Meat-Eating is Not Sustainable at Any Level


No one, by now, is unaware of the impassioned controversy over two oxen, Bill and Lou, and the broader issue of meat-eating that their situation has brought to the fore. Green Mountain College (GMC), where Lou and Bill tilled the fields for ten years, publicly announced that they would slaughter them and serve them in the dining hall, claiming that this action teaches “sustainable farming”. But, they ran into a problem. Animal advocates and many others responded to this morally questionable decision and no slaughterhouse was willing to brave the glare of the controversy. GMC ended up killing Lou in the middle of the night and burying his body, claiming that the medication they gave him for an injured leg made it impossible to serve his meat. Bill remains subject to an uncertain future while remaining on the farm.

The fact is that GMC has yet to provide a substantive reason why killing and eating Bill and Lou would be a lesson in sustainability. In my view, meat eating is a lesson in unsustainability at both the moral and scientific level.

Meeting the GMC argument on its own terms, the science tells us there is absolutely nothing sustainable about meat-eating. From a crop yield point of view, meat-eating simply does not make sense. Instead of growing crops to feed Bill and Lou and then eating Bill and Lou those same crops can yield a great deal more by directly being eaten by humans. The equation is simple and meat-eating is untenable as a sustainable practice.

Furthermore, GMC has decided to ignore the substantial body of scientific evidence that demonstrates other animals are emotionally and cognitively complex beings capable of great suffering. Lou was betrayed in the worst possible way. And now Bill is clearly showing signs of grieving for his friend Lou. Instead of being educational GMC’s decision has caused tremendous suffering.

Finally, GMC teaches their students that so-called sustainability equates with lack of compassion, betrayal and continuing down old unsuccessful paths. But GMC does not see the dangerous self-perpetuating logic in this objective. The reason the planet and all of its inhabitants are in such a desperate state is because our species has continued to exploit everyone and everything without compassion. Killing other animals reinforces that insensitivity and the very attitudes that have led to global destruction. We are currently facing the sixth mass extinction event, human overpopulation and starvation, and devastating planetary destruction from rampant ecological exploitation and climate change. The same insensitivity that leads to lack of concern for Bill and Lou as individuals has led us to the brink of global devastation. They are intimately related and anyone who claims otherwise is being disingenuous. Every individual currently in factory farms is Bill and Lou and factory farms are not only engines of unspeakable suffering for the luxury wants of our species but are contributing substantially to global warming.

In their many public relations efforts to the public, GMC wanted to convince others that they were being bullied by extremist animal rights groups. I have seen no evidence of this. Two legitimate animal sanctuaries, VINE and Farm Sanctuary, offered to take Bill and Lou and provide them with a decent life – free of charge. And there were other offers too. GMC was unresponsive to all of them. GMC rejected all reasonable requests to discuss the matter.

GMC has it all wrong. Sustainability is not about using up resources and killing others. It is about having a sustainable ethic of living.