“I hope you never stop asking questions.” – Me, to my son, when he asks his mother so many questions that she sends him to me.
Here’s a question. What is carnism?
The word, coined by University of Massachusetts professor of psychology and sociology Melanie Joy, means “the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals.”
It’s the focus of her book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.
In simpler terms: Carnism believes that pigs and cows exist to feed and clothe us, while we often seem to exist to feed (and even clothe) our dogs.
Driven by a deep passion for her subject, Joy shares an exercise she does with her students each semester. The goal is to get them in touch with the reasons for their beliefs about animals.
First, the students list characteristics of dogs. Then they list characteristics of pigs. She posts the lists on the blackboard — and they’re almost always the same.
Next, Joy asks the students how they feel toward dogs (usually they like or love them), and pigs (“grossed out” is the most common response.)
Finally, she asks questions designed to confront their negative feelings toward pigs. By the end of the exercise, they’ve learned that “lazy” pigs lie around because they’re confined to factory-farm cages or pens.
“Sweaty” pigs don’t have sweat glands, and “dirty“ pigs roll in mud to cool off because they don’t have sweat glands.
Finally, she writes, “stupid” pigs “are considered to be even more intelligent than dogs.”
Applying her excellent communications skills to these interactions helped hone Joy’s thought-provoking and highly readable message. And she doesn’t shy away from carnism’s cruelty:
“The vast majority of the animals we eat are kept in intensive confinement…where they may suffer from disease, exposure… overcrowding, violent handling and psychosis. “
It’s carnism — our belief that eating some animals is perfectly acceptable — that lets the meat producers justify their inhumane, profit-driven methods.
Joy encourages us to be aware of and bear witness to what is actually happening in the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Just as she uses questions to confront her students, she wants us to face the questions our culture has conditioned us to avoid:
“Why do we love dogs? Eat pigs? And wear cows?”
Let’s keep asking ourselves and others these questions until carnism is no longer invisible to the general public.