Anyone who considers themselves to be a Vegan Advocate and who attends Vegan Festivals and Conferences, as well as engaging with the Vegan community on social media, will be aware of the work of Dr Melanie Joy. Certainly, I had seen her Tedx Talk on YouTube (‘Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices’) and knew that she was responsible for coining the term ‘Carnism’.
I also knew that she had written ‘Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows’ – but, till recently, I had not read it.
I found it fascinating – most especially because it began to explain why it is that we vegans encounter so much resistance and downright ridicule when we try to explain to non-vegans the error of their ways!
Of course, she is writing this as an American – and most of what she describes and quotes is based on the US.
Chapter One – ‘To Love or to Eat?’
Dr Joy explains that how we perceive things is down to our SCHEMA – a psychological framework which determines – and is determined by – our beliefs, ideas and experiences.
She begins by imagining that a meat eater is partway through a meal (they have assumed that they are eating beef) when they are told that they are, in fact, eating Golden Retriever! In this situation, many people in the west would react with incredulity, as well as a degree of disgust and revulsion. In other words, it is OK to eat the flesh of some animals – but not others.
Chapter Two – Carnism : ‘It’s Just the Way Things are’
Here, she describes a discussion with some of her students, in which she is asking them to summarise their perceptions of dogs and pigs.
As a general rule, dogs are seen to be fun, friendly, cuddly, cute etc (i.e. pets) and pigs are seen to be fat, lazy, dirty, unintelligent etc (i.e. good for eating – but little else!) – in fact, there is very little logic behind such different perceptions!
When people are Vegan or Vegetarian, this usually implies that they have thought about their diet and lifestyle and have made a conscious decision. However, this is rarely, if ever, the case when people eat animals and animal products. It is clear that many people see this as ‘natural’ – the way things have always been - and actually give very little, if any thought to it. This type of behaviour is what Dr Joy describes as ‘CARNISM’.
In fact, it is quite bizarre that so many people claim to be animal lovers and hate to see animals being ill-treated, suffering or in pain – yet are quite happy to eat them. To do so requires them to give no thought whatsoever as to the process involved in putting that meat on their plate!
Basically, the justification for this is down to because ‘it’s just the way things are’ – what a ridiculous state of affairs! `
Chapter Three - ‘The Way Things REALLY are’
Here, Dr Joy suggests that the essence of Carnism is ‘knowing without knowing’.
By this, she means that many consumers of animal products are aware that the raising and slaughter of billions of animals every year is barbaric, cruel and exploitative and, actually, unacceptable – but they would prefer just not to think about it.
In fact, this applies equally to the egg and dairy industries.
The reason they do not need to confront this is that most of it goes on in ‘secret’ – where are all those billions of animals and where are all the slaughterhouses?
Towards the end of this chapter, she makes reference to Sir Paul McCartney, who once suggested that if slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian.
In relation to this, she says ‘Yet on some level we do know the truth. We know that meat production is a messy business, but we choose not to know just how messy it is. We know that meat comes from an animal, but we choose not to connect the dots. And often, we eat animals and choose not to know we are even making a choice’
As Aldous Huxley said ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored’
Chapter Four – ‘Collateral Damage: The Other Casualties of Carnism’
She refers to the ‘invisible victims’ of carnism – slaughterhouse workers, the residents living near polluting Confined Animal feeding operations (CAFOs), meat consumers and tax payers.
Throughout the book there are many harrowing quotes from people who work in slaughterhouses and processing plants.
In addition, animal agriculture is a HUGE contributor to environmental damage and the burgeoning levels of chronic disease are WITHOUT DOUBT the result of the consumption of animal products.
Chapter Five - ‘The Mythology of Meat: Justifying Carnism’
‘Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth’ Albert Einstein
So many people demonstrate (and claim) a love of animals and yet are prepared to turn a blind eye to the atrocities which go on in order that they can then consume meat and other animal products.
This is often justified by reference to the Three Ns – it is Normal, Natural and Necessary.
It is very clear that the consumption of animal products by human beings is NONE of these.
The huge MYTH is that it is necessary in order to obtain our need for protein. This myth has been completely busted – the general consensus is that our daily protein requirement is considerably less than we have been led to believe (read PROTEINAHOLIC by Garth Davis) – it should constitute no more than around 10% of our calories and it is no problem whatsoever to obtain this from plants. Indeed, it is PREFERABLE to obtain it from plants!
Chapter Six – ‘Through the Carnistic Looking Glass: Internalize Carnism’
Here, Dr Joy discusses the distorted perceptions on which carnism is based.
This involves OBJECTIFICATION, DEINDIVIDUALISATION and DICHOTOMISATION
Objectification – viewing animals as objects or ‘things’, rather than sentient beings.
Deindividualisation – failing to see animals as individuals with their own personalities and sensitivities. Rather, they are grouped together as an abstraction. Yet again, even carnists would view and treat pets, such as dogs or cats, very differently.
Dichotomisation – putting animals in two or more categories according to the way we view them. Broadly speaking, different cultures consider it perfectly acceptable to consume the meat and products of some species, but not others.
Chapter Seven – ‘Bearing Witness : from Carnism to Compassion’
Essentially, bearing witness means being aware of the plight and treatment of animals and showing empathy rather than apathy. There is considerable evidence that humans are inherently empathetic.
If carnistic practices are to be overthrown it will require collective witnessing – and a public who, when informed, do, indeed, become empathetic towards the suffering of animals as a result of our dominance and exploitation of them.