“[At Green Mountain College] the idea of sustainability runs so deep that instead of machines fueled by diesel, a pair of working oxen have tilled the fields for the better part of a decade… Their names are Bill and Lou, and by the end of the month, they are to be slaughtered and turned into hamburger meat for the dining hall.”
~ NY Times story, October 28th
Three days ago, the New York Times ran a story about Green Mountain College; an environmental school in Vermont, where public emotion has exploded over the fate of two oxen, Bill and Lou, who were previously put to work in the fields as part of the farm’s ‘sustainability model’. As is inevitable in such situations, Bill and Lou are now too old to continue pulling the yoke, and a recent injury sustained by Lou has caused the college to retire both animals. In adherence to the trendier-than-ever principles of ‘farm sustainability,’ Bill and Lou were scheduled to be slaughtered and brought back home as food for the campus.
The end of October was earmarked for their final day, but as of November 1st, Bill and Lou are still alive. According to local news station WCAX, “The college Wednesday confirmed that the oxen will not be spared but that the date to send them for slaughter has been pushed back. Officials would not say why the date has changed.”
Hmmm… Could the decision to push the date back have had anything to do with the massive controversy surrounding the announcement? As described in the Rutland Herald,
Bill and Lou have won friends around the world. Letters have arrived at the Herald, via email, from Portugal, Ireland, England and around the United States, mostly pleading for the lives of the two oxen. Green Mountain College has reportedly been flooded with angry messages.
As of yet, the college appears to be firm in its resolve to sacrifice the two animals, maintaining that the farm’s purpose is to produce food in a humane and sustainable way, not to shelter animals (or spare them from a horrifying fate, apparently). As explained by the farm director, Philip Ackerman-Leist:
It makes sense to consume the resources we have on campus… We have to think about the farm system as a whole.
Perhaps someone at the school should ask Bill and Lou whether they think that this model is ‘sustainable.’ I suspect that, along with the other living ‘resources,’ they might take issue with the use of the word, not to mention the sickening double-speak of referring to such hard-heartedness as ‘humane.’
Ackerman-Leist acknowledged that there were other options, including allowing the college’s beloved animals to live out the rest of their days in safety, as some of the faculty and students have requested. But when a local animal sanctuary made an offer of refuge for Bill and Lou, the college administration refused, claiming that “this decision is another step in our college’s longstanding effort to foster a community-based food system.”
As a result of statements issued by the animal sanctuary and the college’s other critics, the situation has turned into a full-fledged battle in the blogosphere and social media, complete with a petition from Care2 with over 47,000 signatures pleading for Bill and Lou to be spared.
It seems that the subject has struck a nerve. But why? Aren’t people being a tad hypocritical? We humans take great pride in bragging about how easily we can write off an animal’s life if we like the way he or she tastes. We are living in a time when people actually pay money to be part of the audience at butchery competitions and buy t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Meat is Murder… Tasty, Tasty Murder.” Have we ever been so proud to advertise our inability to empathize with other living beings?
It happens every second of every day… In the United States alone, every year, millions of Bills and millions of Lous are sacrificed on the altar of human pleasure. It goes on every minute of every day, and it’s happening right now. Each one of these animals, in different circumstances, is just as capable of touching our hearts and capturing our imaginations, and yet each one is needlessly sent to slaughter to fill the demand we generate for their body parts. The majority of students and staff at Green Mountain College probably eat flesh from Bill and Lou’s distant cousins every day.
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