Posts Tagged ‘BIll and Lou

Bill the Ox

» August 25th, 2013


If you are a longtime subscriber to this blog you know all too well about the Bill and Lou affair at Green Mountain College. You know how the college exploited the oxen not only to pull its antique plows but to act as photogenic mascots of sustainability for the school’s lucrative teaching farm, Cerridwen. You know that when the school announced that it was going to turn Lou into hamburger meat for the school cafeteria (because of a hurt ankle), GMC received millions of angry calls and emails registering opposition.  You know that, as Lou’s fate hung in the balance, animal advocates maintained a steady and generally respectful drumbeat of opposition to the school’s sinister recycling plan.  And you know that GMC, under the shadiest of circumstances, killed and supposedly buried Lou anyway on November 10th or 11th, 2012. If you knew none of this, the story is recounted in this book.

It is with regret that you must know that it appears that Bill, too, has been killed by the college. I must advise caution. Key word at this point is appears. I spoke to a source today who had a conversation with a student worker at Cerridwen. This student, who was under the impression that my source was interested in the farm as a place for her kids to one day attend, explained that both oxen were put down for leg injuries. Bill, who was readily visible on the farm after Lou’s death, was now nowhere in sight. He’s a hard animal to hide. The school now has two new oxen, pictures of which I’ll be including this week. If you have any concrete information on Bill’s apparent death, please let me know. (

I will spend this week providing updates as information comes in. For now, our best bet is to wait and have Bill’s death confirmed before letting the school know our thoughts about its jaded notion of sustainability.


Plea for Politics of the Pasture

» May 30th, 2013

Politics of the Pasture, which came out last month, is my fifth book. If I’ve learned anything about the emotional nature of the publishing experience it’s to prepare myself for what a novelist friend of mine once called “the calm before the calm.” The idea behind this phrase is that you do your due diligence by writing as if in a fugue state, finish, wait for the book “to drop,” watch it drop, and then comes . . . . silence. Silence as calm as a placid lake on a windless day.

Trust me, I’m perfectly happy not to be getting an earful from Green Mountain College. They’ve been admirably disciplined about not drawing attention to the book. And I’m greatly appreciative to have an interview set up with ARZone on August 4th. But, otherwise the only other feedback I’ve gotten has been from an animal rights activist who took issue with my description of her in the book. I’d hoped for more. If it sounds like I’m whining, I am.

Here are the two reviews now up on Amazon:

1) I’ve read Politics of Pasture in less than 3 days. First, I have to note how well-written this book is. It’s a real thriller with fascinating characters. But beyond that, it’s the most up-to-date reflection I’ve read about our relationship to animals and the value of their life. Through Bill and Lou’s story, we come across the main arguments for small scale and sustainable farming only to realize it’s just a cute packaging of industrial farming built to reduce our cognitive dissonance and guilt when we eat meat. The current sustainable farming movement lacks one important thing : compassion. And through Bill and Lou’s story, every reader will come to realize the pleasure we have eating meat is a luxury that doesn’t worth the life of sentient beings. In this book, we also realize the vegan movement is not an extremist organisation. It’s just a group of people that have aligned their values – values shared by most of us – to their practice. 5-star

2) Full disclosure: I am a proud graduate of Green Mountain College. Like most folks I learned with and from at GMC, I am also passionate about animal welfare and the environment. I also happen to have standards. Like I did, I recommend downloading the sample before wasting your money on the whole thing. Like McWilliams’ blog, the writing found here is sub-par and reads mostly as a manifesto, rather than a well-researched thesis. For a book with a subtitle about a ‘national debate,’ he does an incredibly poor job of presenting the sides evenly (plenty of biased authors make their points while still giving their opposition’s voice a fair trial). His writing basically reads like freshman in his first philosophy class, which is fine if you’re actually in your first year of college. As for the actual content of the book, I give him one star for writing about something that so many people roll their eyes at. When so many people don’t care at all about the animals that die so they can have McNuggets, it can seem ridiculous to get caught up in an animal welfare vs. animal rights debate. But I would argue that it’s a valid discussion to have when both parties can remain civil and when both can also present coherent and logical arguments. However, McWilliams spends a lot of time talking down the students and faculty at GMC instead of talking about, ya know, the animals. Misleading or poorly understood statistics and random quotes taken out of context provided all of his information; one would think that he might have actually bothered to visit campus or something if he was going to write a book about us, but that, of course, never happened. He (and most of the actually quite small group of people) who mounted a campaign against us put cotton in their ears and became convinced that the whole world cared and us horrible GMC people were the only carnivorous, cold-hearted, satan-worshipping miscreants in the entire world who thought it would be okay to farm on a farm. In reality, the state’s department of agriculture, numerous other small farmers and farming organizations, animal welfare activists, and so on, all came out in support of GMC’s right to farm on their own farm. . . . 1-star

So, there it is: a one and a five. The best I can say is that it’s “a mild improvement on the average.” Normally, I would not come out and publicly mope, but this book is not about me or you or my publisher or the numerous people who helped me write it. There’s more at stake. It’s about two cows, one already dead the other whose life hangs in the balance. It’s about the decision to kill sentient animals under the guise of “sustainability” and fail abjectly to offer a justification. It’s about the future of eating ethically. So . . . please, please, please circulate this link, share it with your email lists, put it on Facebook, Tweet it, whatever. Forgive my begging, but this issue needs to be heard.

The Politics of the Pasture

» May 7th, 2013

Dear Readers,

My book about the Bill and Lou affair at Green Mountain College, a topic covered in great depth here at Eating Plants, is now available as an e-book. The title is The Politics of the Pasture: How Two Oxen Inspired a National Debate about Eating Animals. At the moment it can be purchased on Amazon, but over the next few days will also become available at iTunes, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and  And, of course, you can always purchase it at Lantern Books, who did a brilliant job with the project.

I hope you will help me and Lantern Books spread the word. This book covers what I think was a critical moment in animal rights history—the moment when a national discussion finally arose over the troubled intersection of environmental and animal rights ideologies.

I worked every day for many hours on this book for three months without interruption. In some ways, that’s way too fast. But the upshot is an analysis that comes while the embers of this event are still glowing. My passion for these animals remains similarly afire.

In many ways, this is your book. Readers were relentless in their support of my endeavor. I never could have written the book without the constant stream of contacts, news items, tips, and analytical suggestions. As I write this post, I’m overcome with gratitude and inspired by your dedication to the cause of animals. Thank you so much.


James McWilliams

The Politics behind the Politics of the Pasture

» February 23rd, 2013

My book The Politics of the Pasture: How Two Oxen Sparked a National Discussion about Eating Animals will be out as an e-book in a matter of weeks. It covers the arguments and events framing the Bill and Lou saga at Green Mountain College. It’s not an “objective” account, at least in the sense that one might lend equal consideration to both the defenders and opponents of the decision to kill the oxen. Such feigned objectivity is the curse of journalism today. What my book is, instead, is a well-grounded critique of an unethical decision, a college’s effort to defend that unethical decision, and the unethical behavior that followed from that unethical effort. It’s a book, in other words, about ethics. In it, some people are wrong. Some are right. The language is strong. Opinion happens.

My coverage of the Bill and Lou affair, marked by the qualities described above, evidently grated against the media powers that be, at least in Vermont. I say evidently because as I have gone about the tedious process of trying to acquire photo permissions from media outlets, most of them located in the state without billboards or the pertussis vaccine, I’ve been told that they only want their name associated with rigorously “objective” accounts of the Bill and Lou affair. As a result, they, with all their righteous emphasis on The Truth, refuse to give me permission to use photos unless I provide a copy of the manuscript to them to vet. This is obviously out of the question for reasons too many to mention. It’s also yet another indication of how so-called objective journalism has become a sham parading as something high minded and fair. If somebody is clearly wrong, why do I have to give that somebody equal space to tell a bunch of blowhard lies about how they’re right?

The photo-cred incident motivated me to think about how critical journalism might liberate itself from the straitjacket of “objective” journalism, the kind that requires a tit-for-tat form of reportage. Let’s say an investigative journalist wants to look into animal abuse at a popular local farm, a farm calling itself “humane.” Most media outlets, if they would even give a green light to pursue such an issue, would demand that the reporter bend over backwards to offer the farm an opportunity to defend itself. That bending over backwards, however, would arguably compromise the quest for an accurate portrayal of what’s happening to the animals. How might the journalist get around this problem? This strikes me as a critical question for the future of activist reporting.

With social media and decentralized journalism, I think there are a number of ways to write the kind of story that should be written. Here’s one idea. Have potential “consumers” of your story—people who have an interest in seeing your report on the local farm stick—pool resources to fund your work (would you, for example, put up $10 to help fund an expose of a small animal farm?). Once your report is completed, you could make it available as a PDF and provide whatever kind of access you wanted people to have to the report (one would presume as much as possible). Want it delivered to your i-pad? Not a problem. Given how savvy we’ve become at spreading the word, it would soon enter the mainstream. Of course, the report would not have the imprimatur of a prestigious or at least established gatekeeper such as a newspaper or journal name and masthead, but so what? Something tells me journalistic authority figures are mattering less and less. Plus, do the investigation properly and it won’t take long for your “brand,” as it were, to gain trust and legitimacy.

Fortunately, I’ve found a way out of my own bind. I contacted a free-lancer who did a photo of Bill and Lou for the Times and she’s willing to sell me several photos (although it will cost me more than I ever imagined). I’m also publishing the book with a well-established press friendly to animal issues. In the future, though, for those looking to get involved in animal rights work, there is, I think, a great opportunity to bring together writers and the readers willing to fund their work. Naturally, this wouldn’t be the good old boys club kind of “objective” journalism. But for that we can all be thankful.

A REQUEST: If you have any high-res photos of Bill and Lou, and are willing to let me use them, please send them to me at

tomorrow: thoughts on subjectivity, objectivity, animals, and death