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.
The average medical doctor in the United States gets a total of 3 hours of nutritional training. Taking a medical doctor's advice on nutrition is like taking a lawyer's advice on auto mechanics. Sure, lawyers may be really smart. But that doesn't mean they know how to fix your carburetor.
I am not ignoring evidence or making a True Scotsman argument. I am saying that a review of the scientific literature by experts in the field of nutrition trumps your anecdotes and medical doctor opinions.
I was also pointing out that since many people in our culture are heavily indoctrinated to believe that eating meat is necessary they have a very strong bias. This bias can lead many people who stop eating meat to conclude that any ailment they later have is due to lack of meat. They don't necessarily have any evidence to back this up. It's just a belief. But when people who eat meat have similar symptoms, they are less likely to blame it on the fact they eat meat because they believe very strongly that meat is healthy (even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary).
Just to be clear, I'm talking about veganism, and not vegetarianism. She (Dr. Joy) seems to have a problem Egg and Dairy as well and that's where I'm drawing the distinction.
Article abstract for the American Journal of Nutrition.
"However, eliminating all animal products from the diet increases the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Micronutrients of special concern for the vegan include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and long-chain n–3 (omega-3) fatty acids. Unless vegans regularly consume foods that are fortified with these nutrients, appropriate supplements should be consumed. In some cases, iron and zinc status of vegans may also be of concern because of the limited bioavailability of these minerals."
The key here is effort, taste, etc. If I don't feel the moral obligation that speaks to you, then why plan, my diet or take supplements and not just have some fish or Chicken that also have fat benefits for your joints, it's less expensive, etc.
My notion that vegans are hungry certainly isn't anecdotal in any strict sense. Type it into a search engine. I've attached a screen shot. You can see that it's a question posted over and over in vegetarian and vegan boards. I'm not suggesting that the problem isn't insurmountable, but it exists.
So the problems Tasha brings up are not only ones she experienced, the B12 problem isn't just a lark shot in the dark, I've provided a link to a Nutritional magazine abstract that notes the same issue and it agrees with the doctor... doesn't this move from a allegation of anecdotal to being a verifiable issue to address? Don't we need to know how geographic locations and selection have affected dietary needs before we can make blanket statements that this works well for everyone? Clearly advocates of the practice do have issues from time to time. That's not to say throw the baby out with the bathwater, but maybe vegetarianism is a more practical solution.
I think it is important for people to have well balanced diets and ensure they are getting all of the nutrients they need. And if eating animal products from time to time is necessary for certain individuals due to their specific geographical location (i.e. the Inuit) then it falls outside the realm of moral choice.
But a vegetarian diet is hardly ideal.
Dairy products increase the risk of prostate cancer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12869397
Eggs increase the risk of colon and rectal cancer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14690791
Barring certain socio-economic conditions, the vast majority of people can get all the nutrients they need from plant foods. The few who can't can easily supplement or use fortified foods.
"Vegetarians who do not supplement their diet with vitamin B12 tend to have elevated homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine is associated with early mortality, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and birth defects. There is evidence that lowering homocysteine levels in otherwise healthy people can prevent death from stroke. Vegetarians who get 3 to 100 µg of B12 per day through fortified foods or supplements will minimize any elevated homocysteine problems due to a low B12 intake." Link
So a large part of this discussion is about health. Especially your last response. You are pointing out how healthy the diet is, but only with supplements. The truth is that if faced with just eating the Vegan diet and no access to supplements, you would be faced with greater and more immediate health risks than an omnivore. You don't find it a double standard to say that the diet is healthy and you don't have to eat animal products (as opposed to being a meat eater), but clearly we evolved to need some of those properties? Pointing out risks after a lifetime of consuming a product versus being in danger shortly after taking up a diet is not an apples to apples argument. One diet requires supplements and the other doesn't.
Again, for me morality doesn't play a factor in the food choices so we'll have reached an impasse. The furthest you could take me down that road is to say that I knew about certain farms that were mistreating animals. Every animal that I've ever personally seen on a farm was handled as if it was a revenue source and mistreating them would be detrimental. I know that isn't universal. I would argue that I'm the middle ground. Some farmers would be dismissive of your point altogether. You advocate no animal by-products even (which is really into 1000's of products). I would accept a higher price for better treatment. Figure out a productive way to do that and to regulate/certify it and you'll get part of what you'd like to ultimately see.
But most people can supplement their diet with B12, so what is the problem?
Humans do need B12. B12 comes from certain types of microorganisms that are found in the soil, water and living in the guts of animals. In the past it was easy for people to get B12 from eating vegetables grown in the soil and from drinking water. Nowadays we chlorinate our water and pour all sorts of chemicals on our soil - which tends to deplete the levels of B12 producing bacteria. So, nowadays it is more difficult to get enough B12 from vegetables and water and vegans are wise to take supplements.
Don't get me wrong. Chlorinated water is a good thing. It helps to prevent cholera, for example. So, if the trade off between having chlorinated water and not getting cholera is that I need to take B12 supplements, then so be it.
I agree that farmers treat animals as a revenue source and there is some incentive to keep them healthy and alive because of that. But as long as animals are viewed as commodities instead of as the sentient beings then profit will always trump their welfare. For example, egg farmers have figured out that chickens are cheap compared to cages. They have determined that they can actually get more eggs by cramming more birds into the same small cages even if the overcrowding increases the mortality rate of the birds. It's a profit/loss equation for them.
By way of analogy, one could argue that a slave owner has an interest in treating his slaves well because they are a revenue source for him. Yet slave abolitionists weren't satisfied to simply regulate slavery and to try to make it "humane" or "sustainable."
Depriving other sentient beings of freedom is a form of abuse in and of itself. When sentient beings are viewed as things to be bought and sold, profit comes first. Their welfare comes second at best. I hope we learn this lesson before we start colonizing other planets and potentially encounter other sentient beings in the galaxy.
Yes, morality requires thought.
Do you agree it is wrong to cause needless suffering? Do you agree animals suffer needlessly when raised and killed for food?
If you are looking for a line in the sand, why not draw the line at not knowingly causing needless suffering?
But if one is going to defend meat eating on the fact that some non-human animals do it then they should be prepared to defend infanticide, rape and cannibalism on the same grounds. But if rape, infanticide and cannibalism fall within the realm of morality (and they do when we have the ability to know better) then so does the act of eating meat. See naturalistic fallacy in the post above.