Friday, November 16, 2012


Interview With an Ox

As part of our ongoing series of conversations with animals on policy and population control issues, we sat down with Bill, an ox from Vermont who recently lost his companion of many years.

Us: Hey, Bill. We're really sorry about Lou.

Bill: I appreciate it. It's been a rough year.

Us: How do you feel about being eaten? Is that a weird question? It's just, there's been a lot of talk about eating you and your late friend.

Bill: He was my twin brother, just so we're clear. Hm. Well, as an ox, I do not fear death, as I do not understand it, obviously, so I don't have, like, any kind of existential yawp around the idea. I dislike pain. I guess, if I had to speculate, I would prefer life over death, and being eaten over having my flesh wasted? But, again, I can only speculate. As Lou used to say "I guess if they didn't eat us, there wouldn't be a lot of us around." Maybe it's like that part in Watership Down where the one warren is healthy and prosperous because the farmer feeds them while snaring a few a month, so they engage in a lot of magical thinking to pretend that isn't their fate. But, being here at the college, my life has been pretty good. Are you okay? You look a little down.

Us: I mean, it's not really about me. I just...have you seen any of the articles about the young Irish woman who was denied a potentially life-saving abortion and then died of sepsis?

Bill: No, I'm an ox.

Us: Sorry. Anyway, it's made me think about death a lot. And how it's real, and it's not just a game of political gotcha. Like, this woman is dead. And we know about her, because she was a dentist and lived in what we call the developed world, but there are probably stories like this in many other countries and many other dead women.

Bill: You just have to keep going. After I lost Lou, I hung out by the gate for a while instead of eating. I'm just an ox, but loss confounds us all. Even when it's not your loss, you know?

Us: I got an email from a publisher yesterday morning asking if I wanted to interview Emily Rapp about her new book. She wrote this incredible piece about her baby son, Ronan, who's dying slowly of Tay-Sachs, and now it's a book. And I wrote back, nicely, and was like "I cannot read this book. I am so, so sorry, and I hope it does well, and that Emily stays strong and emotionally whole, but I am rendered so vulnerable just looking at the cover."

Bill: Oh, jeez, lady. You need to buck up a little.

Us: I know! My mother refuses to watch "Fargo," because she's worried Frances McDormand will lose her baby. And she's already seen "Fargo," so she knows that's not going to happen. And I always thought she was a nut, but now I'm a nut too.

Bill: It's probably genetic. Maybe they'll do a bunch of painful experiments on animals and find out for sure.

Us: Ouch.

Bill: Yeah, well, it was supposed to be an interview about me and my loss, so there you go.

37 Comments / Post A Comment


NICOLE please continue to interview every animal and thing on the earth. Please.


I want to watch more of this PLEASE!!!!!@n

dj pomegranate

The Savita tragedy makes me so, so sad and so, so angry. There are people actually claiming that abortions are never necessary to save the life of the mother. Don't click unless you are prepared to be angry forever.

Stop this planet, I want to get off.


@dj pomegranate ARGH. I clicked. WHY did I click? {knocks over desk}


@dj pomegranate
In a small effort to cheer you up a little, Tammy Duckworth won.


@dj pomegranate
Everything else aside, and there are a lot of things to put aside, how the fuck can they be s confident in absolutes?
Even if you want to believe that sort of thing, NO woman, ANYWHERE, throughout ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY? Fuck off.


Also, HI HELLO I HAVE THIS DISEASE. I'm sure my specialists would be more than happy to show your their medical degrees and explain to you what actually happens in the world.


One more thing, sorry. Thoughts coming too quickly...
How do these people reconcile the idea that if a baby saved by allowing the mother to die is female, and inherits what could easily be a genetic condition causing the fatal pregnancy (like, oh, say PULMONARY HYPERTENSION*?) and then requires a life saving abortion of her own, WHAT THEN? The child that was so worth saving isn't worth shit as an adult woman? What the fuck kind of logic is that.

*Awareness Month, bitches. I'm an awesome spokeswoman, huh?

dj pomegranate

@NeverOddOrEven The kind of logic can be summed up in this very sophisticated equation:

Woman with heartbeat, husband, family, job, interests, hobbies, independent life < unborn fetus with heartbeat

We need more Tammy Duckworths!


Never ever in all of anywhere ever... or only in their rich and fertile imaginations.


@dj pomegranate Well, I think to those sort of people, only those first three are positives. Job, interests, hobbies, and an independent life are negatives in a woman.


Ha, so there you go.

I love this ox.


@Emby I loved that last line, too. Poor Bill. And Poor Lou.

I am not sure why they wanted to kill and eat Bill, as well, since he's healthy, but either way, sad story.


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Seriously, that is impressively stupid. Although in my not-that-scientific sample, "environmental ethics" tends to be a particularly self-satisfied and rationalizing field, so, par for the course, I guess.


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll "specializes in environmental ethics" my EYE.


As it is far more feasible to make animal agriculture practices more humane than to shame the entire population into going veggie, I find it a much more reasonable choice than when advocates decide whom to protest based on whether the animals being slaughtered that day have names.


"No, I'm an ox."

I think I'm going to try to use that the next time someone asks me if I've read the thing they wanted me to read.


@stonefruit That seems like a dangerous precedent, though. "You're still on Order of the Phoenix? God, you're such a castrated bullock!"


@Cawendaw I was thinking of it more in the work context, but I take your point.


@stonefruit But it must be more complicated than that. I mean, he obviously loved Watership Down.


That story about the woman in Ireland is maddening and incredibly sad. As someone who has just gained Irish citizenship, I now have the pleasure of being massively upset with not one but two homelands. I would say I look forward to casting angry, liberal ballots in a second country but, haha, no, Ireland won't let citizens living outside of Ireland vote because, goddammit Ireland.


@katiemcgillicuddy (SEE YOU IN JUNE IRELAND, GET READY)

Quinn A@twitter

This is a wonderful mix of hilarity and sadness. "No, I'm an ox" and Bill's last two lines made me laugh, but I can't hear about Savita without being simultaneously saddened and incensed.

Good piece, basically. I love this series.


The Savita story is heartbreaking and makes me really ashamed to be Irish.


I'm a pretty conscientious meat-eater, and I can't really understand the position of the animal-rights activists in this case? This ox had a good life, was well taken care of, and is now injured and will be in pain. To me that seems like a totally ethical time to eat an animal? (I don't know why they would've proposed eating Bill, though??)

I do think they should get Bill a new ox buddy, though.


@Ophelia I assume the theory is that the team of oxen work better than the pair, but yeah, the part where they were going to kill Bill, too, is weird to me.

Anyway, I guess in animal rights activists' minds, the oxen never would've been worked at all and would've been free to...roam aimlessly in a field somewhere?


I think it's the question of when, as an activist, you make an issue out of particular circumstances that aren't the most egregious examples of what you oppose, but that will attract public attention to your larger concerns.

citizen knope

@Ophelia It may also have something to do with the act of slaughter itself, which would be more unpleasant for Lou than being euthanized. Transporting animals to slaughter houses is usually physically demanding on them and the slaughtering facilities are an unfamiliar and possibly scary place for them. If the college were able to slaughter Lou relatively humanely on campus, I would have felt fine about them using him as meat (not that the college cares what I think!). I wonder if they didn't eat the euthanized body for safety reasons or symbolic ones.

Also, once they decided not to eat Lou, I wonder why they didn't send him or him and Bill to the animal sanctuary that offered to take them. If it could have provided Lou with a warm, dry place so that the discomfort with his injury would have been reduced why not let them live out their days in retirement instead of euthanizing Lou and begrudgingly keeping Bill alive? Maybe they don't want to start a precedent of not killing "useless" animals, which makes me sad, but I suppose makes sense for a farming program.


Was "buck up" a pun? If not, I'm ok with him being eaten. Everyone is entitled to their own suffering, Bill! Anyone who forgets that is probably delicious.


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I just looked at the cover of that book and choked up and started shaking my head very hard no. I remember reading a beautiful New Yorker piece by Aleksander Hemon about losing his daughter and sure I cried about it. But I didn't have a child yet, and now that I have a little goo goo of my own, I realize that there are certain genres which I quite simply don't think I can ever read again. It's just not possible.

That said, I think that Emily Rapp is so brave and proves that parenting can involve impossible decisions. And I think I would also have let my son go before he was born if I knew he would suffer like Ronan does. I say that even knowing my little boy.

And now I'm going to go cry for 50 hours, good night.


I enjoyed the tack you took to discuss loss and your feelings by interviewing this ox (who's loss is also very meaningful to other oxes probably?). I know that sounds like a dumb thing to say, but, I'm serious. Bear with me here - sometimes grief comes at you sideways, and whether it's NIcole being upset about a book cover or the death of a woman she didn't know, or lots of things (like Fargo) because she's (I think?) pregnant and also has a pretty new baby, I get it. And, it's these little side things that always kill me. And this piece really expresses that idea - and does it funnily and organically. I don't know why I'm writing a freaking lit crit essay about it - but it just so perfectly captures what it feels like to grieve for me right now. I"m not able to really come at it head on. I keep getting caught off guard. And I think I'm facing my own mortality - because - as my mother says (no really, she says this!) no one gets out alive. You gotta realize that, and make the best of what you've got!

Or something...right?


I just found this googling for an Emily Rapp interview. I am so sad you turned away the chance to interview her! As a new mother, finding her blog has been absolutely gut-wrenching, but she is extraordinary and her writing is extraordinary and I honestly think reading her blog is one of the best things I've ever done. It makes me weep, but I have found there is something to be gained from facing your very worst fear, erasing the boundaries that supposedly separate us from the "unthinkable" (this is also something she writes about: http://3wordsfor365.com/2012/03/13/you-can-imagine-guest-post-by-emily-rapp/). Nevermind that the love between her and her beautiful boy radiates from the page and makes it as rewarding as it is painful. I so look forward reading her new book, even as I dread it, and realize it means time marching forward to an inevitable fate.

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