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Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

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    Animal Rights Activist Questions Why People Don't Eat All Animals

    "Why We Love Dogs" raises good questions about why some animals are routinely slaughtered for human consumption in various forms, while other animals are cherished or revered. Professor and animal rights activist Melanie Joy invites us to imagine having eaten a tasty meal that we later find was made from the meat of dog... to build upon our reaction of disgust and explore why the very idea of eating some animals is so repulsive, while we consider others a natural part of our everyday diet. "Carnism" is a term Joy introduces to describe a violent ideology, which is adopted mindlessly by people who do not realize the wide sweeping environmental, social and ethical consequences of their food choices.

    While there are some advantages to rallying interest in more ethical treatment of all animals, Joy's polarism of the world into presumably non-violent vegetarians and the violent carnists may be felt by many to be needlessly judgmental and guilt inducing. Little empathy is granted those who require a diet of some meat in order to live, by doctor's orders. My own attempt many years ago to become vegetarian failed even as I took vitamins and received assistance from doctors and vegetarian dietary experts to modify my diet -- I became too anemic to think clearly or function well. Many beloved pet dogs and cats require diets of meat in order to thrive, and this book's implication that everyone can switch to vegetarianism is not supported by all medical experts. Readers are well advised to get the advice of their physician or medical advisor before making radical changes to diet.

    Joy makes ethical, logical, and emotional arguments to inspire people to question their food choices. While such a slanted perspective may be felt necessary in order to capture the attention of those who for so long have ignored food bias, this approach led me to wonder about areas not covered by Joy's all-out attack on "mindless carnism." While I greatly appreciate her dedication to exploring hard-wired aversions people have to eating animals we associate as being part of our tribe, such as our most cherished pet dogs and cats, I found myself more than vaguely disquieted by the complete lack of mindfulness regarding the consciousness of wild and domesticated plants and vegetation. Most people are not as aware of the sentient nature of plants that I've seen demonstrated first-hand in numerous experiments, nor have they watched and heard potted plants learning to play exquisitely beautiful music of their own creation as I have. I don't expect animal rights activists to be familiar with plant consciousness research as described in the books "Primary Perception" and "The Secret Life of Plants." Not everyone has heard of plants becoming measurably agitated when a "plant murderer" entered the room, nor fainting when someone takes a first bite of a juicy lettuce sandwich. I hope animal rights activists can overcome animal-centrism enough to consider the possibility that plants have consciousness, too.

    I'd love to see a more balanced, open-minded and embracing exploration of how humans make food choices in ways that respect our sources of food, and to the degree that "Why We Love Dogs..." opens this discussion, I find it valuable. While I note that this book suffers from the very sort of hypocrisy it seems to so despise, I hope readers can see beyond its animal-centric view.

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  • Posted October 12, 2009

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    Improve your morals: eat less meat.

    Dr Melanie Joy's book subtitled AN INTRODUCTION TO CARNISM is a very good read. Its stated goals are clear, few and simple. They are also attained. *** By book's end we have been asked many questions. They revolve around why humans eat or decline to eat the flesh of fish and animals. And why do we eat only a few creatures such as pigs, sheep, cows, chickens and turkeys? Why would it take imminent starvation before most us would be willing to sample the meat of porcupine, sea slug, hippopotamus or our pet cat? Why, in general, do we exempt pets, others' and well as our own, from inclusinon on our menu? ***

    What are vegetarians? For Melanie Joy this term is not apt for people who decline to eat meat or fish for reasons simply of health. Rather vegetarians, in the author's jargon, are people who think meat eating is morally evil. The moral reasons vegetarians reject eating animals and fish are varied. But Melanie Joy builds a case that we do not eat the flesh animals for whom we have "empathy." If the animal has a name or is known to us personally and affectionately, even a pet goldfish, we won't dream of eating it. ***

    Biologically, humans are omnivores, not just carnivores. We can eat animal and fish flesh without harm. But we can also live without animal flesh. Most animal flesh we reject. We are fussy and selective in our meal choices. Dr Joy argues that various social pressures have placed a thick veil between the burger or Wienerschnitzel on our plate and the bull or calf that was systematically slaughtered to provide us our meal. Even if we don't know the pig in question, we are at least vaguely put off if its anonymous head is before us on a platter. We simply would not eat meat if we tore down the veil created by society, history and the animal raising and slaughtering industries. ***

    And who are "we?" We are "carnists." We are the opposite of Joy's ethically defined "vegetarians." If Melanie Joy were inclined to pray to her God for the vast majority of Americans who are "carnists," she might implore: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." Like Socrates, Dr Joy seems to believe that the first step from carnism to vegetarianism will be taken after her book tears down the veil between a Chicken McNuggett and Joe the rooster whose body we are munching on. Old Joe was once a living being, with interests of his own -- if left to his own devices. But he wasn't left alone. His mother was bred up to produce him. He was not allowed to roam free and seek out a mate. Carnism is possible only because human meateaters do not put faces on the sources of their meat. ***

    Bottom line: through myriad examples of food production industry's cruelty to turkeys, baby calves and other meat sources, Melanie Joy skilfully and relentlessly makes a case that eating meat is a moral evil. Once a carnist has seen the light and agrees with the author, he is ready for the three-step self-healing process Dr Joy recommends: (1) eat less meat, for starters; (2) join or support organizations that uncover the cruelties of the food industry; and (3) keep on learning more and more about nutrition and our ability to live happy, healthy lives without eating meat. -OOO-

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2010

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