It’s controversy over life and death at its finest.
Much has been written about Bill and Lou, the two oxen from Green Mountain College in Vermont who were scheduled for slaughter–and hamburger meat in the school cafeteria–after a lifetime of plowing the school’s grounds. Animal-lovers around the world got wind of this, all hell broke loose and the two college mascots were subsequently featured in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and scads of other media sites, blogs and newspapers. (Yes, I know it’s been a few months since all of this erupted, but I can’t stop thinking about these two guys.)
Unfortunately, the thousands of signatures on a petition to spare their lives, protests at local slaughterhouses and even a local animal sanctuary that offered to take the oxen in at no cost, didn’t help Lou who was euthanized. Bill is still on site at the college. For now.
Beyond the plight of these two lives, this controversy has ignited an important and desperately-needed dialogue about what we eat and why. It’s shed light on the “we versus it” stance that our society carelessly assumes when it comes to how animals are treated simply for our own pleasure, fashion and entertainment.
Given the reality that only five percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarians and just two percent identify as vegans, the majority of people in this country have yet to make the connection between what’s on their plate and how it got there. Where did that hamburger come from? The grocery store. How did it get there? From a farm. What animal was used to provide that beef? A cow. What kind of life–and death–did that cow endure so he could wind up as your lunch? Huh? Suffice to say, most people don’t go that far and don’t make that connection.
Instead, it’s simply easier to not think about that and to label animals as “it” void of emotions, feelings and personality.
I don’t even need to wonder why that is.
It boils down to what’s comfortable and uncomfortable for us to think about. See a photo or video on Facebook of the cruel death these animals endure–don’t look at it. Catch the headlines about animal abuse at another factory farm in the morning news–don’t read it. Hear about Bill and Lou–maybe feel sad for a moment, but don’t get emotionally involved because that could make us feel bad. In other words, we don’t act or react because all of this challenges our deepest, inner-most morals and values. And thinking about that–and how we might need to make some internal shifts about who we are–well, that’s just scary. And hard.
So instead, we choose to distance ourselves and think of “we” and “it.” Humans are the “we” who rule this planet and are at the top of the food chain, thereby deserving to do whatever we please for our own instant gratification and pleasure. Animals are the “it”–the commodity and products that don’t deserve any kind of life (unless of course, we’re talking about our beloved pets). Farm animals are treated no different than a piece of lettuce or an ear of corn. They exist solely to feed us, entertain us, work for us, make us money and clothe us. Which is ironic because animals are not necessary for any of that. The problem is, humans have yet to figure that out. Instead, we turn a blind eye to the countless research documents and expert opinions that clearly state otherwise.
So, we continue to eat them. And ignore the fact that they are living beings just like us.
Quite frankly, there is no “humane” way to raise and kill factory farmed animals. Certain farms and consumers tell themselves there is so they can feel better about taking a life (or 50, which, incidentally, is the number of animals every meat-eater is responsible for killing each year, on average). We say we buy “organic” or “free range” beef and chicken because it somehow lets us off the hook for any guilt over killing and eating “it.”
But as Bill and Lou have shown us, there is no “we and it.” We are all living, breathing, feeling beings with emotions, personalities and the desire to seek pleasure and the ability feel pain. Undoubtedly, Bill is in mourning without his lifelong friend by his side anymore. Just one looking into the eyes of these beautiful creatures gives us insight in their hearts and souls–the same hearts and souls that we have. They want a happy, free life just like we do.
Humans are not anymore above these animals than one person is over another. Haven’t we learned anything over the course of history about suppression, segregation, bullying and the golden rule of treating others the way we want to be treated?
I must admit that I haven’t always been animal-free. In fact, I’ve been a vegetarian for only three years and just recently took steps towards full-fledged veganism. For me, this was something I had to do. After learning and reading and educating myself more on what really happens to produce that gallon of milk or that piece of bacon, I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
I was completely turned off at the thought of contributing to the suffering of any of my fellow earthlings (which is a very good term I have discovered, thanks to the riveting documentary by the same name). I was not going to choose my pleasure over their life. I was not going to stand by knowing that they had lived lives crammed into tiny, crowded pens unable to turn around, move or even lie down in some cases. I was not going to be a part of forcing these creatures–often with prods, beatings and electric shock–into rooms smelling of death where a bolt would be shot between their eyes and they would be strung upside down, sometimes still alive, only to have their throats slit. I was not going to be a part of the awful fear and cruelty they endure. I refused to participate in the sadness they face when their young are taken away within hours or a few days because they are viewed as a commodity. I was not going to allow one more animal to suffer an abusive and unhappy life simply because I wanted to eat them for my own taste and satisfaction–and laziness if I’m being perfectly honest (because it does take a concerted effort to go animal-free and put more thought into eating compassionately).
These animals are no different than you or me. They are not an “it.” They are a “he” or “she.”
Let’s hope all hell continues to break loose over this subject. Maybe then, everyone will begin to see animals as Bill, Lou, or any other name, instead of as dinner.