Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Eating meat isn't natural ~ It's carnism ~ Katrina Fox

Cattle industry (Thinkstock: Photos.com)


You're sitting down to Sunday dinner and your host serves up a plate of roast lamb and vegetables, with all the trimmings. You tuck in, chewing the tender flesh, savouring the flavour and compliment the chef
on the delicious meal.

"Oh you're welcome," comes the reply. "It's little Ben, the puppy you met last week - doesn't he taste good?"

What do you do next? Like the majority of people (in the western world anyway) you would probably put down your fork, spit out the puppy parts and possibly vomit. The 'food' you were previously enjoying has
become not only inedible but disgusting.

Why is this? There's little difference between a baby sheep and a baby dog in terms of sentience or intelligence. What allows us to eat certain animals (sheep and not dogs for example) is an emotional
response according to our perceptions of them. Dogs are considered
'pets' and part of the family, therefore inedible. Sheep are considered
edible and often associated with negative descriptors such as 'stupid',
'ugly' or 'dirty'.

The usual argument in response to why we shower some animals with love and kindness while advocating the sending of tens of billions of others to the slaughterhouse is that it's just the way things are.
Meat-eating is perceived as a natural act that is not part of a belief
system - unlike ethical vegetarianism or veganism which is viewed as a
choice based on a moral philosophy.

But consuming other species is to participate in a belief system - one that is so entrenched yet invisible that until recently it had no name. In her new book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, American author and psychologist Dr Melanie Joy has dared to speak the unspeakable and named this belief system 'carnism'.

Like other 'isms', such as sexism or racism, carnism relies on its ideology to be considered as the status quo to be successful. For such ideologies to be accepted as mainstream requires suppression of facts
by those who have most to gain from the ideology, and a certain amount
of denial by the masses whom prefer to travel the path of least
resistance.

The men and women in the agribusiness sectors go out of their way to hide the killing and cutting, the abominably cruel conditions farmed animals are kept in during their miserable lives and to silence the
screams of those terrified animals being forced to their death. This
'meat production' process is kept behind closed doors, far away from
public scrutiny. Yet deep down, people know the body parts on their
plates belonged to a living, sentient being who suffered horribly and
died unwillingly. Meat-eating therefore requires a level of
psychological disassociation and emotional numbing.

Carnism allows people to eat animals without thinking about what they are doing or why. But just because an ideology is so entrenched and widespread doesn't mean it's natural or true. It was once widely
believed that the earth was flat, women's honorable position in life
was in the home, serving men, and that black African-Americans were
suited to slavery.

The traditional argument for eating meat is 'We've always done it', but we've always murdered, raped and pillaged, yet we don't justify those actions today by their historical context. And while debates will
forever continue about whether humans evolved as herbivores or
omnivores, the point is that in much of the industrialised world today,
we don't need to eat meat to survive, nor to be healthy - eating it is
a choice, although not necessarily an informed one.

Most of us are or have been carnists - including me. Barring those children raised vegetarian or vegan we've all been complicit in an ideology that has violence at its core. As Joy says, "Carnism compels
us to participate in our own coercion, doing the system's job for it:
we deny, avoid and justify carnism."

One of the ways we do this is by distorting reality: we remove certain animals' individuality and instead perceive them as a group of 'things' (albeit living ones), rather than unique sentient beings, each
with his or her own idiosyncrasies and capacity to express pain, love,
joy and grief.

Lumping individuals - whether human or non-human - together as a group allows us to consider them and their deaths in the abstract. This is why we cry when our pet cat or dog dies, but feel nothing for the
brutal slaughter of billions of cows, pigs, sheep and chickens.

Fortunately, naming a system is the first step to acknowledging its existence - to throw off its cloak of invisibility. Patriarchy, the social system that favours masculinity over femininity, existed for
centuries, but it was only when feminists finally named it that change
occurred. They challenged its murky tenet of male dominance and exposed
its myths, awakening the masses to their collusion with their own and
others' oppression.

Now it's time to do the same with carnism.

Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger.

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