The Yoke of Death
Once upon a time the kids went to college to read philosophy and learn some science, to experience Shakespeare and deconstruct poetry, to study politics and explore ethics. Now, at many colleges and universities, they dabble in farming. With animals.
Can you imagine the experience of spending $50K a year so your kid can learn to birth a calf and kill a chicken? This “interdisciplinary” endeavor has become so infected by common academic honk that, according to John Sanbonmatsu, speaking of his alma mater Hampshire College, “they even have a Lacanian psychologist on hand to help the students analyze their experiences with lambs during ‘birthing season.’” I’m no educational expert, but I say when a class has to hire an on-site psychologist to help students process their educational experience something somewhere has gone wrong.
One of the under appreciated downsides of this bizarre blend of animal agriculture and liberal arts is the fact that, much like backyard chicken owners, colleges and universities generally lack long-term plans to care for their animals after they’re finished being exploited so a bunch of rich kids destined to become bankers and lawyers and wooly-headed professors can have a weird ersatz Little House on the Prairie play date.
Needless to say, I’m not talking about land-grant colleges and agriculture schools (these places are horrific in their own special ways). Instead, I’m talking about posh places such as Green Mountain College, a four-year liberal arts college in Poulntey, VT that specializes in environmental sustainability. It is there, on the university’s “teaching farm,” that students have dutifully exploited two oxen whose intrinsic worth they’ve honored with the names Bill and Lou (pictured above). Bill and Lou have been generating electricity and plowing fields for ten years on the bucolic Green Mountain campus, a campus from where students will graduate with a skill set enabling them to conquer the eighteenth century.
Here in the twenty-first, Bill and Lou have had enough of spending their days straining forward in order to generate enough energy to run a toaster. Lou got too tired to haul a plow and Bill won’t obey commands without Lou by his side. These guys have given notice: they’re done working.
VINE Sanctuary, a beautiful place for an animal to live out the rest of his or her life, has stepped up to the plate and offered to care for Bill and Lou. Instead of a decent retirement, however, Green Mountain College has chosen to kill the oxen. That’s right. Officials there have argued that, in the name of sustainability (it would be so costly to keep them alive!), Bill and Lou–a couple of sweet oxen who have been exploited for what must be the most useless reason ever–will have their retirement sendoff at a slaughterhouse. What kind of educational lesson is that? Not a humanistic one, to say the least.
And thus cruelty masquerades as environmental justice–perhaps one of the worst cases of such duplicity I’ve ever seen. If you think this choice is a terrible one for a college campus to make in the name of environmentalism, let Bill Throop, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs know. Karen Davis has, and I will be sending him this post as well, with your comments attached.
Give him an earful.
Update: Here’s an especially effective letter, sent to me by Karen Davis.
Dear President Fonteyn and Provost Throop:
When I first heard of GMC’s plan to slaughter and eat the oxen known as Lou and Bill, despite an offer of free sanctuary, I thought that there must be more to the issue. What could induce an educational faculty to choose wanton cruelty, I wondered, when the choice should be easy, indeed, as it has been made easy for you by the VINE Sanctuary.
But after reading the background story and speaking to Miriam Jones, Coordinator at VINE, I am astounded to find that really is no more to the story, and there is nothing more behind GMC’s planned slaughter than some contradictory arguments and base rationalization, which is why I urge you and the GMC Board to reconsider this decision and send Bill and Lou to sanctuary.
In a public statement (via Kevin Coburn, Director of Communications), the College argues essentially that local meat is better than factory farming, so you intend not only to kill Bill and Lou, but also to feed them to the GMC community. Otherwise, the statement continues, these animals would continue to “consume resources at a significant rate” and would also soon be euthanized anyway. GMC is thus acting as a responsible steward “for all the earth’s resources.”
My goodness. What I see immediately is that the contradiction of these arguments trumpets some strenuous rationalization. Which is the case? Will Bill and Lou continue to eat and drink the planet out from under us, or will they simply be put to death by the VINE Sanctuary? And if you’re stewarding the resources of the entire earth, then why eat local instead of factory meat, when the latter, whatever drawbacks it entails, is unquestionably produced more efficiently, with less water and energy input per pound of flesh on your table?
If it’s waste that concerns GMC, then consider that your farm manger is also proposing to kill the healthy, though middle-aged, ox Bill, whose only misfortune is to be paired with the injured Lou. Your statement only points out that finding Bill a new partner would be difficult and uncertain. Does this mean that Bill’s remaining life will be wasted for convenience? This sounds to me like a lesson from the throw-away society, not the sustainable society.
Consider further that you propose to kill the one-ton Lou at the end of October merely due an injury of one small area of his body, the left hock, despite the fact that Lou is currently fully ambulatory and not receiving any pain medication. These latter facts were related to me by Miriam Jones at VINES, after sanctuary staff attended the recent open house at GMC and observed Lou walking and grazing outdoors with no apparent difficulty, and as you may know, animals destined for human consumption cannot be given pain medication within 30 days of slaughter.
According to Miriam, Lou and Bill may do quite well at VINES; the sanctuary currently houses animals who are larger and heavier than both animals combined. They also have a proven record of rehabilitating animals from egregiously abusive living situations, unlike that of Bill and Lou. Even in the unlikely event that these oxen prove anti-social at the sanctuary, Miriam informs me that there is ample space for them to be fenced away from others and live on their own.
But as we know, most animals do respond well to compassion and kindness. The more we study animals the more we come to understand this. Similarly, this is why I appeal to your humanity and rational nature here, rather than hurling insults. Inasmuch as the human animal has no biological need to eat meat, there is no need to kill Lou and Bill. The world does not lack for hamburger; the true scarcity among “all the earth’s resources” is humanity, which is your job at GMC to cultivate.
Aaron M. Kromash
Greensborough Bend VT