Rev Irene Monroe

Did you barbecue pig or pug this 4th?

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | July 06, 2010 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

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

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Rev. Monroe,

First, I want to say that even though this is my first to comment on, I always reading your posts!

Also, as a long-time vegetarian, I defs agree with every thing you say about raising and slaughtering animals.

However, I would like to point out that it hasn't been that long ago that many people killed their own animals (I grew up on a farm and we raised and killed chickens, cows, pigs, and even rabbits), or were close enough the process to be pretty aware of where the meat came from. And they still ate all the meat they could afford. Most of what industrial farming has done is to increase the scale and efficiency of the whole endeavor, not introduce the practice of keeping and killing 'livestock'.

Also, personally, I have found that pointing out to ppl that they are eating dead animals and that those animals used to be alive and were killed for them by proxy, doesn't have much impact. I am not sure what the answer is, really, and perhaps Joy's efforts will help, but eating dead animals is pretty ingrained in most cultures.

"Also, personally, I have found that pointing out to ppl that they are eating dead animals and that those animals used to be alive and were killed for them by proxy, doesn't have much impact. I am not sure what the answer is, really, and perhaps Joy's efforts will help, but eating dead animals is pretty ingrained in most cultures."

Because they're delicious.

Well, that they are! :)

I grew up eating lots of meat, and enjoyed it tremenously. I didn't stop liking the taste or texture, just couldn't stand the idea of where it came from.

I am not a zealot about it, though. I accept that meat is part of the human diet, and we evolved that way. I also don't have the corner on the 'truth', so I don't judge people on it. All I know is that it isn't right for me.

Same deal with hunting. The animals ppl hunt (mostly) are natural prey animals in the wild--if humans didn't kill and eat them, something else would (or would have, before we wiped out most of the top predators), or they starve from over-population. So I don't hunt, and don't like th idea of it, but I am not going out to try to ban hunting.

I also have a hard time reconciling my love for many of the wild animals with how they get their food, but just have to accept that this is the way they are. On the other hand, humans *are* onmivores, not obligate carnivores, and have the intellect and awareness to eat differently, if they choose. Just like we don't slaughter each other over land and money and power anymore...oh, wait, nevermind...

Having grown up in Wyoming where many of my elementary school classmates participated in 4H, the disjoint between "animal" and "food" feels very urban to my experience.

While I agree that factory farming is inhumane, I think that the ability to define killing animals for food as "immoral" ("harming animals run counter to the values of most people") is more a result of our ability to insulate ourselves from nature than any intrinsic wrongness of consuming meat.

The tweet about this article was immediately followed in my tweetstream by a tweet from the Fabulous Beekman Boys. This week's episode of their show deals with harvesting animals. There is a vast contiuum between treating animals like gods and treating them like slaves. Humane harvesting is possible.

I was vegetarian for many years, and vegan for about five. I've gone through periods where I ate a lot of meat, but I am mostly vegetarian now. I believe that my own vegetarianism was at least partly rooted in the fear of death. We are all going to die, animals included. Farmers who humanely harvest meat do a service to those who eat the meat as well as to the animals. As Temple Grandin has pointed out, most livestock animals wouldn't exist if we didn't eat them.

Josh and Brent, the "Beekman Boys," suggest only eating food you can trace to its origin, for a period of days or weeks. That seems like a good idea.

"... the ability to define killing animals for food as "immoral" [...] is more a result of our ability to insulate ourselves from nature than any intrinsic wrongness of consuming meat."

Yes. I disagree with the hypothesis that we can only eat animals that we're somehow dissociated from; in fact, dissociation in allows both the anthropomorphism that fuels books like this one, and the (yes, horrific) giant factory farms they oppose.
Most cultures revere the animals that feed them. Farmers that actually work with the animals that support them also care for them and respect them in their lives and deaths. As should all of us who consume them. It's a state of interdependence, and we're omnivores, like many other animals. Life feeds on life in this world.

I think there is also the fact that we treat pets as family, so they unconsciously slip into the category of being 'us', and thus into the taboo against cannibalism (for which there are reasons that hinge on public health), but in general I don't eat carnivores or scavengers because they're unsafe, not because I feel more connected to them. I won't eat bear or opossum for the same reason.

I think you are right aineotter. There are also interesting cultural distinctions between appropriate and innappropriate food animals that are not linked to emotional connection, the eating of insects for example. The author is making the common mistaking of confusing ethics with aesthetics. I do not think it is less ethical to eat a dog than a pig, however, because of my culture, I have been trained to see dog eating as disgusting and pig eating as awesome (I was raised fairly southern, lard in everything). Other people have been raised other ways. I don't think that someone who eats dog or insects is less ethical, despite the fact that my cultural taboos make the idea seem unpleasant to me.

Also, I was raised on a small farm. I fed, bathed, etc. the animals I ate for many years. Another way of learning what to eat was learning sustainability. We ate pigs more readily than chickens, because eating too many chickens decreased our egg production. Older dairy cows go before young ones, despite the fact that they have tougher meat, because of lower productivity. Steers and bulls go before cows because you need less of them. I suspect that the dog/cat thing is primarily because dogs and cats provide other benenfits (rodent removal, hunting aide) and have come to hold a certain cultural place because of this. This is because a hunting, herding, or guard dog is a useful, harder to replace tool and the removal of animals that may try to consume our food stores (such as rats) reduces loss.

This PETA member is standing up and applauding you, Irene.

troybear74 | July 7, 2010 6:07 PM

Something I find confusing about Melanie's ideals, is she seems to take a "pro-choice" stance on abortion, hence her mentioning of "human female's reproductive systems" being up for grabs with legislature. How does one frown upon eating animals for food, or seemingly harming animals in any way...yet have no issue with human fetuses being aborted? I'm not trying to get a rise out of anyone (though I'm sure it will happen), but doesn't that seem a little hypocritical?

Veganism is based on respect for life and the Golden Rule.

All of us will die, but that doesn't justify murder - or torture, as occurs not only on factory farms but in hatcheries, livestock transport, and slaughterhouses.

The notion that if we bring animals into the world we can use them and kill them is arrogant and backwards. If we bring an animals into the world, we owe them, not the other way around. They are our responsibility.

Furthermore, the animals who are displaced by livestock grazing are prevented from existing. As studies show, if, in the developed world, we transition to a plant-based diet, we will be able to return some areas to pristine habitat, rich in a diversity of plants and animals.

Animal agriculture today, in the "developed" world, consists of forcing animals to overproduce flesh, milk, or eggs - which causes hardships - and destroying the animals as soon as they're not econmically useful. Sentient, intelligent, emotional individuals raised for food are reduced to disposable machines. This is true on virtually every commercial animal agriculture operations of any size.

Nine out of ten food animals killed today are chickens, and they're killed at seven weeks old - grossly oversized babies who are sometimes still peeping.

Our diets are greatly influenced by culture. A breakfast of cereal and milk - nondairy, please - seems perfectly normal to Americans but not to most Asians. Chicken feet? Cow brains? Cat meat? All are eaten somewhere, but offer them to most Americans and they're repulsed. Glass of pig milk or human breast milk? There's no difference between those options and cow's milk.

It's what we're used to. Luckily, we can get un-used to cruel foods and used to peaceful plant-based ones. We can start that at our next meal. Resources on how to do it in a healthful and satisfying manner are all over the Internet. The amount of suffering and brutal killing we can easily prevent may be huge, and that's a compelling reason to switch to a non-violent vegan diet.