On Carnism: Why Do We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows ?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Carnism by Melanie Joy (2009)

Carnism: The Psychology of “Meat”-Eating 101

four out of five stars

Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (2010) though the website Basil & Spice. As a former psychology major and vegan of five years (and vegetarian for eight years on top of that), Carnism is right up my alley. Dr. Joy, a social psychologist and animal advocate, deconstructs our “meat culture,” identifying a number of key defense mechanisms that shield Westerners from an uncomfortable reality: how can we claim to “love” and “care for” nonhuman animals, yet enslave, torture, slaughter, dismember, process and consume them to the tune of tens of billions* per year? The answer lies in our carnistic system.

Carnism 101

Carnism, Joy posits, is the invisible belief system (or ideology) that underlies our unthinking consumption of “meat.” We have so internalized this behavior – “meat”-eating – that we do not even recognize it as a choice, but rather blindly accept it as a normal and necessary way of life; “meat” consumption is “just the way it is.” Carnism is the logical counterpart to vegetarianism: just as one can decide not to eat meat, so too is meat-eating a choice. And yet, while the terms “vegetarianism” and “veganism” are part of common parlance, we have no such word for “carnism.” Because the ideology that supports “meat” consumption remains unnamed, it’s seen as something natural, inevitable, existing outside of a belief system. Or it’s not seen at all – it’s invisible. We can avoid thinking about it because we lack the tools (words) with which to talk about it. In naming, there is power. Words matter.

This is, I think, is Carnism‘s greatest strength. With the introduction of one simple, short word, Joy gives us a tool with which to single out our “meat” culture for criticism and critique. “Carnism” unveils the choices behind the curtain – choices which are so incongruous with our innate sense of compassion, Joy argues, that we must go to great lengths to defend these choices from scrutiny. At a macro level, this is called psychic numbing: “we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we ‘numb’ ourselves. […] Psychic numbing is adaptive, or beneficial, when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive, or destructive, when it is used to enable violence.”

On both an individual and institutional level, we engage in a number of defense mechanisms that help us to achieve psychic numbing:

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 17: F-O-O-D.*

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

“assortment of vegan chocolates”: A dozen+ gorgeous vegan chocolates sit atop a white porcelain cake stand. Nom! CC image via quintanaroo (the chocolate-maker herself) on Flickr.
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Regretfully, I spent most of the long weekend either tossing and turning in bed, or retching and heaving over the toilet (read: vomiting; either way, what a mental image, yeah?), and thus was unable to get much of anything done. The perfect time for a link roundup! The commentary is rather sparse, but seeing as I feel like I’ve been through the ringer and back, I hope you’ll forgive me.

johanna @ Vegans of Color: Vegan cookbooks: helping folks eat the Other

The Vegan Ideal: A Western Vegetarian ‘Foray’ into Non-Western Culture

johanna and Ida provide several examples of the “exotification” of non-Western foods (“African,” “Asian,” Hawaiian and Cambodian, respectively), with an eye on vegetarian/vegan contexts (cookbooks and a veg gathering at veg-friendly restaurant).

Stephanie @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: Domination and Rape in Avatar: This Is “Respect” for Animals?

While I’ve seen many a discussion of Avatar‘s problematic racial politics, anti-speciesist reviews appear to be few and far between. This piece from Stephanie is a must-read; the title says it all, really. (Mary also discussed the film back in December.)

Marji @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: Sarah’s Diary: Remembering

Marji imagines what rescue hen Sarah’s diary might look like. It is predictably heart-breaking. I’ll be honest; I have not yet been able to read the entire piece.

Of course, I feel rather silly when considering Marji’s description of the “mock-diary”:

This is Sarah. She turns seven this February 14th. She is one of 2,000 hens we were legally permitted to pull from a small, 160,000 egg-laying hen operation. I know this diary is horribly anthropomorphic. I pulled Sarah out of that cage. For hours, I breathed what they breathed, saw and smelled their world. It was horrifying. I have tried, for years, to fathom what it must have been like for them from birth to grisly death. I can’t.

If there were a goddess, surely you’d find her volunteering at an animal sanctuary.

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Book Review: Strategic Action for Animals by Melanie Joy (2008)

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Here, finally!, is my review of Strategic Action for Animals: A Handbook on Strategic Movement Building, Organizing, and Activism for Animal Liberation (Melanie Joy, 2008). At 2,000+ words, it’s perhaps my longest book review yet. Towards the middle, I kind of wander off the book review path, discussing issues of “mainstreaming”, violent vs. non-violent tactics and intersecting oppressions. Some of these are central to Strategic Action for Animals, while others are just touched upon. They all struck a chord with me, though, maybe because they’ve been floating around the internets lately. But bear with me, it’s all related.

By the by, I posted a condensed review on Amazon, so if you’d like the short of it, go here (or here, if you prefer LT).

Otherwise, onward.

Strategic Action for Animals by Melanie Joy (2008)

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