Barbara Pearl Houten calls it the silence of the lambs, which is catchy, but not entirely accurate. But it is done in a good cause — saving lives.
Not human lives — nine animal lives. As a vegan, Houten, 67, sees a life as a life. She believes in the universal desire of every being to live and to be free.
Speaking of her late son Jason, she said, “I raised him to be a vegetarian, and when he came home after his first term at Antioch, he was vegan. So the student was the teacher.” Houten has been vegan ever since.
She was referring to Antioch College, a well-known very liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, known as a bastion of blue liberalism in an otherwise red sea of Trump supporters, says native and resident Dave Chappelle. Yes, the comedian.
Antioch is so woke it never sleeps. It is the last place you would imagine to be on the wrong side of a controversy over the humane treatment of animals, but there it is.
Center City resident Houten wants Antioch to straighten out, and she is not alone.
Here’s the controversy: For the past few years the college has used lambs to “mow” its lawn. The lambs are quiet, they don’t give off noxious exhaust fumes, they present a pleasant, pastoral air to the campus. They are adorable lawn mowers.
At the end of the grass growing season, in October, Antioch slaughters its lamb lawn mowers and feeds them to the students in the dining hall.
How’s that for gratitude?
It is repugnant to Houten, to PETA and others who see it almost like eating a pet. An online petition that says Antioch is teaching that living things are disposable has gathered almost 80,000 signatures, asking the lambs be spared. Houten asks you to sign it.
Houten wrote to the president of Antioch asking for commutation of the mutton death sentence, saying she would find a sanctuary for them. She pleaded to save the lambs as a memorial to her son, who died at 23 in a 2002 automobile crash. “He would not condone this, he would condemn this,” she told me.
“The death of a child is catastrophic,” Houten said. “I have never found a way to honor my son’s memory,” and she said this is something he would have liked. “I beseech you to cease this cruel and misguided tradition at the college under the guise of sustainability,” she wrote to Antioch College President Thomas Manley.
In a separate letter to Manley, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said the college prides itself on being progressive, but “the school is putting its students on a path to insensitivity.”
PETA offered to pay all costs of getting the lambs to a sanctuary and would “donate the same amount of food that the lambs would have provided in the form of healthy vegan meat for the students.” (The “meat’ would be plant-based, of course.)
PETA has not received a reply, said PETA senior strategist Faith Robinson, who in a phone interview stressed that eating meat is not healthy.
I reached out to Antioch for comment, and to find out how long the lambs would be on Death Row. A spokesman responded with an email that directed me to other sources, said the animals were sheep, not lambs, told me sheep have been deployed since 2014, but declined to reveal “when the sheep will be removed from our pasture out of an abundance of caution with regard to the safety of our community and others.”
In a generic, two-page news release, Antioch spent considerable time attacking Dr. David Nibert, a Yellow Springs resident who teaches sociology at another university and who stirred up the controversy, said Antioch.
From online research, I learned the college sees the use of the lambs as part of education on its own organic farm. Students get practical experience in sustainable and ecologically appropriate agriculture as they grow vegetables.
The thing is, lambs aren’t carrots or peas or lettuce.
They are friendly, they are cute and they have friends.
Antioch has not heard the last of this.