Carnism

animal silhouettes: cat, cow, dog, pig

I just learned a new word: carnism: the belief system in which it’s considered ethical to consume animals. Whether omnivore, flexitarian, or vegetarian, the questions raised in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy, give one pause. In her book, Joy explores “why we feel affection and compassion for certain animals but are callous to the suffering of others–especially those slaughtered for our consumption.”

Here are our two cats, Reuben and Marvin… and two cows I met at Farm Sanctuary a few weeks ago.

our cats Reuben and Marvintwo cows in field

And here’s Marvin and a cow striking a pose. The cow in the photo is an exception to the rule; he lives as good a life as Marvin does. They both get good vet care, nutritious food, human compassion, and a life expectancy appropriate to their species.

Marvin the catcow

After spending some time up close and personal with these two cows, it’s hard to see much difference between them and their small doppelgangers that reside in our home.

If carnism is the word of the day today, tomorrow’s word will be speciesism. Speciesism is the belief system that values some animals over others (humans occupy the top of the hierarchy). Carnism makes it appropriate to eat animals on the lower rungs of the speciesist hierarchy. Speciesism is the bigger system, carnism is its natural byproduct.

2 thoughts on “Carnism

  1. “I’m glad it wasn’t a deer or fox or rabbit. I think I’d be much more upset.”-from the squirrel story of the other day.

    It’s interesting how we people have an almost unconscious hierarchy of favoritism regarding animals. I just read an article in the New York Times (“A Masterpiece of Nature? Yuck!” 8/9/10), about how bias affects which threatened species get protected and which don’t. The focus of the article was the star-nosed mole, and how it doesn’t get any respect because it doesn’t conform to our inner aesthetic ideal. Tigers and dolphins? Sure. Insects and bats? Not so much. (I’d post the link, but I don’t know how to do it here.)

  2. Hey K, you might want to check out biologist Stephen J. Gould’s book Full House. It’s less a book and more a longish essay on why you can’t really say that any species is really too much better than any other.

    It contains an extensive discourse on baseball — Gould’s other hobby — but even if you’re not a sports fan the conclusion that “man” is on top of the mammal chain largely due to nothing more than cosmic accident is pretty solid.

    Love the “Weblog,” great stuff, keep it up!

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