Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism
I will say it, here and now: I eat meat. Now that I have announced that, I fear that Melanie Joy will fly through my window to tell me how the meat industry recapitulates Nazism. Okay, I don’t really. But you catch my drift: this woman is serious.
As a person with very close vegetarian friends, and who has also purchased, prepared, eaten, and enjoyed seitan, quorn, and tofu, I would say that I have a decent understanding of vegetarianism without actually practicing it. I am not convinced, however, that Joy’s book offers much that is new to the vegetarian rhetoric.
The title led me to expect a book that delved into humankind’s history with animal relationships, that would try to scratch the surface of when and why certain animals took on specific functions in our lives and others didn’t. But rather than that, this book is focused on the psychology that “allows” humans to be comfortable with meat eating. To talk about this topic, Joy has made up a word for meat-eaters: carnists. She defines carnism as “the belief system that enables us to eat some animals and not others.” Throughout the work, Joy examines how the carnist mindset and the meat industry work together to keep animals as a dinner item despite various displeasing realities connected with the practice. While doing this, Joy describes the inhumane conditions at slaughterhouses and factory farms, and the effect that the meat industry has on the Earth.
And I don’t dispute any of that. I believed it the first time I read it, in books such as Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, which Joy quotes and references an obscene number of times in her 150-page book. So much of the book is gleaned from other works that it reads very much like a college thesis paper; I suspect it once was.
Despite her legitimate arguments regarding the disgusting and hidden reality of factory farms, Joy doesn’t take into account people who raise their own animals in perfectly humane conditions or who hunt legally, or people who have any number of health issues that make a vegetarian diet anywhere from impractical to dangerous. The meat debate is a huge topic that goes far beyond the dualism of carnism and vegetarianism, and Joy doesn’t come close to covering all the bases here.
As I implied before, this book also has an irritating tendency to mention Nazis a lot. While I understand the connection Joy’s trying to make on a cerebral level, something about describing meat eating—not cruel factory farm conditions or inhumane slaughterhouses, but just eating meat—as being akin to being a member or supporter of the Gestapo is just distasteful to me.
I do applaud Joy on her willingness to acknowledge the suffering of slaughterhouse workers and others whose employment in the meat industry is dangerous and taxing. Many times, when it comes to arguments against the meat industry, I feel as if workers are under attack for earning a paycheck and given no sympathy whatsoever for the dangerous work they do. This author doesn’t suggest that the fate of the human animal is less important than other animals, and I appreciate that.