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September 08 , 2010

The Politics of the Pasture

How Two Cattle Inspired a National Debate about Eating Animals


On October 1, 2012, Green Mountain College in Vermont announced that it was going to slaughter its longtime oxen team Bill and Lou and, according to its mission of food sustainability, serve them as hamburger in the school's cafeteria. What ensued was more explosive and far-reaching than anyone could have predicted. Immediately animal advocates entered the fray, sanctuaries offering to take the oxen in and anonymous donors to make up for the lost revenue. As the public dialogue intensified, activists and students engaged in a battle fought not only in the pasture but across social media, spreading to the entire world. And in the midst of it all were Bill and Lou, "magnificent creatures—an embodiment of power, with long horns and formidable muscle under coats the color of creamed coffee." Historian James McWilliams closely follows the players, from GMC's president and faculty to leading animal rights thinkers, as he investigates the political workings of a small agricultural college, the inherent flaws of ecological sustainability, and the ethical implication of eating animals. No matter what side of the debate one falls on, this case study poses vital and provocative questions long after the controversy has died down.
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