Imagine if we started grilling up golden retriever for dinner.
Most people would be absolutely mortified, labeling it as cruel, wrong and disgusting.
But grilling up beef burgers? It doesn’t get any more “normal” than that.
Culturally, we’ve been programmed to think this way; through a self-perpetuating system called Carnism, a term coined by Dr. Melanie Joy. Carnism can be defined as: the invisible belief system or ideology that conditions us to eat certain animals. Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism, as “carn” means “flesh” or “of the flesh” and “ism” refers to a belief system.
I first heard this idea after listening to the Rich Roll podcast, featuring Dr. Melanie Joy, a Harvard educated social psychologist, author, celebrated speaker and founder of the Beyond Carnism organization. Dr. Joy’s work is centered around the psychology of eating meat and our species-specific attitudes toward certain animals. She promotes a more mindful approach to our plate. Her book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows” explores why we disconnect from certain animals while expressing love and affection for our pets and how we use defense mechanisms to numb our natural empathy toward animals we classify as “edible”.
Immediately after hearing the podcast, I knew this topic needed to be shared here on the blog (by the way, Rich Roll’s podcast is my absolute favorite!!).
I find the psychology behind our food choices to be so interesting; something that isn’t talked about enough.
We often think those who are vegan, vegetarian or paleo etc. are the only people who follow a certain type of diet or lifestyle with a label when in fact, we all follow some sort of belief system, whether we associate with one or not. Eating meat, eggs and dairy is so heavily engrained and woven into our minds as “normal” that it sits as the standard diet for humans, but an actual name for it is rarely talked about.
If a person eats meat, eggs and dairy, they too follow a belief system. They can call themselves “carnists”. This term may sound silly and absurd because no one walks around saying they’re a “carnist” but it’s important to recognize carnism for what it is, rather than keep it invisibly tucked away.
Dr. Melanie Joy states that “Carnism leaves us at odds with our core human values as we are naturally empathic beings, but go against feelings of compassion and justice by eating animal products”. We always have a choice when it comes to food. Certain foods like animal products are not requirements, although it may seem that way.
Chicken? Pork? Beef? Fish? All are labeled as edible.
Golden Retriever? Labeled as not edible.
How can we distinguish that one animal is edible more so than another? We treat our dogs as family members yet at the same time, have no problem eating a BLT sandwich with bacon from a pig that carries the same level of consciousness and intelligence as a dog, if not more.
In this podcast episode, Dr. Melanie Joy outlines a few of the many defense mechanisms humans use to block awareness towards those species we classify as edible:
- Justification: learning to believe that the myths of meat, eggs and dairy are the facts of meat, eggs and dairy. For example: eating animals is normal, natural and necessary.
- Abstraction: recognizing dogs/cats as pets and individuals then looking at farmed animals as lacking in individuality or personality of their own. A pig is a pig and all pigs are the same.
- Denial: expressed through invisibility; denying that eating animals causes suffering. Animals remain conveniently out of sight and out of mind.
The cognitive dissonance and disconnect humans express is incredibly irrational.
I experienced this exact level of disconnect in real time while at the Kenosha County Fair in Wisconsin this past weekend. I watched as people pet and interacted with the pigs and cows and other farm animals while they ate corn dogs, turkey legs and burgers on a stick. Cows were on show, hooked up to milk machines while people walked by eating ice cream cones and hot fudge sundaes…
Before I went vegan, I too expressed this same level of disconnect, but being at the county fair now, years later, my connection to food and animals is clear as day. Animals are sentient beings, not food. I’m pretty sure I was the only vegan there, which was to be expected, but to write this disconnect off as “normal” is inappropriate. This concept is very difficult to explain to someone eating a piece of fried chicken…
The Glowing Fridge has always been a place to promote a healthful plant based lifestyle full of vibrant fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. It’s about eating nutrient-dense foods for fuel and to achieve that healthy beauty glow. It’s about encouragement, sharing stories, inspiring each other and helping people reach their health goals. Everyone is accepted here, vegan or not, and I believe any sort of effort counts whether it be going dairy-free or making a point to eat 1 vegan meal per day etc.
Although, while plant foods are my main focus, there’s another side to the plant based lifestyle, which is why I think talking about this topic of carnism is important. To raise awareness, to get people thinking about the why’s, to get them asking more questions and pondering their own lifestyle, to open someone’s eyes and to offer encouragement for paving their own way instead of following the norm just because it feels comfortable.
We always have a choice when it comes to what is on our plate.
I hate to sound preachy and have no intention of being that annoying vegan but I felt compelled to share this concept and want to know what you think.
What are your thoughts? Have you heard of carnism before?
You can listen to the full podcast here as they go more into depth – this has to be the most interesting podcast I’ve listened to by far. I highly recommend it for everyone, vegan or not.
Watch Dr. Melanie Joy’s TED Talks video shown below too!