Carnism: The Invisible Belief System That Excuses Cruelty Towards Animals [Opinion]

Basic human values such as compassion, empathy, and justice are incompatible with carnism. The truth of that statement can be seen, for example, in the collective outrage against those who abuse dogs and cats. Cruelty towards animals is frowned upon by people from all walks of life, on both the right and the left side of the political spectrum, and even by those who regularly consume meat. For many of us, however, there is a disconnect between our morals and our actions when it comes to animal cruelty, and this disconnect is empowered by the invisibility of a certain belief system, and an ideology that assures us there is no other option available.

Carnism is an invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals and to excuse the horrific violence that those animals suffer while alive. Veganism, on the other hand, is the opposite of carnism, and is a more honest belief system since it forces its adherents to examine the choices they make and to confront the effect that those choices have on other sentient beings, as well as on the environment.

Because carnism is an invisible indoctrination, most people believe that eating animals is both normal and healthy, and many see it as a default setting as opposed to a choice that they make every day.

The typical meat-eater isn’t accustomed to thinking about why certain animals are off-limits while others are routinely exploited and abused. However, in cultures where eating animals isn’t necessary, doing so is a choice that is based on an invisible, generally-unconfronted belief that abusing and killing certain animals is somehow morally justifiable.

As long as carnism continues to be hidden away as an invisible belief system, it is impossible to make truly free choices about our food, as free choice relies on the knowledge that the choice even exists, and that other options are indeed available.

Veganism the opposite of carnism

Carnism distorts our thinking so that otherwise-kind people, who would never personally harm an animal, can sidestep their own moral values without feeling conflicted in the least. Carnism explains how the invisible ideology teaches us not to feel.

“Carnistic defenses hide the contradictions between our values and behaviors, so that we unknowingly make exceptions to what we would normally consider unethical.”

Melanie Joy, Ph.D., who authored Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” explained in an article for Forks Over Knives how carnist defense mechanisms stem from the same ideology that has allowed other atrocities to occur throughout history.

“All carnistic myths fall under what I refer to as the Three Ns of Justification: eating animals is normal, natural, and necessary. Not surprisingly, these same arguments have been used to justify violent practices throughout human history, from slavery to male dominance. And carnism also uses a set of defenses that distort our perceptions of meat and the animals we eat so we can feel comfortable enough to consume them.”

The invisible belief system of carnism allows people to engage in behavior that they would otherwise find revolting. As Paul McCartney once famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”

While eating meat, as well as other animal products like cheese and eggs, has been linked to increased chances of developing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, many people still don’t realize that there are other options. Whole, plant-based diets are known to drastically cut down on grocery bills as well as to vastly improve health and well-being. The only major downside is that veganism can be more time-intensive, which is, unfortunately, a luxury many people still do not have.

However, as more people begin to confront the invisible belief system that tells us eating animals is the norm, more restaurants and food stores will begin to cater to those who reject carnism, making it increasingly easier for us all to exercise free choice, and embrace compassion, in our dietary and lifestyle habits. Fortunately for humans, animals, and the planet, the widespread adoption of veganism and all the healthy, nutritional options found in a delicious, colorful, plant-based diet, is undoubtedly where the future is heading.

[Featured Image by demaerre/iStock]