I realize this is a rather long post, but I would love to get your thoughts on it. I admit my use of the word “religion” in the title for this post may be misleading. I am referring to a belief system in our culture that in many ways parallels the psychology of theists.
According to Melanie Joy, Ph.D, Ed.M, a social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, meat eating is an ideology, or a belief system.
She says, “Most of us who have grown up eating meat don’t realize that every time we sit down to our food, we are acting in accordance with an invisible belief system that has shaped our thoughts, preferences, feelings and behaviors. We aren’t aware of how we have been conditioned to eat animals without considering the implications of our choices on ourselves or on others - or to even realize we are making choices at all.”
“Meat production and consumption, the most far-reaching and widely supported form of nonhuman animal exploitation, remains an unnamed ideology.”
“This invisible belief system, carnism, has created the illusion that when we eat meat we are making our choices freely. But carnism is structured to enable humane people to participate in inhumane practices without realizing what they’re doing, to block our awareness so that we unknowingly act against our own interests and the interests of others.”
“We have, however, recognized that the opposing dietary standpoint—vegetarianism—is, indeed, an ideology. For this reason, we do not call vegetarians "plant-eaters" or "non-meat-eaters" because we understand that vegetarianism, though its principles are manifested in the act of abstaining from the consumption of flesh, is actually a philosophy in which the subjugation of other animals is considered unnecessary and unjust.
This inequality of ideological identification demonstrates our collective meat bias. It is, in fact, quite common to label only those beliefs which run counter to the dominant culture. We assume that it is not necessary to assign a term to ourselves when we adhere to the mainstream way of thinking, as though its prevalence makes it an intrinsic part of life rather than a widely held opinion. Meat eating, though culturally dominant, reflects a choice that is not espoused by everybody.
Some people refer to meat-eaters as carnivores; yet, human meat-eaters are actually omnivores, as they consume both flesh and plants. Moreover, the terms carnivore and omnivore suggest a biological predisposition toward flesh, while contemporary, wide-scale meat eating is not a physiological necessity but an ideological choice; the millions of healthy vegetarians who have persisted throughout the centuries are testament to this. Neither carnivore nor omnivore expresses the beliefs beneath the behavior.
For the reasons listed above, I have chosen to employ the terms carnism and carnist to the ideology of meat production/consumption and its proponents. Carnism stems from the Latin carn, meaning flesh or body, and is the root in carnage. Fleshist might have been appropriate, but flesh has fewer connotations suggestive of slaughter and this label may be too disconcerting and removed from the socially accepted carnivore for carnists to be willing to apply to themselves. And the term meatist reinforces the social construction of meat in which "meat" is perceived as synonymous with "food."
By naming the belief system which underlies the acts of meat production and consumption we are better able to acknowledge that slaughtering nonhuman animals for human consumption is not a given but a choice; a choice that is based upon an ideology in which the domination and exploitation of other animals is considered a natural human privilege. To say "I eat meat" or "I am a meat-eater" denotes an action devoid of a philosophical viewpoint, whereas to say "I am a carnist," describes a choice, an identification with a particular belief system. Using the verb, eat, in the labels meat-eater or even flesh-eater places the focus of the consumption of other animals on what one does, rather than what one is.”
In her book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows”, Dr. Joy explains the process through which carnists use psychic numbing to cope with the moral disconnect between the common belief that it is wrong to cause needless suffering and the act of causing animals to suffer needlessly so that we can eat them.
Psychic numbing: “we disconnect, mentally and emotionally,from our experience; we ‘numb’ ourselves. [...] Psychic numbing is adaptive, or beneficial, when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive, or destructive, when it is used to enable violence.”
On both an individual and institutional level, we engage in a number of defense mechanisms that help us to achieve psychic numbing:
- Denial: Also called “practical invisibility,” denial is the process by which the horrific realities of “meat” (and egg and dairy) production are literally kept invisible to us. For example, we “grow” billions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, lambs, etc. for food every year; but where are they!? Few of us rarely, if ever, witness these animals grazing the land, rearing their offspring, sunning themselves in the grass or preening in the dirt. But they’re out there: crammed by the tens of thousands into massive, windowless buildings, located in large complexes on the outskirts of town. These animals are trucked to and from slaughter in unmarked vans; their only exposure to the outdoors comes when they await sale or death, on the auction block or at the slaughterhouse. Practically speaking, they remain invisible to us, as does their suffering. Because many of us enjoy eating “meat,” eggs and milk, this is how we like it.
- Avoidance: The counterpart to denial, avoidance involves “symbolic invisibility”; it is “knowing without knowing.” The animal agriculture industry – with no small amount of help from the other major social institutions, such as the government and news media – feed us ridiculous, transparent lies about “meat” production, and we eagerly gobble them up. "Humane meat" is an oxymoron: labels such as “organic,” “free range,” “grass fed,” etc. are rendered meaningless through industry lobbying and self-policing, and besides, no unnecessary death can ever be called “humane.” While the government has ostensibly established myriad rules regarding food safety, animal welfare, and environmental responsibility, again, these rules remain full of loopholes and usually go unenforced. For example, chickens aren’t considered “animals” under either the Animal Welfare Act or the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act.
- Justification: We use a series of myths in order to convince ourselves of the “justness” of carnism. These myths typically involve the 3 Ns, as Joy refers to them:
Normal – Carnism has become normalized, such that its tenets are social norms. Social norms are both descriptive (telling us how things are now) and prescriptive (dictating to us how things ought to be). But just like religious belief, just because something is normal, or common, doesn’t make it right.
Natural – If something is “natural,” it’s assumed to be “justifiable”: “The way ‘natural’ translates to ‘justifiable’ is through the process of naturalization. [...] When an ideology is naturalized, its tenets are believed to be in accordance with the laws of nature.” “Natural” = “the way things are meant to be.” But I think many of us can easily point out the“naturalistic fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy
Necessary – Closely tied to the supposed “naturalness” of carnism, “meat’s” perceived “necessity” makes it seem inevitable; not a choice. But clearly “meat” consumption is a choice – in industrialized nations, anyhow – as any vegan or vegetarian can attest.
- Objectification: Via objectification, we reduce living, sentient beings to nothing more than objects; we objectify them. Clearly, a cow is nothing like a television set – but both are considered pieces of property in our “modern,” “civilized” society. Objectification is even apparent in our language when we refer to animals as “it” instead of as “he” or “she” as if they are inanimate objects.
- Deindividualization: Through deindividualization, we strip animals of their individual identities, viewing them as pieces of a group and nothing more. One individual in the group is thought of as indistinguishable from all the rest; thus, the singular sentient beings become unfamiliar abstractions. (This is why Americans recoil at the thought of eating dog meat; most of us have either lived with or known at least one dog on a personal level. Dogs are individuals, familiars, whereas cows, pigs, fishes and chickens are not.)
- Dichotomization: Dichotomization involves grouping animals into two distinct, often diametrically opposed, categories: food/not food, cute/ugly, dirty/clean. These categories are usually arbitrary and based on our own prejudices and stereotypes rather than any semblance of reality. Along with objectification and deindividualization, dichotomization allows us to “distance” ourselves from“food” animals at will.
Here is nice video promo for the book that makes this point pretty well:
- Rationalization: To rationalize a behavior is to attempt to provide a rational explanation for a behavior that is, at its core, irrational. Animal agriculture is wasteful, unsustainable, harmful to human health and the environment, and – above all else – inherently cruel to the billions of nonhuman animals who are enslaved and killed for nothing more than human “taste” and “convenience” and corporate profits. Yet, our culture is replete with rationalizations for this most irrational of business and ethical models. Even otherwise rational people come up with crazy rationalizations when presented with even the idea of veganism –“don’t plants feel pain too” or “humans have eaten meat for thousands of years.” Yeah, so? Humans have raped and murdered for thousands of years too. Does that make it okay?
- Dissociation: Described by Joy as “the heart of psychic numbing,” dissociation “is psychologically and emotionally disconnecting from the truth of our experience; it is the feeling of not being fully ‘present’ or conscious.” Often times, dissociation is triggered by a traumatic experience, for example, experiencing or witnessing a physical assault. Given that “meat” production involves the assault and murder of tens of billions of sentient beings per year – and “meat”- eating is, literally, the consumption of a once-living, once-feeling individual – it makes sense that the same psychological defense mechanism that protects us from reliving our own distressful experience also shields us from the uncomfortable truth that, with every animal-based meal, we are directly participating in another being’s living (and dying) hell.
Anyway, that’s it. Sorry for the long post. If you read the whole thing, I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.
I beg to differ. Veganism is a very practical and easy lifestyle and can be suited to anyone. It takes into account that fact that factory farming and animal use is so widespread and pervasive that it is currently impossible to be 100% animal-free. But that isn’t the point. Veganism is an honest effort to avoid needlessly exploiting animals as much as possible and practical.
The Vegan Society, which invented the term, defines veganism as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.”
But it seems like you are saying that since everyone can't bee 100% vegan right now that people might as well continue eating bacon double cheeseburgers. In my opinion, as more and more people adopt a mostly, or 99% vegan lifestyle, and remove the obvious meat, dairy and eggs from their diets, then the industrial farming model will become less profitable and the minor animal ingredients that are used for wine clarification, filtering water and sugar and other things will become more expensive and will be replaced by less expensive plant-based substitutes.
I think it can be counterproductive to focus on minor animal ingredients because it does make veganism seem too difficult or impossible. But by finding viable alternatives to meat, dairy, eggs, fur, leather and wool (which is easy) people can be vegan - as much as possible and practical. And that is enough for now.
And the absolute winner in this hunt for an alternatives to fur and whool and leather: Petrochemicals. Petrochemical shoes, petrochemical clothing, with extremely short lifespans, therefore needing quick replacements, insuring the wheels of consumerism keep turning. We were/are an upper level poor family. My grandmother wore her beaver coat for 60 odd years. She died in 2003, at age 93. She ate real food all her life (nothing processed) and never smoked nicotine.
It almost seems to me that you're proposing we switch from a naturally occuring omnivorous lifestyle to a petrochemical religion? :P
Canvas is generally made from cotton. Petrochemicals are winning against cotton as well. Cotton production generally uses cheap unstable migratory labour.
Going back to the OP... To call omniverous people religious just because of one single food choice smacks of religiosity! Vegetarians, instead of trying to ridicule naturally occuring omniverous people, I think, should focus instead on reduction of meat consumption. Vegetarians also need to stick to scientifically demonstratable facts in lieu of repeating oft-unproven pop culture statements. I think vegetarians have a better chance at success in swaying the atheist community versus the religious communities, but better science is going to have to be used in the arguments. Just anecdotally, my mom has hypertension, she stopped eating red meat 15 years ago, eats very little other animal flesh, yet her hypertension has continued to rise. When it comes to health issues, vegetarianism has very little science to back it up. And when it comes to aging diseases, pop science is rife with crap science.
As for vegetarians moral stance, well, morality is a highly arguable topic, who's right, who's wrong? I don't believe in right or wrong, only in setting community goals and finding methods to reach those goals.
Yes, some vegan alternatives to wool, leather and fur are petrochemical based. Some aren't. Ever hear of linen, hemp, organic cotton, bamboo, etc.? But consider also the fact that it takes 3.5 times as much oil to produce a fur coat from trapped animals as it does to produce a fake fur. Ranched fur costs over 15 times as much as fake fur in energy terms. Here is some more info on that: http://www.gan.ca/campaigns/fur+trade/factsheets/fur+%3A+a+waste+of....
Not to mention all of the toxic chemical like chromium and formaldahyde that are needed to keep fur and leather from rotting away in your closet like dead flesh normally would. Would you want to live downstream from a leather tannery?
Well, hemp needs to get back to legal status in the USA before you can really use that as an alternative... Bamboo from across the world, petrochemicals to get here... organic cotton MIGHT be a mass commodity option, if we can ensure the human harvesters get decent wages and working conditions, and how much fuel do cotton picking machines use, not only in the field, but in the manufacturing of the machinery?
As for my grandmother's beaver coat, it was not a luxury item, and it did not come from a farm, and it did not need chemicals to keep it nice for over a half century. You know of any other natural fiber that lasts so long???
I'm not in favor of luxury furs, but as for the animal meat topic goes. Using all parts of the animal, respectfully, has benefits for humans and is not amoral. The native peoples in Canada that kill small numbers of wildlife on a yearly basis I am in total support of.
Are ants amoral for farming, is a hyena amoral for eating other's babies, this morality/religious issue is IMO completely blown out of proportion. Many other actions, such as shutting down the cogs of consumerism would have a much greater impact on humans. Do I think of consumerism as a religion? no, it is simply the consequence of avarice and misinformation.
For me, it's not killing the cow and eating it that's inhumane, it's the crappy life it has to endure, and especially its final hours before slaughter.
I agree consumerism needs to be reigned in. As does the human population. Lots of problems. As for morality, I think that knowingly causing needless suffering is immoral therefore eating animals when one doesn't need to is immoral. I've said this before, but I think most people agree with me in principle that knowingly causing needless suffering is wrong. It just seems that most people have an obvious contradiction between their values and behaviors when it comes to the consumption of nonhuman animals and are great at coming up with irrelevant excuses to continue eating animals.
One more point and then I have to go for the night. You seem to be very concerned about consumerism. But let me ask you this: what single product do people consume more often than food? I can't think of anything. Therefore, our food choices are incredibly important. More than any other consumer purchase. And if we can use fewer resources by choosing plant-based foods over animal-based foods than that should fit right in with your priorities.
I think it is great that you eat far less meat than most people. But this isn't really about you. It is about most people. And to save the planet I think we all need to work toward urging people to limit their consumption - especially our consumption of resource intensive animal products.
Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as any common multiple vitamin
Always the caveat... present in small print at the bottom. A true omnivorous diet requires no supplements, any diet requiring supplements is more akin to 'a religion' than the reverse.
Oh gee, I guess then pretty much most societies that have ever lived in non-moderate climates and thus have had restricted food choices must all have been orthodox eaters. I'm personally a radical eater. I find my fundamentalism rather satisfying. It's not based on selfishness nor ignorance, but in fact a result of judicious deliberation guided by consistent expressed moral principles. But hey, to each his own right? I'd better bow out of this discussion while my emotions are still under control. Besides, I'm way late for my 4th daily prayer to the great vegetable in the sky.
Interesting. What about iodised salt? That's a supplement that prevents mental retardation and thyroid disease induced by iodine deficiency. About 2 billion omnivorous humans are iodine deficient worldwide. And what about vitamin D fortified milk that helps keep so many omnivorous Americans healthy? Are you against that too?
B12 doesn't come from meat. It comes from microorganisms found in the soil, water and guts of animals. Until modern times, it is thought that humans were able to get enough B12 from water and vegetables in the soil. But chemicals that are put on our soil and chlorine used in our drinking water depletes the levels of B12 producing microorganisms, so it is wise for modern vegans to take supplements.
Speaking of nutrition and supplements, according to the USDA "Food and Nutrient Intakes by Individuals in the United States" (1994-1996), the average vegan is deficient in 3 nutrients: B12, iodine and calcium. But according to the same study, the average omnivorous American is deficient in 7 nutrients: calcium, iodine, vitamin C, E, folate, magnesium and fiber.
In my opinion, no matter if you are vegan or not, it is good idea to have some basic understanding of nutrition, make sure you have a well balanced diet and supplement if necessary. But, at least according to the USDA report above, the average vegan seems to have much less to worry about than the average omnivore when it comes to nutrient deficiency.
hehehe, yes certainly there are plently of omnivores who don't know shit about nutrition, and/or are too poor or isolated to get to it. For those, vegetarianism would not be much solace. People, such as myself or yourself, who are obsessed enough with food to become vegetarians, or at least try it out for a while, have given some thought to their health, so I would expect that such a subset of the population would have better health stats than a general sampling of a population in which illeteracy runs rampant. I get a complete bloodwork done every 2 years, I have no deficiencies. I am a little chubby however, but was no less chubby in my 10 vegetarian years.
Maybe a more reliable scientific study would have been to compare nutrient deficiency according to education level? And then within educational categories, then look for variation between vegetarians and omivorous. Again, experimental design is everything when looking for real scientific answers. The USDA still tells people milk is necessary, the USDA still says eating white-highly-processed grain is ok. Frankly, the USDA is all over the place in its guidelines, so I pay as little attention to the USDA as I can.