One of the most disturbing social injustices that we face today is the exploitation of farmed animals. Animal agribusiness is responsible for the unnecessary slaughter of approximately 77 billion land animals worldwide per year.
VIVA GLAM had the opportunity to speak to author and psychologist, Dr. Melanie Joy, about carnism, the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals.
- Dr. Joy, can you tell us a bit about carnism? What exactly is it and why do you think we are conditioned by society to think that eating meat is a given?
Carnism is the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals.
Most of us don’t think about why we eat certain animals or why we eat any animals at all. In fact, many people in the world today don’t eat animals because they have to.
Rather, they eat animals because they choose to. Eating animals is no longer a necessity. When a behavior becomes a choice, it takes on an ethical dimension that it didn’t have in the same way before.
Most people care about animals and don’t want them to suffer. In fact, most of us feel a connection to animals. We naturally empathize with other living beings, including animals. At the same time, most people also eat animals .¨ animals who suffer terribly in the process of being turned into food. Eating animals requires us to block our awareness and natural empathy.
We see meat on our plate but don’t see the animal it once was.
However, if we were served a golden retriever, many of us would be disgusted because we haven’t been conditioned to think of dogs as anything other than living beings.
Most of us share the same core values of justice, compassion and authenticity. But when we eat animals, we act against these values.
Carnism is a violent system. Meat cannot be procured without violence, and egg and dairy production cause extensive harm to animals.
So carnism needs to use defense mechanisms that distort our thoughts and numb our feelings so we act against our values without fully realizing what we are doing.
- You mention that even people who eat “humane” meat are unaware they are contributing to animal cruelty.
How are they doing this?
Many people who choose to eat “humane” meat are people who have examined their food choices and want to cause less harm to animals. This is very commendable.
At the same time, they don’t realize that what we call “humane” meat is a product of violence.
The concept of “humane” meat was constructed by animal agribusinesses because they were concerned about their decreasing profit margins as consumers became aware of the truth about animal agriculture.
This is a PR tactic.
“Humane” meat is a contradiction in terms.
After all, most of us would think it is cruel to kill a happy, healthy golden retriever just because people like the way her thighs taste.
Yet, this is the very thing that is happening to cows, pigs, and chickens. And in some ways “humane” meat is more brutal than “inhumane” meat because we are taking the life of an individual who wants to continue living, and who likely developed connections with other animals or humans who will miss them when they are gone.
- We’ve all grown up with the terms omnivore, carnivore and meat eater. You call these terms inaccurate? Why?
Omnivores by definition can ingest both flesh and plant matter. Carnivores need to ingest flesh in order to survive. These terms describes one’s biology, not one’s ideology.
And “meat eater” describes a behavior divorced from a belief system.
I think it’s more accurate to refer to people as “vegan” or “non-vegan.”
- You have spoken about carnistic defenses. What are they and how do they allow us to accept what we would normally deem unethical?
For example, carnism teaches us to believe in the mythology of meat, in what I refer to as the Three Ns of Justification: eating animals is normal, natural, and necessary.
And these myths have also been used to justify violent practices throughout human history, such as slavery and male dominance.
Another example is that carnism teaches us to believe that animals are lacking any personality or individuality on their own: a pig is a pig and all pigs are the same.
- How is eating animals a social injustice?
Although the experience of each set of victims of violence and injustice will always be somewhat unique, the mentality that enables such violence and injustice is the same: It is the mentality of domination and subjugation. It is the mentality that allows us to view someone as something, and makes us feel entitled to wield complete control over the lives and deaths of those with less power, just because we can.
When we look at what animal agribusinesses do to do farmed animals we can see that this behavior is violent and exploitive. This industry slaughters 77 billion individuals (farmed animals) per year worldwide to serve the interests of those with more power (human consumers). These animals are conscious, intelligent individuals with lives that matter to them just as our lives matter to us.
The animals are confined and slaughtered simply because there is a profit to be made off their deaths.
Of course, most people do not willingly harm animals. Carnism has conditioned us to act in accordance with its tenets; we don’t realize we are following the dictates of a system we cannot see.
- Tell us about your organization Beyond Carnism? And what is its primary mission?
Our mission of is to expose and transform carnism., and we do this through education and advocacy with a strong focus on awareness-raising.
At Beyond Carnism, we believe that as long as people are unaware of carnism, it will be impossible to have an objective conversation about eating animals, since we are operating from within the very system that conditions us to eat animals.
And so our goal is to raise awareness of carnism so people can make their food choices freely.
Without awareness there is no free choice.
- You wrote a book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows”. Rather than explaining why we shouldn’t eat meat, you explain why we do eat meat.
What inspired you to use this approach rather than the traditional approach to discussing eating animals?
The book grew out of my personal experience as a longtime meat eater. I grew up with a dog who I loved, and I also grew up eating lots of meat, eggs and dairy. It wasn’t until I got sick after eating a hamburger that I became open to information about animal agriculture.
This awareness transformed my life and my worldview. I was shocked that I could have gone my whole life participating in cruelty and oppression toward animals. That was so opposed to the kind of person I thought of myself as. And when I tried to share the information I had learned, no one wanted to hear what I had to say.
So I was curious as to how good people like myself could enable such harmful practices, and why these people were actually defensive against learning the truth. Animal agriculture is devastating to animals, the ecosystem, and ourselves and it is vital that people become aware of how carnism conditions us to enable this damage.
I think it is very important to recognize that the real problem is not merely the individual; it is the system.
Eating animals is the inevitable end result of a deeply entrenched oppressive “ism.” However, as individuals we can certainly contribute to the solution.
At Beyond Carnism we recommend that people transition out of carnism in a way that feels sustainable to them. For many people, this means reducing their consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy over time, ideally leading to the elimination of these products. People can start with one vegan meal a day, or one vegan day a week, for example. And we provide plenty of resources at www.carnism.org.
- If people want to learn more about your organization and carnism, where should they go?
Please visit us at www.carnism.org.
- Where do you see society in regard to eating meat in 25 years? Do you think not using animal products or animal byproducts will be the norm rather than the exception?
The vegan movement, which is the counterpoint to carnism, is one of the fastest-growing social justice movements in the world today. I have given my presentation on carnism on 5 continents now, and have seen evidence of this everywhere. I believe that in 20 years or so, eating meat will be viewed as smoking is today.
And I hope that products will be labeled “C” for carnistic rather than “V” for vegan.
- If you could tell the next generation one thing in regards to carnism and its global effect on the planet, what would it be?
According to the United Nations “[Animal agriculture is] one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems” facing the world today.” So, when we stop eating animals, it is good for the planet – and it is good for the animals, our bodies, and our hearts and minds.
When we become aware of carnism, we can make choices based on what we authentically think and feel rather than what we have been taught to think and feel.
This can be tremendously be empowering.