The Psychology Of Carnism: Why Do We Eat Meat?

HAVE you ever considered it strange that you can stroke your beloved pet with one hand and eat a pork chop with the other? Why do we eat cows and pigs but not dogs and cats? Have you ever wondered why the UK was going mental over the ludicrous idea of eating horse meat when they had tried to purchase beef?

Horses are not commonly considered "edible" in the UK.

Horses are not commonly considered “edible” in the UK.

Well, so has American social psychologist Melanie Joy.

The Harvard educated professor suffered from food-borne disease after eating a burger and found herself in hospital, swearing off meat. Although this decision was not based on moral reasons, it transformed her perspective on the treatment of animals.

Joy told AsiaOne: “I wound up confused and despairing. I felt like a rudderless boat, lost on a sea of collective insanity. Nothing had changed, but everything was different.”

Since then she has made the transition to veganism and nowadays she’s the president of Beyond Carnism, otherwise known as Carnism Awareness & Action Network, a non-profit advocacy group. Her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, And Wear Cows: An Introduction To Carnism shows decades of research exploring the psychology of meat eating, a belief system which works in contrast of veganism.

According to the USDA, 35,507,500 cows were slaughtered for meat in 2008.

According to the USDA, 35,507,500 cows were slaughtered for meat in 2008.

Joy was troubled that the term carnivore failed to show the “beliefs beneath the behaviour” because carnivores require meat for survival. Her term “carnists” represents those who choose to eat meat. Although, not everyone that eats meat in 2015 has made a conscious, educated decision to do so.

Meat-eating is a dominant cultural belief system – in other words, it’s “normal”. But we do have a choice. Joy advocates that it’s worth asking yourself why you eat what you eat, and is it what you believe in?

It’s not as simple as carnist, vegetarian and vegan. Much like sexuality, most people are somewhere on a spectrum. You can be between carnism and vegetarianism or between vegetarianism and veganism. The important thing is figuring out where you want to be and making a plan to get there.

Watch Melanie Joy’s TEDx talk here in which she delivers the lecture: Beyond Carnism And Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices:

About the Author

Jessikah Hope Stenson
A young, enthusiastic writer who appreciates a good scone.