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.
Many people cling to religion because they can't imagine life without God.
Farmed animals are not a danger to you or society, and you know this. They are innocent. There suffering and deaths are unjustified.
I am not saying you are a bad person. I was a carnist for 26 years. I loved meat. I used to take pride in the fact that I had eaten all sorts of exotic animals from cat (in China), to ostrich to snails. One day my wife came home and declared she was going to go vegan. I thought she was crazy! She is going to eat broccoli and tofu and die I thought. I completely understand where you are coming from (I think), because I was very much like you once.
I'm not asking you to change your eating habits. I'm asking you to examine the reasons you eat the way you do and to hold those reasons up to the same level of scrutiny and skepticism that you hold religion or other belief systems.
When I stopped thinking about myself and my wants and started thinking about the consequences my actions had on others, it changed my perspective.
I love my dog more than anything. I would do anything to protect her and would kick the shit out of anyone who tried to hurt her. When I finally stopped trying to rationalize my meat eating behavior and looked into my dog's eyes and realized she is no more or less morally significant than a cow or a pig or a chicken, it suddenly seemed unconscionable for me to pay people to hurt and kill other animals when I would not want them to hurt or kill my dog Tessa.
First of all to those claiming "I like the taste of meat", and then proceeding to say "i like them well cooked or medium rare", that's just hypocrisy at a whole new level!
Try eating a cow by biting its flesh off and drinking the hot blood.
For those claiming "machoism", try killing a bull with your bare hands. Goats might be easier but not without some fight.
Meat as we know it is processed into a commodity before we consume it. Maybe some tribe out there eats meat raw but for the rest of the civilized world, even dogs- whenever they're consumed, are cooked.
It saddens me that every mall I visit has so little in non-meat options. Meat eaters are the ones who should be labelled as "meat-eaters" rather than non meat eaters as "vegetarians".
It is exactly a belief system. Just like a cChristian or a Muslim would defend their faith, meat-eaters here are doing so in exactly the same fashion. In ancient times, killing someone or an eye-for-an-eye was considered a morally acceptable behaviour under a lot of circumstances. It's not today. Why? because we are more CIVILIZED.
The same logic applies towards animals. If we do not need to kill them, DON'T! Survival of oneself is a different story. I'd kill to survive too. No question there.
This post couldn't be further from the truth. Meat-Eaters are no different from any deeply religious person. Criticize them and they viciously attack back.
thanks for the great links and article references Allen!
"It is exactly a belief system. Just like a cChristian or a Muslim would defend their faith, meat-eaters here are doing so in exactly the same fashion.
I thought I already dispelled this argument?
If a thread was posted on how 'brushing your teeth' is a belief system, yet many posters were 'defending' their teeth brushing , would you call 'teeth brushing' a 'belief system'?
Let's move to it any territory where someone 'defends' their personal ideas or actions?
You could say eating meat is a 'belief' - because I believe it tastes good (Your point about cooked vs uncooked meat lost me as I don't see why it matters ... it still tastes great to eat it)
I would defend masturbation as well if a Christian started accusing me of being immoral - that doesn't mean masturbation is a 'belief system'.
I did read it. You said I was defending something, and therefore it is proof I was defending a belief system. The guy above used the same argument, and I am calling it out as silly at best.
Just replace 'eating meat' with any other numerous actions we take as human beings in our society that is not absolutely tied to evolutionary biology.
Aha, well earlier you said you didn't read it.
In any case, I may have done a poor job of paraphrasing Dr. Joy's book, but the gist is that any time we make a choice we are exercising our beliefs. If I am cold I may put on a sweater because I believe it will make me warm. This type of belief is different in many ways from religious faith in that I have evidence that a sweater will make me warm.
So, the analogy between carnism/veganism as belief systems and religious belief systems isn't a perfect. I admit that. But no analogy is perfect. I could compare apples and oranges because they are both fruit and then you could say the analogy doesn't fit because apples are red and oranges are orange. But the point of an analogy is to make one think about things from a different perspective.
In have witnessed many parallels between religious people and meat eaters when it comes to having their belief systems questioned. And it is for this reason I thought it would be interesting to pose the question, or the analogy, to people at T/A. I was curious to see if people who had at least some practice in skepticism were able to overcome their own bias and think critically about a behavior that most people don't spend much time thinking about.
Doone, which of these statements is a belief? A, B, A and B, or neither?
A. Eating animals is morally acceptable.
B. Eating animals is immoral.
I think both A and B are statements of belief.
Which of these statements is a belief? A, B, A and B, neither?
A. There is a God.
B. There is no God.
I think both A and B are statements of belief.
I think you may agree that the reasonable position for an atheist to take is that there is insufficient evidence for god. Many atheists take this position and rightly assert that it is not a statement of belief.
Similarly, a reasonable position to take with respect to diet could be that their is insufficient evidence to determine the morality or immorality of eating meat. But few people take this position. Most assert that it is either morally acceptable or immoral to eat animals. And both of these positions are belief systems.
But apples are red Doone! Your comparison of apples and oranges fails. Haha, I win.
That's kind of what it feels like to me when someone fails to get my analogies.
Meat-Eaters are no different from any deeply religious person. Criticize them and they viciously attack back.
No offense, but this statement reeks of victimization. First, it is quite hyperbolic to label the responses in this thread as vicious attacks. Second, the OP began and ended his post with a solicitation for commentary. Third, you just admitted that criticism occurred. Do you label any defense against criticism as a vicious attack on the part of the defendant?
Veganism is not sustainable in all people. Vegetarianism can be.
Voraciouseats.com is down so I have to share a link that is less desirable for me to share the story. The short is that a vegan blogger was in serious failing health due to her adherence to strict veganism. Her hair was falling out, she was tired all of the time, constantly hungry. She eventually went to a doctor whom gave her a b12 shot. Eventually she fell back into the poor condition. She fought to stay a vegan but eventually had to give in to eating meat after three years. She regained her health. I wish that the link was up. It's epic. What's really interesting is the acknowledgement of many vegans and vegetarians saying things like, I have fish a half dozen times a year. Many acknowledged her complaints of being hungry. Many acknowledged that after giving up their veganism they had more energy.
I'm not promoting eating meat. I don't care what others eat. If you are capable of not eating meat, that's potentially great for not using water or creating greenhouse gases. But suggesting that everyone can live without eating animal products is factually incorrect. Personally I need protein to feel full at some point during the day. It can be TVP or mycoprotein and it comes in some good flavors that psychologically may even have a placebo effect. Make more of that and I'm cool with it. But to limit myself to just other options at this time doesn't sound at all interesting and it certainly wouldn't be fulfilling. Having grown up with family owning farms, I don't buy the morality argument. 10 years of food, shelter, water, for the ending of life the is uncomfortable to watch versus dying of cancer, or other disease after a long illness... I hope that I have the option to go quickly went it's time.
Yeah, the Voracious Vegan seems to have fallen for the Vegetarian Myth book which has been debunked. You are kind of pulling out meat-apologist arguments here. They are not good arguments.
According to the American Dietetic Association, the largest group of nutritionists in the world, vegan diets are healthful. Millions of Americans of all ages thrive on a vegan diet. Some have been vegan their whole lives. And there have been vegans throughout history including Pythagoras. Millions of Jains in India have been vegan for thousands of years.
Eating meat is a choice for most humans. It is a choice that we rarely examine and when it is examined people often resort to justifying it with fallacies like the 3 N's discussed in the post (natural, normal, necessary).
Here are some nutritionists' comments about the Voracious Vegan's blog: http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=1602