Why eat one animal and not another?
We eat animals, but not every animal. Why is that?
Dr Melanie Joy in her book ‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows’ cleverly uses a thought experiment on why we view certain types of animals acceptable to eat over others -
Imagine, for a moment, the following scenario: You are a guest at an elegant dinner party. You’re seated with the other guests at an ornately set table. The room is warm, candlelight flickers across crystal wineglasses, and the conversation is flowing freely. Mouthwatering smells of rich foods emanate from the kitchen. You haven’t eaten all day, and your stomach is growling.
At last, after what feels like hours, your friend who is hosting the party emerges from the kitchen with a steaming pot of savoury stew. The aromas of meat, seasonings and vegetables fill the room. You serve yourself a generous portion, and after eating several mouthfuls of tender meat, you ask your friend for the recipe.
“I’d be happy to tell you,” she replies. “you begin with five pounds of golden retriever meat, well marinated , and then…” Golden retriever? You probably freeze mid bite as you consider her words: the meat in your mouth is from a dog.
What now? Do you continue eating? Or are you revolted by the fact that there’s golden retriever on your plate, and you’ve just eaten some? Do you pick out the meat and eat the vegetables around it? If you are like most Americans [Australians], when you hear that you’ve been eating dog, your feelings would automatically change from pleasure to some degree of revulsion. You might also become turned off by the vegetables in the stew, as if they were somehow tainted by the meat.
But let’s suppose that your friend laughs and says she was playing a practical joke. The meat isn't golden retriever, after all, but beef. How do you feel about your food now? Is your appetite fully restored? Do you resume eating with the same enthusiasm you had when you first began your meal? Chances are, even though you know that the stew on your plate is exactly the same food you were savouring just moments earlier, you would have some residual emotional discomfort, discomfort that might continue to affect you the next time you sit down to beef stew.
What’s going on here? Why is it that certain foods cause such emotional reactions? How can a food, given one label, be considered highly palatable and that same food, given another, become virtually inedible? The stew’s main ingredient - meat - didn’t really change at all. It was animal flesh to begin with, and it remained that way. It just became - or seemed to, for a moment - meat from a different animal. Why is it that we have such radically different reactions to beef and dog meat?
We choose to eat a cow but not a dog because of a thing called perception.
We don’t react to different types of meat because of any physical difference to them. We react because of a perception that it is not appropriate to eat dog meat.
The perception stems from differing views about different animal species.
We perceive dogs as loyal, friendly, a part of the family. We perceive cows as farm animals with one purpose - to be eaten. This perception arises from our experiences, from what we know to be true.
Photograph by Sage Lanham.
Yet if we were to adopt a cow as a family pet, would our perception change? If we gave her a bed, a name, took her for walks, played with her, would we still perceive her only purpose as food on our plate?
We numb ourselves - we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from the reality of the situation. The reality that a dog has the same sentient abilities as a cow, a pig, a chicken. That if a dog was institutionalised, killed and eaten, we would not eat it. Consider the disapproval by western society of eastern nations that eat dog meat. We reject it, we disapprove of it because of the way we have (and society has) conditioned ourselves to view dogs as friends, not as fare. We numb ourselves from the reality that inside of all animals, human and non-human, is meat - we are made up of the same stuff.
We perceive cows, pigs, chickens as dirty, as dumb, as unfeeling. We perceive dogs and cats as cute and cuddly. Our perceptions stem from the invisible belief system that is carnism.
What’s the alternative?
Once we’ve identified the reality of carnism, once we’ve identified the reality of meat, egg and dairy consumption - once we can see and feel it for what it really is, we can make the choice to no longer support a system that is rooted in objectification, domination and suffering. We can choose a plant based way of living.
Eliminating, or even reducing, your consumption of animal products can have significant impact on the animals, the planet and on yourself.
In part 1, I discussed the impacts of the animal production system on animals but what about the impacts on the planet and on ourselves?
Animal production has substantial impacts on the environment - land degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, water pollution, ocean dead zones, air pollution, destruction of marine life and deforestation. For example:
> In Australia, 92% of land degradation is caused by animal production.
> Animal production is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction.
> Globally, animal production is estimated to cause around 80% of deforestation.
> Animal production is responsible for 20% - 33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today.
> The production of animal products for food results in significant water use for example it takes 800 litres of water to make 1 litre of milk! If you drink 2 litres of water a day, a litre of milk amounts to a 400-day supply of water.
> 50% of worldwide emissions are attributed to animal production.
And so on.
Animal production also has huge impacts on ourselves and what I’m talking about here is the impact on our health from consuming meat (particularly red and processed meats), eggs and dairy. Some of the health benefits of a plant based diet include:
> Improvements in cardiovascular health.
> Enhanced athletic recovery because eating a plant based diet optimises immune system functionality and significantly expedites physiological recovery from exercise induced stress.
> Lower cholesterol levels because cholesterol is found in animal foods, not plant foods (however, research shows that for most people, cholesterol in food has a smaller effect on blood levels of cholesterol compared to the types of fat in one's diet).
> Weight loss - there have been hundreds, if not thousands, millions of cases where people have lost weight by changing to a plant based diet. A word of caution though - if you eat more food than you need, weight loss will probably not occur!
> Decreases in blood sugar levels due to the health properties of plant based foods - think green leafy vegies, whole grains, legumes, berries, nuts and seeds - having a positive effect on type 2 diabetes and obesity.
> Improvements in skin health - the cleaner you eat, the clearer your skin. On a plant based diet, you can consume an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants and it is these micronutrients that show up in your skin!
Transitioning to a plant based diet
The transition to a plant based diet, is not always easy. It can be especially difficult because of the attitude of the majority towards a vegan diet (yes, I said "vegan" - that is because commonly people will regard a plant based diet as a vegan diet. To clarify, a plant based diet is a diet that predominantly consists of plants - it can still include animal products in small quantities).
The invalidation of veganism is a defence of carnism. The professional institutions I spoke of in part 1 invalidate veganism “by invalidating vegans, vegan ideology and the vegan movement” (Beyond Carnism). For example, “vegans are often portrayed as overly emotional and therefore irrational, moralistic and radical” (Beyond Carnism).
These vegan stereotypes serve to discredit veganism and its members. Why? Because of a perceived need to silence an alternate view on the validity of carnism - shoot the messenger so that the message will not be heard.
By choosing a plant based diet, we can change consciousness, we can help the animals who are victims of the animal production system, victims of the prejudices that are speciesism and carnism. We can achieve a more compassionate and just society by joining the plant based movement.
But we need to demonstrate that a plant based diet is a healthy one. Why? Because the main reason people choose a plant based diet is health.
Eating a plant based diet is not just about eating pasta, fake cheese, fake meat, fruit and veg. We want to appear vibrant, energetic, healthy and to do this we need to eat a whole foods plant based diet. By demonstrating the health benefits of eating a plant based diet, more people will see the value and join us.
Photograph by Toa Heftiba
There’s an abundance of resources available today on how to eat a plant based diet. There are professionals like vegan nutritionists and plant based coaches, like myself, who are available to help.
The belief that certain animals are meant to be eaten is woven through the fabric of society.
The psychologicial defence mechanisms of carnism - denial, justification and cognitive distortions objectification and categorisation - distort our perceptions and numb our feelings so that we act against our core values of compassion and justice; we disconnect from our natural empathy when we eat animals.
To quote Dr Melanie Joy just one more time:
“Once we understand carnism, once we name it, once we recognise these defences for what they are, they lose a tremendous amount of their power over us. When we free ourselves of this carnistic mentality that we’ve all been indoctrinated into, we can make food choices that reflect what we authentically think and feel rather than what we’ve been taught to think and feel” (Rich Roll Podcast, 2016).
The numbers of animals killed for the reproduction of meat, eggs and dairy are staggering - 18 animals per second in Australia, 3000 per second worldwide. We as individuals, can make a difference by freeing ourselves of carnism and choosing a plant based diet.
Do something for me, will you?
The next time you eat something, can you approach it mindfully? Can you ask yourself, where did this food come from? How did it get to my plate? Why am I eating it? Does it reflect my values, the words that I speak? Does eating this food align with my beliefs?
Our choices are very powerful. They can make a difference politically and socially, and most importantly, for the animals. Use your choice to make a difference, for the animals, for the planet and for you.
Want to learn more about plant based diets? Contact me today for a free chat about what a plant based diet might look like for you and how I can help.
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Voiceless 2015, ‘Animal Sentience’, https://www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/animal-sentience, viewed 25 August 2017.
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