Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows

A week or so ago, I wrapped up reading Melanie Joy's Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows; An Introduction to Carnism. I particularly enjoyed this book because while Joy spends some time discussing why we shouldn't eat meat - the inherent violence, the degredation of our bodies, the destruction of the environment - she spends most of her time talking about why we do eat meat. This books takes a unique psychological and sociological look at why and how we are able to so dearly love some animals and eat others.

Melanie Joy introduces her readers to carnism, the violent ideology that shapes someone's choice to eat meat. Prior to reading this book, I'd always called the opposite of a vegan an "omnivore" or "meat eater," but Joy says, "...'omnivore' is a term that describes one's biological constitution, not one's philosophical choice. Carnists eat meat not because they need to, but because they choose to, and choices always stem from beliefs."

To me, it seems kind of obvious that belief drives choice, but until this book, I'd never applied that same principle to the act of eating meat. I chose to stop eating meat because I believe it is wrong; how had I not previously made the connection that carnists choose to eat meat because they believe it is right?

Joy defines and explores carnism, explaining how it permeates our society and how it continues to thrive. Carnism operates under a shield of invisibility because violence is an intergral part of the system. Without the violence needed to slaughter billions of animals every year, there would be no carnism. We refuse to witness this violence, however, and so carnism exists, unchallenged and protected by this invisibility. This is because of a process called psyhic numbing, in which we literally numb ourselves to the violence in our environment so that we can still function. This process is not unique to carnism, however.

Joy also discusses the three Ns and how they perpetuate carnism. We are taught that eating meat is normal, natural, and necessary. It is true that eating meat is normal, but not because it is correct or right. It is "normal" because the majority of people do it, but normalizing something does not make it more correct. We believe eating meat is "natural" because it is so ingrained in our daily lives, and because of this sense of "naturalism," we believe it is also "necessary" to our health and well-being. The three Ns operate in a perpetual cycle that enables us to blindly make the same choices without ever challenging the beliefs themselves.

This book resonated with me because because I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard the argument "we're supposed to eat meat," "our bodies are designed to eat meat" (followed by a gesture toward our canine teeth), and that we eat meat because "that's how it's always been." Why? Why are we "supposed" to eat meat? Who decided that's how it should be? And should the lifestyles of cavemen eons ago really dictate what we eat now as a modern society? I don't think so. Joy thoughtfully answers these questions, and I now feel more empowered. Questions and comments about the "naturalness" and "normality" of eating meat are less frequent now than when I became a vegan, but I still get them from time to time. And now, I feel like I have a better understanding of the psychology behind eating meat and can better field these questions/comments.

I highly recommend this book, whether you're vegan, carnist, or somewhere in the middle. Unlike a lot of vegan/animal advocacy literature (admittedly), Joy does not demonize people who choose to eat meat nor does she lay blame. Instead, she thoughtfully asks us to look at our choices and consider why we make them without overwhelming or insulting her readers. So check it out and let me know what you think!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. I just bought this book and I'm even more motivated to read it now that I've read your post ;)
    If I may, I would recommend Dominion (The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy) by Matthew Scully and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter actually made me cry a bunch of times.