Challenging a system of violence and oppression: veganism for the interest of all

A task entitled to us all is to raise questions about our daily practices. One of them would sound like: “Why do we love our pets and eat other animals?” Dr. Melanie exposes carnism, the dominant, violent system to which we are all shackled

We have been raised in a system with set norms, which defines to a large extend the way we relate to the world around us. Although we are all unique, many of our convictions are culturally determined. This extends to our behavior insofar we constitute and follow these social norms; the result is that we are all part of a violent, oppressive system that is self-perpetuating.

A part of this deeply entrenched system is ‘carnism’, which Dr. Melanie Joy defines it as “A belief system that conditions us to eat (certain) animals” [1]. It is essentially build on domination and exploitation. Carnism is a given, a dominant ideology – “It teaches us not to feel” [1]. Carnism remains invisible because we have not named it yet, so we cannot talk about it much less question it. Think that we have named vegans and vegetarians the people that follow the corresponding belief systems, but then how do we call the ones that eat meat? We never question why we eat some animals while we love others.

Carnism appears as a given: we eat meat by default rather than free choice whereas for example veganism is a conscious choice based on a belief system. At the same time its victims are also hidden backstage out of the public eyes and social dialogues. Dr. Melanie Joy has argued that although farm non-human animals in the US are 32 times more than humans we hardly see any of them while 10 billions of them are slaughtered every year to serve our meals (99% of them are raised in factory farms under unspeakable conditions) [1].

This is exactly how the system works, it is build in a way to safeguard the established interests of the powerful and privileged. It indoctrinates us for instance to observe animals as objects without interests to their own lives or people from different ethnicities as inferior. This system has convinced us that it is acceptable for some people to have more money and power than whole countries while others starve or that it is ‘normal’ to give power to a handful of individuals (through voting) to rule us, under the lowest possible manifestation of ‘democracy’. This system has justified wars, atrocities, genocides etc. (also slavery and racism until some decades ago).

The presentation of Dr. Melanie Joy ‘Carnism: The Psychology of Eating Meat’, February 2012:

We are not set to get into the onerous task of questioning much and whenever we do so we are brutally repressed and discouraged. Thus we either prefer to stay mute and enjoy our couch comfort. On the other hand, the cracks in this system are becoming more and more visible to people – the system cannot control the spreading of information in its entirety. As opposed to carnism, “Vegans have doubled in the US since 2008.” [1]

The prevailing norm at the moment is still to eat fast foods, processed foods from conventional monocultures, meat and dairy from animal factories etc. However, people are gradually realizing that their health is damaged as well as the environment is degraded, the animals are suffering, farmers and industry workers are exploited etc. More and more people are choosing organic, local or plant-based foods – they are creating producer-consumer platforms, they are cooking more often, they are setting up their own gardens etc.  The practices and interests of the industry are becoming more and more exposed and the aforementioned trends are signs that people are waking up. Let us not forget that human slavery was once a norm that became abolished (although still in play in different, more indirect ways).

In this presentation Dr. Melanie Joy connects animal exploitation with social justice as ‘we are all victimized’. Freegan Kolektiva has been a proponent of such approaches. The shackles of exploitation are subordinating us all: while the animals are the ‘untouchables’ and suffer the most in this system, it is also the industry workers that are underpaid and work in unhealthy conditions, it is also our health that is undermined by animal fats, proteins and toxic foods etc. We are all chained to act against our own interest – most of us love animals but we betray our very hearts.

Here I would like to draw attention to a term parallel to ‘carnism’, namely ‘speciesism’. Speciecism appeared in the 1970s by British psychologist Richard R. Ryder to describe prejudice and discrimination by humans to non-human animals. While speciesism is a notion focused on how we perceive animals e.g. species’ equality etc., carnism exposes our unarticulated belief system that guides our dietary habits as based on systemic indoctrination – it is actually what conditions us to consume products derived from animals. Although one can think as carnism predating speciesism from this point of view, both terms expose animal abuse and make comparisons to racism, sexism and genocide possible.

While only animal industry is discussed here, exploitation is a much wider phenomenon; it equally applies to all factory workers, marginalized groups (e.g. indigenous peoples), the world’s poor and hungry etc. Exploitation, inequality and injustice is central to our political and economic systems and we all need to start consistently challenging those norms. Awareness is liberating, knowledge brings freedom and increases the capacity to facilitate informed choice. We all share the interest to a fulfilling life, so let’s move to that direction one step at a time. For the end I will use the words of Dr. Melanie Joy:

“Without awareness there is no free choice.”


[1] Joy M (2012). Carnism: The Psychology of Eating Meat. McDougall Advanced Study Weekend, 17-19 February 2012


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