How do animals survive if they only eat meat?

Carnicism: the psychology of meat consumption

Carnicism describes the ideology of eating meat. This video illustrates the phenomenon:

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What is Carnicism?

The American psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy gave the ideology of meat consumption a name for the first time: Karnismus. Let's say you eat meat. Imagine you are invited to a friend's house, the mood is cheerful and the food tastes so good that you ask the host for the recipe. Flattered, he tells you that the secret is in the flesh: it is the flesh of a golden retriever. How would you react? The likelihood is high that you would feel disgust and that what you just considered food is no longer an option for you as a meal. Even though the meat is still the same and you actually liked it too. Only your perception is different now.

When it comes to the subject Eat animals our perception is largely, if not entirely, determined by our culture. In fact, in our culture (as in all other meat-eating cultures) there are only a small number of non-human animals that we learned as children to classify as edible. With the vast majority of non-human animals, we have learned to classify them as inedible and therefore inedible or disgusting. So disgust at the thought of eating meat is not the exception, rather it is the rule. The exception is the absence of disgust. So the question is, why don't we find the food of a few species disgusting?

The reason lies in a lack of connection in our consciousness between the meat on the plate and the animal that it once was. Of course we know that an animal must die in order to eat meat, but on a deeper level there is no clear connection. And this lack of connection not only blocks our perception of the reality of flesh, but also blocks our feelings and thoughts. But how does this gap arise?

The emergence of karnismus

Karnismus is an invisible system of beliefs that condition us from childhood to eat (certain) animals. On the one hand, carnism is a dominant ideology that - invisible and deeply rooted in our society - shapes our beliefs, actions, thoughts, norms, laws, etc. On the other hand, it is of course also a violent ideology: meat cannot be made without killing. Dominant and violent ideologies use a combination of social and psychological defense mechanisms that induce people to participate in inhumane practices without fully realizing what they are doing. In other words: Karnismus teaches us to switch off our compassion in certain situations, which is probably the reason why discussions between vegetarian / vegan people and carnists often run past each other and lead to frustrations or arguments. So in order to improve this situation, we need to understand what kind of defense mechanisms are involved.

The three defense mechanisms of karnism

1. Concealment

Most people are unaware of the ideology behind the carnival. One of the reasons why the ideology was so well hidden was that it had no name until now. When we don't have a word for something, we find it difficult to think about it, talk about it, question it or look at it critically. This obscurity also ensures that eating meat is viewed as a given rather than a choice. In addition to this concealment, one cannot see the victims of Carnicism. In the first three months of 2012 alone, according to a press release from the Federal Statistical Office, 20 million tons of meat were produced in Germany. The choice of words alone shows the concealment: We talk about meat production and mostly avoid talking about animals, about individuals, maybe about "Lisa". We often do not mention the number of animals killed, but rather the sum of their weight. In Germany there are 180 cows, 329 pigs and 1723 chickens for every 1000 inhabitants. How many animals do you see in one day? How many have you seen so far in your entire life? Different perspective: How many people do you see every day when you leave the house? If you live in a city or in a larger village, then a lot. And in Germany there are almost twice as many "farm animals" as there are people. So where are these animals? We see your body parts practically everywhere we go, be it shopping, in a restaurant, while eating or at the snack bar around the corner. Why do we never see these animals alive (with a few exceptions)? We don't see them because we shouldn't see them.

2. Building on Myths

When concealment disappears, for example in discussions between carnist and vegetarian / vegan people or through media reports, the system needs an additional safeguard: We learn to justify carnism by considering the myths of meat consumption as facts. These myths are expressed in a multitude of arguments, which - as Melanie Joy describes it - can all be reduced to the three Ns of justification: Eating meat is normal, natural, necessary. Let's take a closer look at these three Ns of Karnism:

"Eating meat is normal"
What we call normal is basically nothing other than the beliefs and behaviors of the dominant culture in a society. Carnistic norms are so deeply rooted in our society that we can hardly perceive anything other than "normal". Imagine the scene again where you were invited to a friend's house and the host was just telling you that you were eating golden retrievers and you didn't want to. He tells you, “You don't have to feel bad, the dog had a good life. He could run around and play freely and make friends with other dogs before he was killed when he was six months old. "Would that make eating the golden retriever easier for you? Karnismus is so deeply rooted that we do not realize that "meat produced in a manner appropriate to animals" is actually a complete contradiction, a myth to allow us to participate in violent practices that we would never actually support.

"Eating meat is natural"
In order to present the eating of meat as natural, we use several arbitrary arguments: our ancestors ate meat, other animals also eat meat, and so on. Arguments that speak for the unnaturalness of our meat eating are ignored: Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom eat practically no meat, only raw meat including the intestines can be described as natural (etc.). It also ignores the fact that we have successfully and happily left most of the other "natural" ways of life behind us: We no longer live in caves, drive cars and in supermarkets we have the option of consuming all essential nutrients through purely plant-based foods which, when properly selected, lead to health benefits. We also try to put a stop to other "natural" phenomena such as murder and rape and do not accept the argument that our ancestors also murdered.

"Eating meat is necessary"
Here, too, we only describe as necessary what is necessary to keep the dominant culture, the carnist status quo, alive. Is it really necessary to kill susceptible individuals ("farm animals") by the billions? The associated myth is of course the protein myth, but did you know that the strongest man in Germany, Patrik Baboumian, is a vegan? Eating animal products does not seem to be that necessary.

3. Distortion of perception

The final carnistic defense mechanism is perception distortion. For example, we learn to see some non-human animals as objects rather than individuals. When we eat chicken, we eat something and not someone. We also learn to perceive "farm animals" as abstractions that lack any individuality or personality. But the opposite is the case: like dogs and cats, pigs and chickens also have individual preferences and character traits. Finally, Carnicism also teaches us to classify animals into arbitrary categories, towards which we can have very different feelings and behaviors: »Dogs are pets and are therefore cute. Pigs are farm animals and therefore not cute. Dogs are there to be petted and pigs to eat. As a result, dog meat is disgusting and pork is delicious. "

Karnismus teaches us not only to pursue violent acts without our noticing it, but also to confirm ourselves in them. "After all, it's just animals." It is the carnistic mentality that leads us to exercise complete control over the life and death of individuals with less power just because we can. Eating animals is not just a matter of personal ethics; it is the inevitable result of a deeply ingrained, oppressive ideology.

Do you want to get out of carnistic behavior? Then we recommend our Vegan Taste Week to start with.

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To the author

Jeff Mannes is involved with the Vegan Society Luxembourg and has been vegan since 2010. We are particularly grateful to him for his commitment to establishing Melanie Joy's work on Karnismus in German-speaking countries.


Melanie Joy: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism
Jeff Mannes: Dealing with Karnismus