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.
You don't sound too "bad" to me. Your brand of "egomania" probably compares to Ayn Rand's virtue of selfishness. Reminds me of Anton LaVey's "Satanic Bible" which I did not find very satanic.
Really? I got past the first few sentences and couldn't get myself to read the rest.
I eat meat because it tastes delicious. I love cutting into a medium rare piece of lamb while it oozes blood. I like to drink red wine with the cut of meat and have some baked rolls to eat it with - Perhaps have some fun and dip the roll in the blood that oozes out of the slice of lamb. When the blood mixes with the mashed potatoes , it makes the potatoes taste better. It satisfies a carnal instinct inside of me.
I like to chew the meat , and to pick it out later.
It's a choice because I don't enjoy eating well done steaks. If it's well done I send it back or throw it out or give it to my dog. Why? Because it's dried out and there is no blood or fat flavor left.
To say that eating meat is a religion or 'belief system' is absurd.
Now if someone vowed ONLY to eat meat - with no vegetables or grains etc , then maybe there would be a case for it ..
I guess the system 'carnism' is a belief system if you follow
I guess breathing is a belief system?
Is wearing shoes a belief system?
Is having sex a belief system?
Is brushing your teeth a belief system?
Eating meat is a belief system as much as any of those listed above. I just don't have a doctorate to back the statement up with : P
I grant that our societies group animals differently according to somewhat arbitrary means - But the action of eating meat is not at all connected to it, as I would eat dog and cat if it was legal. I would wear any animal and eat any animal if legal.
Wearing shoes and brushing your teeth could be discussed as relating to belief systems in this context. Breathing is necessary for survival and therefore is divorced from choice and belief. Sex is a little murkier.
I suggest you read the entire post, otherwise this will not be a constructive conversation.
The thing is that eating meat was, up until recently in the industrialised world, necessary for survival. Brushing teeth was not and so is not the same.
Vegetarianism and veganism are the indulgences of the wealthy. Offer many people living in poverty a steak and i promise you morality would not be a concern for them. Many people in South Africa also give biltong (salt dried meat) to babies when they are teething and babies generally love it, implying an instictual preference for both meat and salt. Chimps, as our closest relatives, show a similar meat eating tendency. This is perhaps why being a healthy vegatarian is fairly challenging, you must get the essential amino acids that your body cant produce from plant sources rather than the far more common animal sources. This means that you must have access and resource to do so since this can be expensive. So yes you can make a choice to not eat meat, with the underlying ideology of that choice. That doesnt make meat eating immoral or any less natural.
The second major point here is about agriculture and how animals are treated. Now that we find agreement on, animals are often treated very badly and if you do eat meat you need to accept the reality of that. I know how animals are treated and i disagree with it, but i also enjoy eating meat and feel that it is a natural. I choose which animals i will eat although i also agree that it is not immoral to eat dogs, i simply choose not to. Would you eat meat if we were still a hunter gatherer society? Even if you could be a vegetarian healthily?
A gradual elimination of industrial agriculture in all its forms would drastically raise the price of food in the West, making it once more profitable/sustainable for Africans and Asians to farm for themselves instead of being swamped with cheap Western maize/wheat and small time farming would once again be sustainable even in the West. Asian/African countries' mass rural exodus to the cities to find 'jobs' in order to survive would be slowed/reversed. People living on a farm and owning their family home instead of renting urban shantys would once again become a common sight. We would stop the mass suicide of Indian farmers (200,000 since Monsanto-style ag has entered India). Foods would be better quality, and more locally grown. Industrial ag, when ALL factors are taken into account does not increase yield, it only serves to concentrate food control into the hands of the few. Africans are not starving because we eat beef, they are starving because we've taken away their control over food production entirely. If all North Americans became vegetarian tomorrow, Africans would still starve.
India is aiming for zero population growth by 2045. The entire planet needs to aim for zero population growth NOW.
When I mention how Ecuadorians and Peruvians eat guinea-pig for xmas meals usually North Americans noses wrinkle up and they get a sign of disgust in their eyes. Yet an Ecuadorian does not think twice about this.
Of course the "cues" down there usually have a lovely alphalpha free-range lifestyle, and their flesh, and bones, and organs are eaten til not a speck is left, nothing wasted, and only once a year.
In Quebec we eat horse flesh and organs, even tho horses are my favorite domesticated animal. Those horses weren't raised for meat tho, so it's a quite different context.