Green Mountain College prides itself on living by theories of sustainability, with a curriculum that mixes environmental studies and the liberal arts, and a student-run farm that produces food for the campus.
The college has become divided this fall over whether it will be applying theories of sustainability with a plan to slaughter its two oxen, and to then use the meat in the dining hall. To some students and alumni, who have come to love the oxen and view them as much more than work animals (and to many who have no connection to the college), the plan sounds disloyal and something like eating a family pet for dinner. Photographs are circulating of students hugging the oxen. And the students are organizing petitions and protests to save Lou and Bill. To the college, however, the plan isn't heartless, but reflects the environmental values that Green Mountain espouses.
Bill and Lou have been at the college, working on the farm, for 10 years. Lou suffered an injury in the last year, and veterinarians determined he couldn't return to work. Because oxen work in pairs, and it was not certain whether Bill would accept a new partner, the college decided to slaughter the animals and use their meat.
Several petitions have now been created to denounce this plan, and they have attracted thousands of signatories -- and offers from a sanctuary to take Lou and Bill.
The Change.org petition says: "DEATH is their reward for 10 LONG YEARS of hard work for humans. Yes, Green Mountain College has decided that Bill and Lou's long lives of service for humans should be rewarded by their slaughter -- and for what? According to their own press releases, the school will get, at best, a couple of months of low-grade hamburger out of their bodies.... Bill & Lou gave their best years to humans; for 10 years, they served the needs of humans. Now, it's time to let them serve their own needs."
Many are also debating the issue on the college's Facebook page, where it is clear how personally connected many students and alumni feel to Bill and Lou. "I am not a vegetarian. However, I do not eat my friends, either. I can't believe you would even consider eating Bill and Lou! Don't do it," wrote one angry commenter.
But the college has released a statement from its farm managers defending the decision as humane and environmentally principled. The farm mangers note that they held campuswide discussions, and consulted with faculty members from a variety of disciplines. And moving Bill and Lou would only be a temporary solution, they write. A move only "postpones the fact that someone else, in the not-too-distant future, will need to decide that it is kinder to kill them than to have them continue in increasing discomfort. If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate. As a sustainable farm, we can’t just consider the responsible stewardship of the resources within our boundaries, but of all the earth's resources," the statement says.
Further, it says that it is appropriate to offer the oxen meat in the college's dining hall: "While many of our students are vegan or vegetarian, many also eat meat, and we strive to meet the dietary preferences of all students. Bill and Lou, when processed for meat, will yield over one ton of beef. If this meat doesn’t come from our animals, it likely will come from a factory farm setting which carries with it a significant amount of ecological impact. For example, the American agricultural system uses approximately 5 million gallons of water to produce the same amount of beef (not to mention greenhouse gas production, soil erosion, and water pollution)."