What did you put on your grill this 4th of July? Pork ribs? Beef burgers? Farm-raised chickens? Or domesticated dogs?
No, not hot dogs? Dogs! The ones we walk on leashes, send to be groomed, dress up in clothes, and take to the vet when sick.
I never asked myself this question until I digested Melanie Joys' thought-provoking book "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism." For us meat-eaters, Joy, a Boston-based social psychologist and professor, shakes up our belief systems, practices and rituals about why we consume animal products. The reason we eat cows, pigs, lamb, chickens, fish, and not dogs, cats, hamsters, and parakeets, according to Joy, is because our selective belief systems are supported by emotional and cultural responses that tell us some animals are edible while others are not.
And Joy has coined a term for why we treat some animals as our dear friends, family members and pets and others as our 4th of July barbecue - "carnism."
Carnism is an unconscious and accepted practice of eating "certain" animals. And our selection of edible and inedible animals is not the presence of disgust, but rather the absence of it. Joy posits that our absence of disgust is due to psychic numbing where we mentally and emotionally disassociate ourselves from the harm, exploitation and violence done to animals in order to comfortably justify our consumption of them.
For example, the barbecue ribs some of us delightfully tore into at our Independence Day family gatherings we know were the body parts of a cow or pig that lived miserably, suffered horribly and died unwillingly.
While it is true that harming animals run counter to the values of most people, and many of us know about the maltreatment of the animals we eat, why do humane people, nonetheless, participate in these inhumane practices?
For one, American agribusinesses hide the slaughtering and maltreatment of animals. These animals live in horrific and filthy conditions, cramped into pens and cages in "factory farms" and treated as living machines. And their death screams we, as consumers of them, don't hear.
Joy also argues that our psychic numbing of the animals we eat involves us actively engaging in denial, avoidance, objectification, deindividualization and disassociation, conditioning us to be apathetic to them which is why the typical response usual is "We've always done it."
Mahatma Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated." Whereas in America we consume very part of the cow, in India they don't because cows are sacred. Just as dogs and cats are found in many American households, so, too were cows in Indian households as part of their families with loving names. Hindu religion bans the slaughtering of cows, and many of India's social reform movements advocated non-violence and no cruelty to animals, which is why their animals — big and small, from elephants to mice — go unharmed.
To some, Joy is a zealot for casting meat-eating as genocide and comparing it to the Holocaust and American slavery. However, Joy, like Gandhi, sees the maltreatment of animals integrally linked to other violently dominant and oppressive belief systems and practices, like sexism, racism that allows those in power to uncritically sanction abuse.
"Though we know that all animals, human and nonhuman, are equally capable of feeling pain and have lives that matter to them, we nevertheless proceed as though humans are the only species that possess sentience and self-interest... We need to see that all forms of exploitation are enabled by the same mechanisms and they therefore reinforce one another. The mentality that puts female humans' reproductive systems up for legislative grabs and has shaped a 'rape culture' where misogynists such as Eminem are celebrated is not terribly different from the mentality that legitimizes confining millions of female pigs in 'rape racks' where they're forcibly impregnated throughout the course of their lives simply so their children can, for instance, provide the topping for a pepperoni pizza," Joy stated in an interview.
Joy's book is different from Jonathan Safran Foer's best-seller Eating Animals. Foer examines the topics of factory farming and commercial fisheries as reason why we should stop consuming animal meat. Joy's book is written about why people do eat meat, rather than simply why they shouldn't. It's written for both vegetarians and meat-eaters, reaching out to us meat-eaters and inviting us into the conversation rather than preaching to us. And the book exposes "carnism," a system that affects all of us, every day, without our awareness. People need and deserve to know about "carnism" so that we can make our food choices freely and wisely.
What did you eat this 4th?
But before you chomp down on that pig, cow, fish or bird at your next meal, you might want to check out Joy's website at www.carnism.com.