 PM on October 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think the kids have it right.


For me it is not so much the product, but the source and the quantity. I will absolutely not touch beef or pork from large restaurants or supermarkets. I may consume some from smaller restaurants if local sourced, and I have little qualms about moderate consumption from farmers or hunters I know. For me it is not so much the product, but that we seem to be conditioned that every meal has to include some meat rather then eating less of it. Meat in-itself is not the problem, it's mindlessness and over-consumption which leads to bad practice.
posted by edgeways at 12:39 PM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm no animal husbandrist (?) but what I don't understand is why Bill has to be retired/terminated. Are oxen incapable of learning how to work with a different ox?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:40 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"These two individuals have become veritable mascots for the school"

And there's the crux of it, the conflation of "livestock" and "individual." One can act as a steward of livestock, and oversee the birth, life, and death of an animal. Or you can name it Wilbur, and have an sentimental attachment. Or something along the spectrum. But once it's named, it becomes a heck of a lot tougher to eat. It seems to me that the college's policy has been clear from the outset, and that sentiment, as well as the individualization of these animals, has clouded the issue.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:41 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


So this policy, it was written by the pigs right?
posted by localroger at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


The outrage here is that it will all be hamburger. No brisket? No fajitas? No filets? Philistines.

These are 11 year old working animals. I suspect most of their meat would be quite tough unless made into ground beef. Some finer cuts (e.g. tenderloin) might still be okay, but how do you choose which students get them? Easier and fairer to grind it all, I think.
posted by jedicus at 12:43 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting article. If Green Mountain was to donate the oxen to the animal sanctuary, would the students be fed less meat? If so, I could see an argument for the donation. If the food were to come from somewhere else anyway, that would defeat the (stated) purpose of the college having the farm, to teach sustainability — so I can see why they would say no to VINE, in that educational context.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:45 PM on October 23, 2012


The Green Mountain College statement says: "Farm staff searched for a replacement animal to pair with Bill, but single oxen are difficult to find and it is uncertain that Bill would accept a new teammate," so it looks like they weren't able to find an animal to pair him with.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:46 PM on October 23, 2012


Don't name things you plan to eat. If the schools goal is to have an actual dynamic working farm than this is an appropriate step in proper farm management. You don't keep feeding and caring for an animal on your farm that gives no return. Albeit in this case people could make the argument for 'mascot' or 'publicity' but on an actual running farm those would be conditions you'd almost never run across.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:47 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is an impressive educational decision. It really does raise questions about diet and the meat industry in a poignant way. I agree that my first reaction to this is "ugh", but I'm vegetarian. I wonder what it says for people who are not vegetarian if they have that same kind of visceral ugh...

Does eating them seem like a sign of disrespect, and these animals have earned a place of respect through their work?

Does it feel like a category mistake, where some (individual!) animals are in the category "food" and some aren't?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:49 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


If only they were cute and cuddly like dogs or cats.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:49 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Easier and fairer to grind it all, I think.

That's a shame. Oxtail is a delicacy in many cultures.
posted by cazoo at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it would be different if the oxen were raised for meat, but this is a much more callous "Thanks for all the hard work, now prepare to die to teach a lesson!" type of approach. I presume if they have a working sheep dog that they will grind it up for hot dog meat.

You don't keep feeding and caring for an animal on your farm that gives no return. Albeit in this case people could make the argument for 'mascot' or 'publicity' but on an actual running farm those would be conditions you'd almost never run across.

While my great-grandparents were the last farmers to farm as a career (as opposed growing up on a farm - grandparents), on recollection, I believe I heard stories that both farmers allowed livestock to live out their final days rather than sell them for meat or glue or whatever. In those incidents, it were livestock which were working animals and the farmers figured they had earned their due.
posted by Atreides at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


This part of the college response (which seems very thoughtful and considered) struck me particularly:
If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate.
It reminded me of a blog post, on selling lamb meat, written by a knitwear designer who also works a sheep farm with her husband (a sheep farm is a farm primarily devoted to raising sheep in order to sell wool and meat). I'm sure I've linked it here before.
Here's the thing now where I have a bone to pick with some of the "fiber farms" who are marketing and selling their wool to knitters who have dreams of Utopia. On those farms, babies are born and most likely, half of those babies are girls and half are boys. Unless these farmers want to castrate all of those boys and keep feeding them all their lives just to keep their wool, those boys will all go away and become part of the food chain. It is not financially feasible to keep every boy born on a sheep farm just for fun.... I know many knitters do not want to think about this. They want to think of sheep as cute fluffy creatures living out their lives in some kind of Utopian Eden (just like I used to). But it just is not that way. Animals live and die - some of natural causes but most at slaughterhouses.
I didn't make the direct connection between "Keep feeding sheep all their lives" and "keep impacting the environment to sustain needless animals" until reading this article.

Don't name things you plan to eat. ... but on an actual running farm those would be conditions you'd almost never run across.

Actual running farms don't name working animals? (I suppose the answer is that most modern farms don't use working animals as much anymore).
posted by muddgirl at 12:54 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's a shame. Oxtail is a delicacy in many cultures.

Well again, you only get one tail per ox, maybe two dozen servings worth from the two of them, if it was heavily extended with vegetables or a starch. And how do you decide who gets this delicacy? It's also usually a slow braise preparation, which is time consuming, and a new dish requires training the kitchen staff.
posted by jedicus at 12:55 PM on October 23, 2012


This is life on a farm. When working animals can no longer work, they become food, either for the farmer or for someone else. If they're not working, they're just costing the farmer money.

(Also, I don't really see the big deal about them having names. I've eaten meat from dozens of cows that had names at one time, chickens too. This is life on a farm, and that's what GMC is trying to teach)

Seriously, people, get a grip. And those VINE people are a bunch of effing nutjobs.
posted by brand-gnu at 12:55 PM on October 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


They should make this into a college traditional pagan sacrifice ritual. The chosen oxen are made Presidents of the College for a Day, and given every one of their hearts' desires by the student body and faculty before being roasted in a burning giant Wicker Cow
posted by Bwithh at 12:55 PM on October 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


Are oxen incapable of learning how to work with a different ox?

I don't know if this is just an old wives' tale, but growing up in New England, I was told that they weren't, and that if one ox died, the other was useless.

They do take a lot of training to be able to work, and they work in fixed positions (i.e. the left ox is always on the left, the right ox always on the right), so perhaps they are not easy to retrain once they've hit a certain age.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:56 PM on October 23, 2012


Oxtail is amazingly delicious if done right. You could get a gourmet chef to cook it as a stew and then just serve it to students on the Dean's List
posted by Bwithh at 12:56 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I presume if they have a working sheep dog that they will grind up for hot dog meat.

I'm pretty sure that's not where hot dogs come from.
Dachsunds, maybe. But never sheep dogs.
posted by Floydd at 12:56 PM on October 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


The outrage here is that it will all be hamburger. No brisket? No fajitas? No filets?

They are old work cattle. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Does eating them seem like a sign of disrespect, and these animals have earned a place of respect through their work?

In some cultures (and in the minds of many serial killers in our own) eating someone is the ultimate sign of respect and becoming one with the eaten.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:57 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


What don't we eat?
Red meat!
Why don't we eat it?
It's murder!

Meat tosser!
posted by Mayor West at 12:57 PM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Seriously, people, get a grip.

Everyone in this thread seems to have a grip. Nobody's freaking out that I can see.
posted by mannequito at 12:57 PM on October 23, 2012


I presume if they have a working sheep dog that they will grind it up for hot dog meat.

Hot dog meat isn't made from actual dogs. But in the past, I have defended things like the Lakotan practice of sacrificing and eating dogs. It's seems completely arbitrary that we euthanize around 4 million cats and dogs per year in the US, but god forbid we reverentially eat one.
posted by muddgirl at 12:58 PM on October 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Does it feel like a category mistake, where some (individual!) animals are in the category "food" and some aren't?

It does to me. I'm omnivorous, and certainly don't have an issue eating cruelty-free meat. But emotionally, yeah, it seems like they've changed categories from "food" to "coworker" in a way that just triggers a sense of unfairness at this fate. That said, I think my reaction is irrational and shouldn't be indulged.
posted by tyllwin at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


yadda, yadda, yadda... "you can't eat a pig ox like that all at once."
posted by HuronBob at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: the naming of farm animals. My husband grew up with farming family members. There was a named pig that was allowed to run through his grandfather's house; it was treated like a pet until it grew to the right size, then it was fattened and slaughtered. Because that's what farmers do.

At one point, he also had a cow named Watermelon. He cared for it, fed it, and ultimately saw it to slaughter. It did not, in fact, taste like watermelon when the time came to eat it.
posted by offalark at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actual running farms don't name working animals?

I can only speak to the very few New England farms that I ever visited as a kid that still used oxen, but yeah they had names there. They weren't particularly creative names (stuff like "Able", "Baker", "Charlie", etc.), but they did have names.

But anyone using oxen in the late 20th century, even in rural New England with its crazy rocky soil, is likely to be more than a bit eccentric, so I don't know if that's representative of how the animals were treated when they were more common as farm prime movers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:00 PM on October 23, 2012


Here's a dilemma for the school. What if someone offered the school X+1 money, whereas X is equal to the value of the hamburger meat?

I'd assume a farmer would definitely sell unless he or she REALLY wanted to eat the oxen, no?

I know that the price of cow has dropped a lot in the last few months due to a lot being slaughtered due to the drought, but what is the market value for 11 year old oxen meat?
posted by Atreides at 1:01 PM on October 23, 2012


I'm freaking out, man!
posted by box at 1:01 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is fine; in fact, I think even an injured dean, or provost, say, could quite reasonably be treated the same way.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:02 PM on October 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


I find the argument 'That if Bill and Lou could speak for themselves' to be especially specious. The oxen may be doe-eyed gentle giants and beautiful specimens of our natural world, but they can't speak for themselves nor do they contemplate their mortality. They exist as draft animals on a post petroleum farm. When the draft animal has ceased to have value for its work it has nutritional value with its death. These oxen have been well cared for and fed at some expense throughout their lives it is simple economics to recover the cost of maintenance. The luxury of veganism is provided by our lifestyle of being divorced from the process of cultivating our own food. If their were no tractors to take the toil out of sustaining ourselves and we had to plant grow and harvest our own food we might have a better appreciation for what we eat and where it comes from. Veganism as a "moral" choice smacks of religion to me, at one time I practiced ahimsa and had a vegan diet, while I was content to live that lifestyle I never expected anyone to follow the practice but by their own informed desire. Animal activists have their place in an urban industrialized setting but not on a farm where people must know the value and how to treat their animals.
posted by pdxpogo at 1:04 PM on October 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


A chuleton de Buey is supposed be the peak of beef eating, and by definition they have to be at least 4 years old at slaughter.
posted by JPD at 1:04 PM on October 23, 2012


The luxury of veganism is provided by our lifestyle of being divorced from the process of cultivating our own food.

Meh. The luxury of my pacifism is provided by the lifestyle of being divorced from having to hit you over the head with a rock in order to steal your shelter, or mate, or belongings. If we perfect vat-grown meat, the ethical calculus may change again.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:06 PM on October 23, 2012


I don't know, it seems like an incredibly responsible decision to me. It sounds like the injured one's injury isn't ever going to get better. As the students point out, if they gave the ox to the sanctuary, he would be living in increasing pain, using up resources that most sanctuaries can't afford to spare, until they made the decision to humanely euthanize (slaughter?) him. At which point he would be cremated/buried/whatever, which seems an even bigger waste. Or they can humanely slaughter him now, and use the meat to sustainably feed the students. Which one seems more disrespectful?

And if I'm reading it correctly, the students themselves are pretty uniformly supportive of this plan. It's only the outsiders, people who aren't even connected to the school who are raising hell and signing online petitions.
posted by specialagentwebb at 1:08 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the students are fortunate that the school is using oxen as opposed to tractors. I'm assuming that when you retire a John Deer you would end up with some sort of metallic venison roast.
posted by HuronBob at 1:09 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Awesome advertisement on the article.
posted by skydryedblue at 1:11 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


HuronBob: "I'm assuming that when you retire a John Deer you would end up with some sort of metallic venison roast."

Michel Lotito would approve.
posted by exogenous at 1:16 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's really easy for me to understand why people would not want to see them slaughtered. They see the animals like most Americans would a horse. The sentiment goes something like, the horse worked hard for you its whole life and deserves to be buried, not slaughtered and eaten.

Then there's the fact that beef is really cheap and plentiful, and nobody is going to go hungry if these animals aren't slaughtered. Finally, isn't old meat tough and nasty? (except coq au vin... mmm, coq au vin.)

(Personally, I'm ambivalent about this)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:21 PM on October 23, 2012


Re: Hot Betty

I would think lingerie and BBQs would not mix.
posted by pdxpogo at 1:22 PM on October 23, 2012


The article said the two oxen would make enough burgers for the cafeteria for a month. Bet the kids eating burgers in the cafeteria finish every last bite for that month. "I can't throw Lou in the trash!" That's why this is a great thing.
posted by resurrexit at 1:30 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bit surprised by the allegations that eating the oxen would be the automatic thing on a working farm -- the relevant comparison isn't to beef cattle but to horses, the primary draft animal in Western farming. Even working farmers didn't usually eat their horses (and didn't always sell them, either), and it's not because horsemeat doesn't taste good.

I can see the argument for killing Lou if his injury is irreparable -- I wonder if Bill would do well in retirement by himself, or if the shock of losing his partner would do him in.
posted by ostro at 1:42 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, people, get a grip.

Everyone in this thread seems to have a grip. Nobody's freaking out that I can see.


You're absolutely correct.... I wasn't referring to the good folk of the blue, just the nutjobs that are pitching a fit over this.
posted by brand-gnu at 1:55 PM on October 23, 2012


Bit surprised by the allegations that eating the oxen would be the automatic thing on a working farm -- the relevant comparison isn't to beef cattle but to horses, the primary draft animal in Western farming. Even working farmers didn't usually eat their horses (and didn't always sell them, either), and it's not because horsemeat doesn't taste good.

Trust me, it happens. When my grandfather had to have Ol' Charley put down with a broken leg, Ol' Charley went straight to the slaughterhouse. We grandkids weren't told til AFTER dinner...

Of course, these are people that grew up eating whatever they could catch, shoot, or raise. I guess your attachment to an animal is dependent on your hunger...
posted by pupdog at 1:56 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Does it feel like a category mistake, where some (individual!) animals are in the category "food" and some aren't?"

For me it is a category mistake, only the category is that some individual animals are in the category of "friend!" and others aren't. I feel the same way about beef cattle as I do about invading mice or the local squirrels -- I don't want to cause unnecessary pain, but I'm not super-worked up about eating beef, setting mousetraps, or running over a squirrel. (Which I don't think I've ever done, but if I did run over a squirrel.) I'm only passingly bummed when I see a hawk kill a baby bunny in my backyard.

On the other hand, once you've named something and made friends with it ... well, when my cat died I was just wrecked about it. And I realize it's not really any different than the baby bunny except for my emotional involvement.

I do buy meat from farmers I know, with happy cows I can meet if I want to (and sometimes have). But I don't think I'd eat Bill and Lou if I were a student, that's a step too close. I know this is irrational (and that if I lived a food-insecure life I'd get over it right quick), but I don't think it's a super-problematic irrational spot in my thinking as long as I recognize it. I think it's probably the right decision for what to do with these oxen, but I don't think I'd eat any of it.

On a somewhat related note, my students (including many (mechanized) farm kids) often protest that they couldn't euthanize an elderly pet who's sick and in pain. Explanations are muddled and emotional but often include ideas like that the pet has a right to life and to die naturally, and that it's wrong to hasten someone's (not something's) death. But many of them also hunt! (It's also, weirdly, NOT co-terminal with those who believe or don't believe in euthanasia for humans.) It's a surprisingly widespread attitude, which just struck me as insane when I first heard it, because it seems to me like your first damn responsibility to your pet is to be able to make that decision to end his or her suffering. But then when I talked to an older gentleman about the insulin injections we gave my diabetic cat, he thought that was literally the craziest thing he'd ever heard in his life, because who would put a cat through that? And who would spend that kind of money on a pet? So, we all have different lines.

But people are weird about pets. When I go to write wills, people are always steeled to talking about what will happen to their kids if they die, but you ask them, "And your pets?" and GROWN MEN START TO CRY ALL THE TIME.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:05 PM on October 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think it would be different if the oxen were raised for meat, but this is a much more callous "Thanks for all the hard work, now prepare to die to teach a lesson!" type of approach.

To me, livestock that is raised solely as meat cattle is much more "inhumane". You're breeding them and giving them existence solely to kill and consume them? That just seems perverted to me.

But If you have a working animal, it's different. You have that animal and you give it a job, and you house and feed it as payment, and you protect it from outside danger, and there's this symbiosis that's created, and very frequently, or so I've seen, that relationship is full of respect. And a lot of working animals die from "old age", as in get sick and keel over, and don't get eaten. But in this case, the poor ox got injured, and so his time is up early. And it seems really foolish not to eat him. He can't work, fulfilling his side of the bargain, so you should no longer house and feed him. The alternatives are:
1)Let him go to fend for himself. But's that's cruel because he's injured and would surely die slowly, or get eaten by wolves, or some other terrible fate.
2)You slaughter him. And not eating him would be a terrible waste of resources.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:19 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


pdxpogo: I find the argument 'That if Bill and Lou could speak for themselves' to be especially specious. The oxen may be doe-eyed gentle giants and beautiful specimens of our natural world, but they can't speak for themselves nor do they contemplate their mortality.

Being able to speak for oneself or contemplate one's own mortality isn't a good rule of thumb for whether we should kill and eat something. If you really believed that, you would be killing and eating young children and people with profound disabilities (and several other categories of human). Which is Peter Singer's fundamental (and I think, compelling) argument against eating animals: if you would not kill a young child for food, why would you kill something that feels just as much pain, and is even more intelligent?

Veganism as a "moral" choice smacks of religion to me, at one time I practiced ahimsa and had a vegan diet, while I was content to live that lifestyle I never expected anyone to follow the practice but by their own informed desire.

Surely you feel that your own moral beliefs (like opposing the killing and torture of humans) should be applied universally? Can you not understand why some animal activists who are opposed to the killing and torture of animals might want the same?
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:20 PM on October 23, 2012


The idea that animals have no sense of their mortality is misguided. My two dogs definitely had an awareness of their impending death. I have heard many tales of cows trying to escape the slaughterhouse. These oxen will have some awareness that someone is killing them and I believe that's wrong (the killing).
posted by Xurando at 2:31 PM on October 23, 2012


Ehh.. the meat isn't going to be all that good anyway, and the campus isn't starving. There's obviously an outrage over it. Retire them to a sanctuary and let it have a happy ending; don't kill them just to prove some 'life on the farm' point.
posted by Malice at 2:40 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it would be different if the oxen were raised for meat...

Oxen, by their very definition, are not raised for meat. An ox is nothing more than a cow that is used as a draft animal (i.e., to perform work). If it doesn't perform work, it ain't an ox.
posted by slkinsey at 2:41 PM on October 23, 2012


Which is Peter Singer's fundamental (and I think, compelling) argument against eating animals: if you would not kill a young child for food, why would you kill something that feels just as much pain, and is even more intelligent?

I never understand why, on one hand, I'm morally obligated to treat animals the same way I treat another human, but I can't hold animals to the same moral standard. Should we put a lion in jail for killing another lion? Or should human murderers go free?

I have heard many tales of cows trying to escape the slaughterhouse.

Animal behavior is actually a pretty fascinating field of study that I've only dipped my armchair-animal-neurologist-toes in. Animals certainly feel 'fear', and it's pretty common for animals (especially prey animals) to be automatically afraid of novel situations. Does that fear response mean they have an understanding of mortality? Maybe my own reaction to death is an autonomous fear response.
posted by muddgirl at 2:42 PM on October 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I know this is irrational (and that if I lived a food-insecure life I'd get over it right quick), but I don't think it's a super-problematic irrational spot

Yeah, this is exactly what I find interesting about our feelings about these kinds of cases. I'm vegetarian but not vegan and my reasons for both are visceral and irrational, so I'm definitely not trying to press the idea that our food and love decisions need to be rational. I'm interested in how this feels to people who don't have a general aversion to ever killing or eating animals, but for whom this case feels wrong - trying to figure out what feels wrong about it.

Ok, so let's exclude the case of wild animals, and exclude the case of pet-species (dogs, cats), so we're considering just species that are sometimes used as work/utility animals, or sometimes as food source. I'm assuming that for these species, we have some individual animals that feel okay to eat and other individual animals who don't.

What's the source of the difference?
a. if the animal worked for us (maybe needs to be for a longish time) -- so there's a feeling that the animal "earned" better treatment, or is "owed" in exchange for working
b. if the animal was named
c. if the animal worked alongside us -- so there's co-worker/trust kind of bond?
d. if the animal was loved/put into a "mascot" status
e. ....?

I find the "loved" angle definitely speaks to me. Being loved somehow imbues an animal with a special status, or puts it in a different category. And it doesn't matter that *I* wasn't the one who loved this animal, it still feels wrong to eat an animal that someone *else* loved, and extra wrong for the person who loved it to eat it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:45 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


don't kill them just to prove some 'life on the farm' point.

This is part of a college curriculum, one that's devoted to "reclaiming what matters about nature, nurture, and nutrition – by way of learning why it matters." But this isn't primarily a teachable moment for us. It's a lesson. A pragmatic, difficult lesson for people who will one day have to make these decisions for themselves.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:47 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being loved somehow imbues an animal with a special status, or puts it in a different category.

I wonder if this is at all related to a sort of modern distaste for/distrust of food as something sinful/corrupting/fattening/indulgent/etc - so to eat something is to label it as 'bad'. Or maybe if our bodies are sinful, then whatever we put in our bodies is corrupted - in other words, we feel that we would be corrupting a loved thing if we ate it?
posted by muddgirl at 2:49 PM on October 23, 2012


That's an interesting thought - I wonder if it would feel more wrong to make these oxen into ground beef (modest food) vs trying to make them into a fancier/more indulgent dish. (Supposing for the sake of argument that their meat would be suitable for that.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2012


I've been having similar conversations about buying meat from our CSA farm with my husband. I really, really wanted to buy a goat after they're slaughtered. But it just made him too sad. He can't get past the sadness, while I would rather acknowledge it as part of the process of eating meat. He's said he's okay with us ordering a chicken, though. I put in an order this morning, then went over this afternoon. There was a chicken walking around in the rain--who knows if it will be the one that I'll be picking up on Saturday? But I watched it for a moment, wet and happy, and I was glad to see that. That it's had a good life.

Can't say the same for certain for the pork chops I'm making for dinner tonight.

Our CSA has a newsletter, actually, and they published this earlier this year:
Last week I heard a pretty beautiful story that I wanted to share with you. It happened here at Phillies Bridge, with Farmer Nina and some of her summer camp kids. It’s the story of how something unexpected and potentially frightening for kids turned into a powerful teaching moment – one I imagine will stick with these kids throughout their lives. Just a taste of all of the learning and growing that happens at Phillies Bridge! I spoke with Farmer Nina to get the story.

Nina: It was early in the morning on a Wednesday…I wanted the kids to get a chance to spend some time with the chickens because they really love the chickens. So we were walking over there after I pumped them up for chicken time…

Me: How did you pump them up?

Nina: You know, walking like chickens, bawking like chickens on our way. We got there and I saw that the laying boxes, this metal structure where the hens lay their eggs, was knocked over. So I was like, “oooh nooo! What’s wrong with this scene, children?” The kids shouted, “the box is knocked over!” and I said, “what should we do?” And they said, “let’s go fix it!” So we all walked over to the laying boxes and we went to go lift them up and underneath, tangled…kind of tangled under the laying box was a dead chicken.

Me: Oh no!

Nina: Yeah.

Me: What did you think in this moment?

Nina: Well, at first I was kind of panicked because some of my kids are really young, like four years old. I didn’t know if I should try to block it from them...if they were ready to learn about death. But I couldn’t block it from them, they knew immediately. They were like “oh no, it’s a dead chicken!” they weren’t like “oh, it’s sleeping.” They knew. They saw it and they immediately were like, “what are we going to do with it?” I saw Farmer Katie and I told them that Farmer Katie was going to come and put it on a special animal compost pile. They wanted to have a burial ceremony for it with the whole camp. But I felt bad doing that because we have other deaths on the farm and it felt wrong to make this one ceremonious. We have animals that we raise for meat here, and their death is part of the farm. Death is a natural thing on a farm because you need things to decompose for other things to grow.

I said we’re going to put this on the compost pile and one kid knew about compost and said, “the chicken is going to turn into dirt…?” And they all started talking. “The chicken is going to turn into dirt! Yeah, compost!” And it was this kind of amazing moment because they all kind of got it at the same time. They said, “Yeah, and flowers will grow out of it!” and they started picking up the dirt around our feet and saying, “this is made up of dead animals?”

Me: Was there a moment where you thought, aha, this is a teachable moment?

Nina: I think the minute I saw the dead chicken I thought it would be a teachable moment because we avoid death so much in our culture, we really fear it. So many times people try to hide it from their children. Like I know people who wouldn’t even tell their children if a family member or pet had died. They’d say they went somewhere else, not that they died.

Me: Usually on the farm you spend so much time showing the kids this bounty of life, but this time you had this very different experience to share with them.

Nina: Well, you need death for life. I think the kids really got that. Later on I was walking back towards the Discovery Garden with my campers and this little girl who normally looks very thoughtful, she looked especially thoughtful and kind of sad. I was walking next to her and I asked her what was the matter and she said, “I’m just thinking about that chicken.” I thought, uh oh. “What are you thinking about?” and I was worried that she was going to say that she felt very sad, but she said, “I’m just thinking about what it’s going to become.” I asked her what she thought it was going to become… and she said, “a goat!”

Me: A goat?

Nina: Yes.

Me: How did she think it would become a goat?

Nina: She was like, “well maybe, it’s going to grow a flower out of it and then a goat’s going to come and eat the flower and then it’s going to become part of the goat. Part flower, part goat.”

Me: What did you feel in that moment?

Nina: I just felt really proud of the kids for…there’s something that they intuitively understood because they’re so young that I didn’t have to explain in that moment about mortality and death and the circle of life. I was just really impressed.

- Amanda Thieroff with Nina Arlein (source).
It strikes me that that's a really great thing for those kids to have experienced. To learn that death is natural, and that it need not be scary. And that there can be an honor in pragmatism rather than sentimentality, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:30 PM on October 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


Working, 11 year old oxen are going to be some pretty tough hamburgers.

Probably a step up from normal campus cooking.
posted by DU at 3:31 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself."
- George Orwell, Animal Farm, Ch. 1
posted by blue_beetle at 3:57 PM on October 23, 2012


Yeah we're kind of the Loki/Fox of the animal kingdom.
posted by muddgirl at 4:05 PM on October 23, 2012


"He does not give milk"

He doesn't. She does.

Speak for yourself, George Orwell!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:22 PM on October 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


He doesn't. She does.

He can too with suitably perseverant nipple stimulation. Some primitive tribes used male wet nurses. (I'd link my source, but I sold my 1981 copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica about ten years ago.)
posted by localroger at 4:38 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I presume if they have a working sheep dog that they will grind up for hot dog meat.

I'm pretty sure that's not where hot dogs come from.


So a couple guys were visiting america for the first time, and they made pact - "We'll do everything the american way".
They're walking down the street and see a hot dog stand. "Oh well" says one to the other, "If that's what americans eat, then we will too". So they each stand in line, and get a hot dog. One of them peaks inside the bun, and then says to the other "So..., which part of the dog did you get?"
posted by 445supermag at 7:35 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which is Peter Singer's fundamental (and I think, compelling) argument against eating animals: if you would not kill a young child for food, why would you kill something that feels just as much pain, and is even more intelligent?

Same reason people don't eat pets; we get more use out of them alive. In this case, the "use" is emotional. Singer's argument isn't very good.
posted by spaltavian at 8:33 PM on October 23, 2012


Cherish, kill humanely, consume.

Why is this so difficult? Yes, I originally wrote 'grok' instead of 'consume'.
posted by Goofyy at 3:18 AM on October 24, 2012


NY Times takes a break from Sandy to write on Bill and Lou.
posted by Atreides at 7:01 AM on October 29, 2012


Lou euthanized (and buried, not slaughtered), Bill to be allowed to continue living for now (on the college farm, not a sanctuary). According to the article, harassment by animal rights advocates lead to slaughter houses refusing to take the oxen.
posted by Atreides at 3:13 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


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