Recently I spoke at a rally for the World Day to End Speciesism, hosted by Coast To Coast Animal Friends. The event highlighted the cruelties inflicted on non-human animals by human animals, all in the violent nature of speciesism. Below is the first half of my speech - Speciesism On Your Plate. The second half (with references) will appear in a future blog post.
We all have a natural capacity for empathy. That is we all have the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing - we all have the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes. And this natural capacity is not restricted to understanding or feeling what humans are experiencing. It extends to all living beings.
In our society there exists widespread speciesist beliefs and these beliefs impact our actions.
The human mind is very complex and things like social customs impact on how we act, how we might act in a way that actually goes against our values and our core natural feelings.
So if we all have this capacity for empathy, why do we eat animals? Why do we eat certain animals and not others? Don’t we naturally put ourselves in their shoes? Imagine what it would be like to be forever-confined, to be tortured, to be slaughtered?
What is speciesism?
Speciesism is the idea that being human is a good enough reason for human animals to have greater moral rights than non-human animals.
British psychologist Richard D. Ryder in 1970 who coined the phrase in a pamphlet titled ‘Speciesism’, which protested against animal experimentation. The term was popularised by Australian philosopher Peter Singer in his work Animal Liberation.
Singer argued that although there may be differences between humans and nonhumans, they share the capacity to suffer and we must give equal consideration to that suffering.
The term speciesism was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1985, defined as:
discrimination against or exploitation of animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind’s superiority.
The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy later extended the term to mean:
By analogy with racism and sexism, the improper stance of refusing respect to the lives, dignity, or needs of animals of other than the human species.
So what does speciesism look like in practice?
It looks something like this:
I choose to eat steak because my desire to eat steak is more important than the cow’s moral right to life and safety from harm.
I choose to kill native animals because my desire to build a house is more important than native animals moral right to life and safety from harm.
I choose to wear fur because my desire to “look good” is more important than a rabbit or mink’s moral right to life and safety from harm.
I choose to visit zoos because my desire to see elephants is more important than an elephant’s moral right to freedom.
I choose to wear CoverGirl mascara because my desire for long, thick lashes is more important than a rabbit’s moral right to life, safety from harm and to freedom.
I choose to race greyhounds because my desire for money is more important than a greyhound’s moral right to safety from harm.
I have titled my speech SPECIESISM ON YOUR PLATE but my focus is actually more on the subideology of speciesism - carnism.
What is carnism and how is it relevant?
Carnism specifically focuses on eating animals. It’s an invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals. Carnism essentially blocks our awareness and blocks our natural empathy for those species we’ve learned to classify as edible.
The term carnism was coined by Psychologist Dr Melanie Joy and it means the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals - animals who are considered to rank lower in the species hierarchy.
Dr Joy created the term out of a belief that since meat consumption causes more animal suffering than all other forms of animal exploitation combined, it only makes sense that we focus on carnism as a separate, yet connected, ideology from speciesism.
One key difference between speciesism and carnism is that carnism is a highly “personal” expression of speciesism; incorporating nonhuman animals into one’s body is often the most intimate and frequent contact humans have with other species. Eating animals, therefore, very much determines how we think of and relate to other beings—how can we even begin to imagine any sort of equality among species if we continue to eat animals simply because we like the way they taste?.
We love dogs and eat cows not because dogs and cows are fundamentally different - cows, like dogs, have feelings, preferences, and consciousness - but because our perception of them is different. And, consequently, our perception of their meat is different as well.
There are three defences of carnism - denial, justification and cognitive distortions.
The primary defence is denial: if we deny there is a problem in the first place, we don’t have to do anything about it. Invisibility is the expression of denial. Carnism itself is invisible and so too are its victims - the trillions of farmed animals who remain hidden and therefore out of our minds, the ongoing destruction of the environment and us - who are at increased risk of chronic disease and who have been conditioned to turn off our hearts and minds when it comes to eating animals.
The defence of justification arises where we learn to justify eating animals by believing the myths put forward by industry, government etc.
Cognitive distortions is a set of defences that distort our perceptions of how animals are produced so that we feel comfortable eating them. We learn to view animals as objects, as lacking any individuality or personality and to categorise different species so that we feel differently and carry out different behaviours toward them.
The invisible belief system of carnism is demonstrated in the “normalcy” of eating meat, eggs and dairy. The act of eating meat, and other animal by-products, of eating animals, is seen as the natural thing to do. It’s normal. We’ve always eaten meat, eggs and dairy and we always will. We don’t think about the lives of the animals we are impacting, and how they are impacted. We just eat meat, eggs and dairy because it tastes good and eating meat, eggs and dairy is what the majority do. Eating certain species of animals is seen as ethical and appropriate. It’s not a necessity. It’s a choice based on a belief system that it’s ok to do so.
The beliefs that people hold to justify the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy mask the underbelly of meat, egg and dairy production.
The underbelly of meat production
It is believed that every year in Australia, 520-620 million animals are killed at slaughterhouses, mostly for human consumption. That’s approximately 1100 per minute, 18 per second - worldwide, more than 3000 animals are killed in slaughterhouses every second. The majority of the animals slaughtered are broiler chickens (chickens killed for their flesh). They are typically slaughtered at five to seven weeks of age, much shorter than their natural life span of up to eight years.
These animals are for the most part, raised in intensive environments - environments where the quicker an animal is “processed”, the more money can be made. It’s a profit driven industry with little regard for the safety of the animals who involuntarily form part of it.
Common features of intensive animal production systems include:
Surgical procedures without pain relief, such as castration, tail docking, dehorning, teeth clipping and debeaking
Intensive confinement where they never see the outdoors until they are trucked off for slaughter
Prevention of exercising natural behaviours such as foraging, dust bathing, nesting and rooting for food
Unnatural growth rates which result in broken bones, chronic pain and heart failure
Male chicks gassed or macerated within hours of being born
Male calves taken from their mothers within hours of being born causing severe stress for both mother and offspring because of an innate bond between the two
Severe stress causing cannibalistic behaviours, repetitive behaviours and self-mutilation
High mortality rates
Irrespective of the production system within which the animal is raised, each animal is at risk of great suffering at the slaughterhouse - there is no difference here between an organically or free-range raised animal to that of an intensively raised animal when it comes to their slaughter.
The mass slaughter of animals results in fear and suffering and sadly, we continue to see footage of Australian slaughterhouses revealing the inherent cruelty associated with the animal production industry.
Dairy calves, pigs, cows, sheep and goats are being tortured, violently and repeatedly stabbed with prongs of electrified stunners.
Pigs are being exposed to high concentrations of CO2 in gas chambers which cause them to panic and violently react.
Pigs have been beaten to death with sledgehammers.
Pigs drowning in scalding tanks.
Animals being killed whilst still conscious, such as chickens being scolded in boiling water fully conscious.
The meat, egg and dairy production systems are violent systems. They remain hidden from scrutiny - invisible - because to reveal the reality of them would cost the industries.
Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.
And so with the invisible belief that all is good in the world, we continue to eat animals. We can deny that we are causing animals to suffer for simple pleasures.
We are all sentient beings
The intensive animal production system is depicted as robotic.
And yet, the animals subject of this system are not robots.
They are sentient beings - they have the ability to perceive and feel things.
They are conscious.
They suffer from pain.
They feel joy.
They feel pleasure.
They feel fear.
They feel stress.
They feel sadness.
They build strong relationships.
They are aware.
They are intelligent.
The act of producing meat and other animal by-products for human consumption denies animals the moral right to enjoy the rich experiences that are inherently natural to them. Instead they are left to feel fear, stress, sadness and to suffer from pain. To quote Phil Wollen, “in their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear. . . . . . is a boy.”
How can we justify eating sentient beings?
The intensive animal production system is justified because consuming meat is considered to be normal, natural and necessary - what Dr Melanie Joy refers to as the Three Ns of Justification. Joy says that the Three Ns essentially act as mental and emotional blinders, masking the discrepancies in our beliefs and behaviours toward animals and explaining them away if we do happen to catch on.
But let’s look at this from a historical perspective.
Women were prohibited from voting because if women were to vote, it would “cause irreparable harm… to the state” and “disaster and ruin would take over the nation”.
Slaves were justified because of reasons including that slaves are not fully human, they deserve to be enslaved; slavery would be too difficult to abolish; slaves are essential to certain industries; slavery is generally acceptable to society; slavery is legal.
Eating meat, eggs and dairy is justified for reasons such as:
It’s necessary for health.
It’s pleasurable, “and in a stressful uncertain world, pleasure is good, for mind and body”.
It ensures the survival of animals raised for meat.
The bible says we shall have dominion over animals, meaning we can eat meat and use animals however we want.
It’s acceptable by society.
It tastes good.
Our anatomy is suited to eating meat, eggs and dairy.
We need the protein contained in meat, eggs and dairy.
Evolution dictates that humans are stronger and can use weaker non-human animals for eating and other pleasures.
Non human animals are not moral beings - they cannot question their actions like humans can and therefore they have no intrinsic worth or rights.
Humans have hunted and eaten meat for centuries.
Farmed animals are raised for meat, eggs and dairy.
Meat is manly.
Humans are more intelligent and rational than non-humans.
If we were to stop eating meat, the world would be overrun with pigs, chickens and cows.
It is legal.
These justifications, which essentially point to eating meat, eggs and dairy as being normal, natural and necessary have the effect of alleviating any discomfort we might otherwise feel when eating meat, eggs and dairy; if we excuse our behaviour, we don’t feel so guilty.
The justifications for eating meat, eggs and dairy are endorsed and encouraged by professional and social institutions - government, family, big industry, every major institution in society and the people who represent them. The system is legitimised by the legal system and the media. Because of the major support of, entrenchment and legitimacy of the animal production system, anyone who speaks out against it is considered a radical or an extremist.
There’s also the factor that we have objectified cows, pigs, chickens and sheep to such an extent that we don’t perceive them as living, breathing beings. Instead we refer to them and/or their by-products as broilers, rashers, beef, production units, replacement boars, it. We also ignore the individuality of each animal, their own personalities, their own preferences. Instead we classify them as a group. By objectifying animals, and ignoring their individuality, we can justify to ourselves that it’s ok to eat them.
If we all got to know the individual animal that we were about to consume, would we still eat them?
In Part 2, we'll look at why we eat one type of animal over another and we'll discuss an alternative to eating animals. Stay tuned.