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The Politics of the Pasture

How Two Cattle Inspired a National Debate about Eating Animals

James McWilliams

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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.


Lantern Books


Published:  April 2013


James McWilliams is an historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. His books include Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown) and A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (Columbia University Press).

McWilliams' writing on food, agriculture, and animals has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The Washington Post, Slate, The American Scholar, and The Texas Observer. He is a frequent contributor to, Conservation, Pacific Standard, and Laika Magazine. His literary non-fiction has appeared in The Millions, Quarterly Conversation and The New York Times Book Review. See all books by James McWilliams

Related Titles

  • The Elephants in the Room : An Excavation
  • The Polar Bear in the Zoo : A Speculation
  • The Oxen at the Intersection : A Collision (or, Bill and Lou Must Die: A Real-Life Murder Mystery from the Green Mountains of Vermont)
  • Related Titles by Subject:

    Flashpoint ; Animal Advocacy: Animal Rights and Animal Advocacy: Social Questions

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