Recently, the mainstream media hasn’t been able to get enough of vegan stories (thanks in part to Jeremy Corbyn – who either is or isn’t ‘going through the process’ of becoming vegan himself).
During this vegan media blitz, a couple of big news outlets have touched upon carnism.
It is a word that we are seeing more and more in general. Anyone who saw comedian Simon Amstell’s mockumentary for BBC3 will remember the line: “We are not vegans; you are carnists.”
But what exactly is carnism – and what are the implications of being a carnist?
It’s a word coined 16 years ago by Harvard-educated academic – and vegan advocate – Dr. Melanie Joy, who defines carnism as the dominant ideology.
We don’t want to see animals suffer, and yet, we kill them, and then eat them. Taking part in a brutal and oppressive system, humans have become unaware of the contradictory nature of such irrational practices.
Carnism describes the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals. The ideology sees the wide-spread acceptance of meat-eating as ‘natural’, ‘normal’, and ‘necessary’.
In addition, it sees its opposing ideology – veganism – as unnatural, and not ‘normal’.
Analyzing the history of vegeterianism from ancient Greece to present day, literary scholar Renan Larue has found that mankind has always been invested with dominion over animals, thinking that abstaining from violence against animals would pose a threat to humans.
Carnism is at the center of speciesism – the idea that humans are better than animals – ‘because the eating of meat motivates ideological justification for other forms of animal exploitation’, argues author Sandra Mahlke.
It’s also the opposite of veganism. Although vegans are generally dismissed for ‘pushing their beliefs’ on others, it is, in fact, the other way around – given that meat-eating is a choice, and not a necessity for survival.
Growing up, we are given dead animals for food, and most times, we’re not even aware that what’s on the plate, was once alive. Carnism operates outside of our awareness, depriving us of free choice.
“We don’t see meat-eating as we do vegetarianism – as a choice, based on a set of assumptions about animals, our world, and ourselves,” says vegan psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy.
“Rather, we see it as a given, the ‘natural’ thing to do, the way things have always been and the way things will always be. We eat animals without thinking about what we are doing and why.”
Animals have been categorized into food and companion animals. We eat pigs, but not dogs; cows, but not cats – the line has been drawn by what seems to be an arbitrary system.
Beings are classified into edible, inedible, pets, predators, and entertainment animals – all subject to cultural variability.
The carnism ideology goes against everything that is at the core of human values.
As a result, people are emotionally disconnected from the truth, setting up defense mechanisms to be able to continue ingesting animals. What would naturally be empathy toward the suffering turns into indifference – on which an oppressive and violent system is built.
Talking about the meat paradox, [vegan advocacy organization] Beyond Carnism‘s communications coordinator Jeff Mannes writes that carnism is rooted in a paradox between most people’s values and actions: they oppose harming animals, and yet eat them.
He goes on to argue that this conflict leads to cognitive dissonance, which people attempt to attenuate through psychic numbing – which has been proved by experimental evidence involving Westerners.
Joy says that this is why meat is rarely served with the animal’s head or other intact body parts.
Introducing the idea of the ‘Three Ns of Justification’, Melanie Joy argues that people justify meat-eating by regarding it as ‘normal, natural, and necessary’.
These ‘Three Ns’ have also been invoked to justify other practices, such as slavery, male dominance, and denying women the right to vote. Carnism also feeds into injustices in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, according to Dr. Joy.
Carnism is maintained by weakening the system that challenges it: veganism. Carnistic defenses will invalidate veganism, hiding and distorting the truth, so that they can stay unaware about certain facts.
Carnists will resort to shooting the messenger in order for their meat-eating practices to remain, what in their mind, is legitimate.
But if eating meat is so normal, natural, and necessary, then why do we feel the need to distance ourselves from our own behavior?
Until people will become aware that eating animals is a choice – an unnecessary one – we will live with the same mentality of oppression, contributing to an absurdity that knows no bounds.
Injustices must be challenged, mentalities ought to be shifted, and compassion awaken.
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