Since I've been running short on time lately, I thought now would be the perfect opportunity to invite a guest blogger on board. You might remember I interviewed Melanie back in August on Eating Consciously Podcast #13. I've read the book and I give it five stars all the way! If you haven't pre-ordered it yet, I HIGHLY recommend that you do. Make sure you get a copy not only for yourself, but copies for the carnists in your life as well.
Since this is a bit of a lengthy post, I won't take up too much more of your reading time, but I wanted to point out that you might be interested in watching this new two-minute video about the book:
and now I'll let Melanie tell you a bit more about the book herself...
Like most people, I grew up eating meat. I also grew up with a dog, who was my best friend throughout my childhood. And like most people, I didn’t think about how I could love my dog yet eat other animals daily without thinking about what I was doing or why. Though there were times when I’d question and rebel against eating animals – when, for instance, I was faced with the resistant vein in the drumstick I was biting into and I lost my appetite for the chicken, or when I witnessed footage of the inhumane treatment of farmed animals – there were an equal number of times I was coaxed back into my meat eating: I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table until I’d cleaned my plate; my pediatrician told my parents I needed meat to develop a strong, healthy body; I was supposedly having “food issues” that were potentially symptomatic of an eating disorder. So my discomfort at the idea of eating meat would eventually “wear off” and the questions that had hovered at the edge of my awareness were pushed back down out of consciousness. I could maintain the gap in my consciousness that enabled me to love some animals and eat others.
As a young adult, the internal conflict I’d felt about my relationship with animals finally forced me to examine my assumptions and behaviors toward eating meat and I became a vegetarian. I became deeply concerned with the intense suffering caused by meat production, and with the fact that I had been actively discouraged from learning the truth about meat production and from reflecting on my food choices. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that eating meat was a choice. It was presented by society, my family, my friends, virtually everyone as simply a given, as the way things are. Had I known that eating meat was a choice, I may well have chosen otherwise. During this time I also became fascinated with how my mentality, my paradigm, had fundamentally shifted. Food that had once been delicious had become disgusting to me. What had happened?
My concern with animal suffering, along with my desire to raise consciousness so that people like myself would be encouraged to – rather than discouraged from – reflect on their attitudes and behaviors toward animals, and my desire to understand the psychology of eating (and not eating) meat led me to research what I eventually came to call carnism. And there was another motivation for my research: as I became more involved with organizations that supported vegetarianism, I also became aware of the deep divide between many vegetarians and carnists (meat eaters). I wanted to assuage vegetarians’ frustration with and often judgment toward people who eat meat. I wanted to explain the profound and complex psychological and social mechanisms that enable “good” people to engage in behaviors that don’t necessarily reflect their deeper value system, and encourage vegetarians to feel more compassion and understanding for the meat eaters in their lives. I also wanted to support vegetarians who often encounter unprovoked defensiveness from carnists; I wanted to help vegetarians understand why the mere mention of meat production could cause a defensive, sometimes intense “anti-vegetarian” response from carnists and therefore how to have a more productive dialogue around the issue of meat.
As a doctoral student in psychology, I interviewed meat cutters, carnists, vegetarians, and vegans. I read everything I could get my hands on about meat eating, cross-cultural consumption patterns, vegetarianism, animal welfare, animal rights, psychological “numbing,” cognitive moral dissonance, disgust, the psycho-sociology of violence and nonviolence, and a host of other issues that I thought might be related to my topic of interest. And I continued this exploration into my post-doctoral career.
What I found was that, in general, people tend to “numb” themselves to some degree in order to eat (or produce) meat. Most people feel a moral discomfort with the idea of eating someone – rather than something – and so they push this awareness aside in order to comfortably consume animals. This mentality is enabled by a dominant social system, or ideology, that I call carnism. Like other dominant systems that depend on people to act against their deeper value system (most people’s value system doesn’t condone extensive and unnecessary animal suffering), carnism is structured in a way to block our awareness of the animals and meat we eat. The system uses a set of defense mechanisms that become ingrained in our psyche from the moment we’re old enough to eat solid food. The primary defense of the system is invisibility – carnism remains invisible by remaining unnamed, and the process by which animals are turned into meat remains, to most people, hidden. (The “psychic numbing” I write about applies to people in Western cultures and who are not dependent on meat to survive. It would have been impossible, and inappropriate, to discuss the myriad psychologies of all societies. However, I do dedicate a section of the book to discussing how psychic numbing may operate across cultures and eras – how, for instance, it may apply to those who butcher and perhaps hunt animals for food.)
In Why We Love Dogs…I deconstruct carnism. As the subtitle explains, the book is about the belief system that enables us to eat some animals and not others. I have dedicated two out of the seven chapters to exposing the truth about meat production so that readers can understand the facts that the system works to hide. Since invisibility is the primary defense of the system, it is necessary to make the invisible visible. The other chapters explain the specific ways in which carnism is woven into the fabric of society and our psyches. To help readers understand these concepts, I use examples from other ideologies that also relied on psychic numbing and that are structurally similar to carnism; throughout history, humane people have supported inhumane practices not because these people were “bad” or “evil” but because they existed within a system that shaped their perceptions, feelings, and behaviors. The last chapter also includes an explanation of how to transform numbing into awareness – how to become an active witness, to the system and oneself.
I wrote Why We Love Dogs…because, though much has been written about meat production, and some books have explored the history of meat eating, no book had been written about the psycho-sociology of meat consumption. The reason we love some animals and eat others is not because some animals are more loveable or because some animals are more edible; cross-cultural analyses reveal that neither practicality nor rationality determine which species become food and which become pets (I have dedicated a section in the book to explaining this issue). In Why We Love Dogs…my aim was not to discuss biology, but ideology. When meat eating isn’t a necessity, it’s a choice, and choices always stem from beliefs – beliefs, in turn, come from ideology. Just as discussing the biological differences between so-called “races” has distracted from a discussion about the ideology of racism, so, too, is a discussion of predation or “omnivorousness” a distraction from the very real and pressing issue of carnism.
Why We Love Dogs… is, in short, an exploration of the social and psychological forces that surround our experience of eating meat. It is based on well-established sociological and psychological principles, woven together with anthropological data to produce a broad theoretical framework for understanding the underpinnings of contemporary meat consumption. Though I have drawn on a number of empirical studies, I do not intend the book as a rigid and conclusive scientific treatise but rather as an exploration, and like any exploratory work its principles may not apply to all people, all the time. Why We Love Dogs…is not meant to be the “final word” on meat consumption, but the beginning of an ongoing exploration in which ideas are built upon, modified, and evolve over time. I wrote the book as an invitation to open up dialogue, a dialogue that I believe is of enormous importance to all of us: carnists, vegetarians, animals, and our planet.
-Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Ed.M.
Author, "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism" and "Strategic Action for Animals"
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