Green Mountain College Has Oxen and Morals

FILE - In this June 24, 2009 file photo, student worker Anastasia Gazynski, right, a Green Mountain College senior, leads oxe
FILE - In this June 24, 2009 file photo, student worker Anastasia Gazynski, right, a Green Mountain College senior, leads oxen Bill and Lou, as production manager Lisa Veniscofsky, center, looks on while heading out to work in the field on the Green Mountain College campus farm in Poultney, Vt. The days are numbered for the two oxen that have worked the fields at Vermont's Green Mountain College farm for more than a decade. The Poultney college says the oxen are being retired because of injury and will be processed into beef products to be served in the college dining hall. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett)

Being a long standing Detroiter, prior to my family's deeply considered move to Vermont, I was widely accustomed to faceless, nameless food and meat of the lowest common denominator. I am now a new professor at Green Mountain College; a college which has recently accumulated a large stream of national publicity after a series of community forums collectively decided to begin the process of slaughtering a team of oxen, Bill and Lou, who have worked on the campus for many years.

The decision was made after weighing in the age and condition of the oxen and, perhaps, driven partly by the fact that the oxen will provide local grass fed beef for those in the college community who choose to consume meat. My newness to Green Mountain College, having been a professor here for half-a-semester is double edged; in some ways it limits my full scope of reasoning, and in other ways it allows me to assess the full system with fresh eyes that haven't become accustomed to any particular line of reasoning.

I truly admire the critics of Green Mountain College's verdict of Bill and Lou. We need more checks and balances in the world. And I urge them: them meaning the thousands of Twitter messages, cold calls to offices, bloggers etc. to continue to speak out against our college community and other communities around the world doing similar or much more destructive practices. I am not here to butt heads with Bruce Friedrich, Senior Director of the Farm Sanctuary, and his recent HuffPost article criticizing Green Mountain College for the impeding slaughter because, honestly, I think he is a phenomenal human being. What is missing from the dialogue, however, on how a campus could slaughter two longstanding oxen, is how close both collective's rationale toward Bill and Lou's future are situated. This isn't about polar opposites, but rather about adjoining neighbors with closely woven values on the world around us. And we know what happens when two good candidates of any political party appear on a ballot: they end up splitting our vote.This reasoning has handed many less than optimal political officials the reins of power.

Transplanted into a Tornado

Like most of society, I am accustomed to the removal of the personal from the plate. And to be honest, I am still in shock with my new Vermont roots. I have never witnessed 80 percent or more of my dinner plate grown within my community and by my neighbors. I have never helped care for chickens that lay eggs. Honestly, I rarely thought of chickens as I ate eggs. I am new to the fact that biodiversity and climate neutrality are central issues that lead conversations, community values and a liberal arts education. I am new to the fact that local restaurants like Taps Tavern in Poultney, Vermont pay more to have their hamburgers created from local cattle. I am equally shocked that local people actually ask where the meat comes from. I am new to being a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which gives my family locally grown produce each and every week. And I am new to the community pitching in and helping their neighbors for no reason other than to lend a hand -- because that is the way it has always been done.

The conversation about Bill and Lou isn't the conversation we should be having. We should be talking about the millions of animals like them that never have a name or an existence to anchor our virtues of sympathy toward. Here we have some of the best minds and activists standing out for two oxen who have had an amazing existence over the last 10 years and whose core value and meat aren't contaminated with excessive feces or growth hormones. By convincing the collective to rally around the highest status oxen, Bill and Lou, we are diverting needed resources of critique from the masses of animals that supply our world's food source.

Before I decided to accept the job offer to Green Mountain College I talked with students about the education and tenor of the college. One woman told me it has been one of the most positive experiences of her life but wanted to be clear to me that understanding the natural environment isn't all positive. She told me a story of how she cried uncontrollably as one of the local community oxen she developed a relationship with was trailered away to the processing facility. This emotion surely is what humans must have been feeling on the planet as long as the relation of animal and humankind has existed. But I am no authority as I have never felt this relation to my supermarket meat in Detroit. From my vantage I am pretty sure these aren't barbaric underpinnings, but some of the most well thought out ideas regarding our future on this earth -- through tears and emotion and truly understanding our local food and its natural evolution.

The blend of perspectives and the rigor of assessment regarding Bill and Lou's case doesn't show me that this was an off the cuff decision -- or that one side was completely victorious. It instead shows me there is an even larger group than expected that is concerned about the relationship between humans and food sources. I am proud to say that Green Mountain College made an unfavorable call for the sake of staying true to their mission. Against the grain is where the gumption is.