Ask any meat eater why people eat meat and they’ll tell you it’s delicious, that eating meat is not only natural but also normal and necessary. Ask Dr. Melanie Joy (who spent two decades studying the psychology behind why we eat meat) the same question and you’ll get a much darker—and interesting—answer: a violent ideology has convinced them they must do it. She
That ideology is carnism, the opposite of veganism. Never heard of it? That’s exactly her point.
“Carnism is a dominant ideology, which means it’s embedded deeply in society to the point that it’s considered ‘just the way things are,’” Joy explains. “But just because something isn’t recognized or is viewed as ‘how things are’ doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Racism wasn’t recognized as a problem or ideology at a point in history but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. It [carnism] has just been around for so long that it’s taken for granted.”
“When we’re born into a world with a dominant ideology, we can’t help but see the world through that lens,” she says of how kids whose parents eat chicken wings, for example, will start seeing chicken as a natural food option. “There are people in this world who absolutely need to eat meat because geographically or socially, that’s where they are. Most people, though, have a choice when it comes to eating animals, they’re just not aware if it because they’re blinded by the ideology.”
Dr Joy explains one of the methods carnism remains invisible is by keeping the victims(animals) out of sight and therefore conveniently out of public consciousness. Although we don’t see the inner world of farmed animals these animals are each unique individual sentient beings who feel and think very similar to how we do. She uses examples such as the:
- Pig which has at least the intelligence level of a 3 year old human being, and if you know any 3 year old’s you will know how clever and emotionally developed they are.
- Cows are another great example because they develop deep and lasting bonds with their family and friends and have been known to cry for weeks when forcibly separated from their children.
- Chickens are able to distinguish between 100 different faces of members of their species and they have 30 different calls to signal types of threats.
- Scientists have demonstrated that certain fish have intelligence and pain receptors such that in some places in the world it is now illegal to keep fish in small bowls or to boil lobsters alive.
So why are so blinded by this dominant ideology of ‘carnism’?
Well, the blinders come from both inside and outside ourselves, she says. From the outside we have agro-businesses taking strong measures to make sure people don’t know how violent and cruel the process of making meat actually is, calling a cow a hamburger, a hen chicken wings and a pig hot dogs. From the inside, we convince ourselves eating meat is normal, necessary and natural by reminding ourselves people have done it for years.
The only way to break the cycle is then to make the ideology visible, she argues. Look at undercover footage of factory farming, see how those animals are treated, learn about how an animal becomes a hamburger, a chicken wing or a hot dog.
The first step in that chain of events is for people to first acknowledge that there is an ideology, however. That was her goal with the TEDX Talk and now an animated video she recently released — and it’s working.
Her presentation, ‘Beyond Carnism and Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices,’ has become one of the top one percent most viewed TEDX talks of all time and she has presented it in five different continents.
Check it out here:
It’s really exciting the shift of consciousness that’s happening around the world,” she says. “A lot of people are asking how they can make more ethical choices.”
But is it enough to trump an industry that kills 77 billion animals for flesh and body parts to be sold for food? Joy thinks so.
“I have no doubt veganism will replace carnism one day,” she proclaims. “Look at the other -isms that have come before like sexism and racism. Carnism is so contrary to humans and their values. Most people genuinely believe in values like compassion and not causing harm unnecessarily. Carnism goes directly against all of those values. When people become aware and freely choose how they participate in these systems, they start saying ‘no.’”