A Ceaseless Vigil for Bill and Beyond

Pattrice at the VINE Sanctuary


Everything you do may seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it” – Mahatma Gandhi

What happens when your foot gets stuck in a hole and you injure your leg accidentally?

If you are Lou, you will be scheduled for slaughter along with your healthy brother, Bill, to be processed into hamburgers. When those plans are thwarted by a global hue and cry, you will be “euthanized under cover of darkness with complex security plans in place and buried in an undisclosed location,” by people who profess to love you.

If you are Philip Ackerman-Leist, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College (GMC), you extricate your foot and promptly put it in your mouth. For the “ecologically appropriate livestock production” systems that he managed at GMC turn out to be far from it and perhaps even worse than the Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs) that they are meant to replace, on an ecological damage per pound basis. But while the messes caused by CAFOs are unsightly and easy to perceive, it is a bit harder to peel the onion back on the replacement of native forests with bald cow pastures. Consider the following:

1. Half the forests in the world have been destroyed and half that destruction occurred in the last 50 years alone – Gus Speth, “The Bridge at the Edge of the World
2. 45% of the global land surface area is used for livestock production – Thornton et al., issue Brief, International Livestock Research Institute, November 2011.

Clearly, these two indisputable facts are inextricably linked. Knowing this, the last thing we would want to do is to double the land area needed for livestock production, unless our intention is to commit hara-kiri as a species. But this is precisely what Ackerman-Leist characterizes as an “ecologically appropriate livestock production” system.

Either he doesn’t know what he’s doing or GMC’s Sustainable Food systems program is a cynical ploy to extract millions of dollars in college fees from innocent students while dispensing humbug disguised in academic terms. Ackerman-Leist must now regret the events that precipitated the scrutiny that his program is now under. It is quite telling that he and the other faculty members at GMC are appealing to the meat industry to buttress their credentials and not appealing to their academic colleagues.

GMC’s decision to slaughter Bill and Lou has also opened the floodgates for the ensuing discussions around sustainability in food systems. Al Gore and Bill McKibben hadn’t been talking about it even though, in one rigorous estimate, livestock production is responsible for at least 51% of all the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. But the Bill and Lou saga forced the issue on the table. And that’s a good thing too, for we can’t solve a major problem like climate change by studiously ignoring the largest component of it, for fear of offending our collective taste buds.

I discussed the nasty corner that GMC has painted itself into with Pattrice, Miriam and Arom at the VINE Sanctuary in Springfield, VT, on Thursday and Friday last week. Pattrice Jones is the author of “Aftershock,” a first person account of the trauma that activists undergo when they witness rank injustices of various kinds. She is a trained psychologist and her insights into how to deal with such trauma have proven to be invaluable. Miriam and Pattrice are co-founders of VINE Sanctuary, which shelters hundreds of animals and birds, mostly rescued from abusive situations. With around two dozen cows, calves and oxen at the Sanctuary already, it would have been a great place for Bill and Lou to retire after their decade long service at GMC. But it is now too late for Lou and it will probably not be available for Bill as long as the GMC administration, faculty and students insist on sacrificing him at the altar of bogus sustainability.

The main focus of my discussion at VINE was on how to ensure Bill’s safety in the midst of a crowd that’s so hell bent on harvesting his body. Bill, with his beautiful heart shaped white mark on his forehead, has captivated the hearts of thousands around the world and we felt that a vigil for him would be appropriate. A vigil would keep the focus on his existence and let GMC know that people outside its four walls continue to care about his fate. But of course, we would need activists who live in Poultney to send updates about Bill sightings in order to keep an effective vigil.

Beyond the vigil for Bill, we discussed how to take the lessons learned over the past few weeks to mount a more effective campaign for social justice. Within the three main prongs of social justice, the human rights movements, the environmental movement and the animal rights movement, the common thread of “Compassion for All” has been brought to the fore by the Bill and Lou saga. We thought it would be great to jointly host a conference in the San Francisco Bay area in late October of 2013 to explore the commonalities of these three broad movements so that we can support each other’s objectives and make a concerted push for effective social change.

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