Excerpts from Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, by Melanie Joy Ph.D.
This book was pretty enlightening. A quick pass through these highlights will take you 20 minutes. (If you're pressed, reading just the bolded bits, my doing, will take five. :)
The result is that we have a system of industrialized animal food production, a system of factory farming, that is under no legal compunction not to torture the animals in its “care.”
We have happy cow ads, happy chicken ads, and it's all a lie. It's totally dishonest, but it's not illegal.
Because we have made this semantic distinction between some animals and others. Some we love, others we not only butcher, we torture.
The system teaches us how to not feel. The most obvious feeling we lose is disgust, yet beneath our disgust lies an emotion much more integral to our sense of self: our empathy.
But why must the system go to such lengths to block our empathy? Why all the psychological acrobatics? The answer is simple: because we care about animals, and we don't want them to suffer. And because we eat them.
Our values and behaviors are incongruent, and this incongruence causes us a certain degree of moral discomfort.
As long as we neither value unnecessary animal suffering nor stop eating animals, our schema will distort our perceptions of animals and the meat we eat, so that we can feel comfortable enough to consume them.
The primary tool of the system is psychic numbing. Psychic numbing is a psychological process by which we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience.
Psychic numbing is adaptive, or beneficial, when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive, or destructive, when it is used to enable violence, even if that violence is as far away as the factories in which animals are turned into meat.
It's just the way things are. Take a moment to consider this statement. Really think about it. We send one species to the butcher and give our love and kindness to another apparently for no reason other than because it's the way things are. When our attitudes and behaviors toward animals are so inconsistent, and this inconsistency is so unexamined, we can safely say we have been fed absurdities. It is absurd that we eat pigs and love dogs and don't even know why.
Our choices as consumers drive an industry that kills ten billion animals per year in the United States alone. If we choose to support this industry and the best reason we can come up with is because it's the way things are, clearly something is amiss.
Most of us realize that vegetarianism is an expression of one's ethical orientation.
We eat animals simply because it's what we've always done, and because we like the way they taste. Most of us eat animals because it's just the way things are.
Carnism is the belief system in which eating certain animals is considered ethical and appropriate.
Carnists eat meat not because they need to, but because they choose to, and choices always stem from beliefs.
We tend to view the mainstream way of life as a reflection of universal values. Yet what we consider normal is, in fact, nothing more than the beliefs and behaviors of the majority.
So what we refer to as mainstream is simply another way to describe an ideology that is so widespread so entrenched that its assumptions and practices are seen as simply common sense.
When an ideology is entrenched, it is essentially invisible. An example of an invisible ideology is patriarchy. Patriarchy existed for thousands of years before feminists named this ideology.
Interestingly, the ideology of vegetarianism was named more than 2,500 years ago; those who chose not to eat meat were called “Pythagoreans,” because they followed the dietary philosophy of the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras. Later, in the nineteenth century, the term “vegetarian” was coined.
There is another, more important, reason that vegetarianism has been labeled while carnism has not. The primary way entrenched ideologies stay entrenched is by remaining invisible. And the primary way they stay invisible is by remaining unnamed. If we don't name it, we can't talk about it, and if we can't talk about it, we can't question it.
Carnism is a violent ideology, because it is literally organized around physical violence. In other words, if we were to remove the violence from the system to stop killing animals the system would cease to exist. Meat cannot be procured without slaughter.
Contemporary carnism is organized around extensive violence. The violence of carnism is such that most people are unwilling to witness it, and those who do can become seriously distraught.
(PTSD) as the result of prolonged exposure to the slaughter process; they have intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other symptoms.
Most of us, even those who are not “animal lovers” per se, don't want to cause anyone human or animal to suffer, especially if that suffering is intensive and unnecessary.
Violent ideologies also depend on physical invisibility. Have you ever noticed that, though we breed, raise, and kill ten billion animals per year, most of us never see even a single part of the process of meat production?
U.S. agribusinesses slaughter ten billion animals per year, 317 animals per second. The ten billion U.S. farm-animal population is nearly double the size of the worldwide human population. It's 33 times larger than the population of the United States.
Meat is very big business the U.S. animal agribusiness industry has combined annual revenues approaching $125 billion.
Meat is literally everywhere we turn. So where are all the animals?
Though we may eat meat on a daily basis, most of us don't stop to consider how peculiar it is that we can go through our entire lives without ever encountering the animals that become our food. Where are they?
From a business standpoint, animal welfare is a barrier to profit, as it costs less to mass-produce animals and discard those who die prematurely than it does to care for them adequately.
It is these cost-cutting measures that make modern meat production one of the most inhumane practices in human history.
We don't see them because their trucks are often sealed and unmarked. Slaughterhouses have no windows on the front and no architectural clues to what's happening inside.
Pigs are intelligent, sensitive animals; piglets as young as three weeks old learn their names and respond when called. Pigs are also affectionate and sociable, enjoying the company of humans, which is why they can make excellent pets. In natural settings, pigs roam for up to thirty miles a day and can form close bonds with one another. They may be able to distinguish between as many as thirty different individual pigs in their group, and will greet and communicate with those with whom they are close.
Expectant mothers are extremely conscientious; they may wander for six miles to find the perfect spot to build a birthing nest, and then spend up to ten hours building it before settling in to care for their newborns.
Once the babies are old enough to rejoin the others, they play and explore their environment together for months.
Shortly after piglets are born, they are typically castrated, and their tails are cut off, without anesthesia. Ranchers are told to remove (“dock”) their tails with blunt, side-cutting pliers because the crushing action helps to reduce bleeding.
Like humans who have endured solitary confinement and other tortures in captivity, pigs have engaged in self-mutilation, and have been found repeating the same nonsensical behaviors over and over, sometimes thousands of times a day; the animals are literally driven insane.
‘I went to pick up some hogs one day for chainsawing from a pile of about thirty frozen hogs, and I found two [that were] . . . frozen but still alive. . . . I could tell they were alive because they raised their heads up like, “Help me.” . . . I took my ax-chopper and chopped them to death.’
The animals at the rear of the chute hear the screams of the pigs ahead… not surprisingly, many pigs are reluctant to move forward. As one slaughterhouse worker put it: When the hogs smell blood, they don't want to go.
‘There's a rotating arm that pushes them under, no chance for them to get out. I'm not sure if they burn to death before they drown, but it takes them a couple of minutes to stop thrashing.’
The stress workers face from spending hours at a single station where they have to kill (or stun) one hog every four seconds led to violent outbursts toward the pigs.
Bovines are communicative, emotional, and social creatures. They have multiple vocalizations and gestures to communicate their feelings, and in a natural environment they will nurture ongoing friendships with one another. Bovines are naturally gentle and docile, spending most of their waking time eating grass and chewing cud. And babies frequently engage in a variety of forms of play with each other when they are not suckling from their mothers.
Many of us feel even more removed from chickens and turkeys, at least in part because of our deep-rooted belief that they are stupid perhaps too stupid to even know whether they are in pain. However, birds are actually quite smart; scientists now acknowledge that these animals are vastly more intelligent than they'd realized. Chickens and turkeys are also quite sociable, which may explain the growing trend of keeping them as pets.
Owners describe birds who play with them, seek them out for affection, and even cavort with the family dog.
Nevertheless, in the United States we kill and consume approximately nine billion birds a year for their flesh or eggs.
“Broiler” chickens and turkeys are raised for their meat, and though in natural conditions they live up to ten years, in CAFOs they have a life span of seven weeks or sixteen weeks, respectively which means that, whenever we consume poultry, we are, in fact, eating baby birds.
In poultry slaughterhouses, where production speeds are even faster than those for other animals (the average is 8,400 animals per hour), birds are thrown onto conveyors where they are grabbed, sometimes handfuls of them at a time, and hooked upside down on shackles. While the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires other animals to be rendered unconscious before being killed, birds are exempt and are slaughtered while fully conscious. Their throats are slit by either hand or machine, and they are then dumped into scalding water to loosen their feathers. A number of birds end up being boiled alive.
‘Nearly every chicken responded with screams and violent physical reactions from the moment they were grabbed by workers and as they went through the line. The screaming of the birds and the frenzied flapping of their wings were so loud that you had to yell to the worker next to you…’
As with other species destined for human consumption, the American public is shielded from witnessing the lives and deaths of some nine billion chickens per year. As Balk explained, “Being there firsthand to hear the screams and to smell the stench of death in the air is something that most people would never . . . experience.”
The male chicks are of no economic value and are therefore discarded shortly after birth. They can be dumped into a massive grinder and ground up alive, gassed, or thrown in garbage bins where they die from suffocation or dehydration.
The female chicks are stuffed into battery cages, which are wire cages that hold an average of six birds and are about the size of a square filing cabinet. Hens spend their entire lives in battery cages, where they must eat, sleep, and defecate, and where they cannot even open their wings. The bottoms of the cages are made of wire so that the birds' droppings can fall through the openings, and their limbs can easily become entangled in the mesh.
Battery cages are considered so cruel that they have already been banned in a number of countries and are being phased out in all twenty-seven nations of the European Union, though they remain widely used throughout the United States.
When she is just over one year old, the layer hen is sent to slaughter.
Many cows in the United States spend their lives in dairy factories, where they are either chained by the neck and confined within tiny stalls in sheds, or live outdoors in overcrowded, fenced-in feedlots. In the feedlots, the cows eat out of a conveyor belt along a fence, and the ground they stand and lie on is concrete, saturated with urine and feces.
Though the physical stress dairy cows endure is significant, it is quite possible that their greatest suffering comes from the emotional trauma they endure each year after giving birth. Their male offspring are used to produce veal, and the females are used for dairy production.
As I mentioned earlier, cows are intimately bonded with their calves, whom they may nurse for up to a year. In dairy factories, however, the calf is removed usually within hours of birth so the cow's milk can be diverted for human consumption. Often the calf is dragged away from his or her mother, as the cow bellows hysterically.
Like human mothers, cows can become frenzied and desperate when they cannot find their offspring. They will bellow for days, frantically searching for their calves, and sometimes even turning violent, thrashing and kicking at workers. There are even instances of cows escaping and traveling for miles to find their calves on other farms.
Though cows have a natural life span of approximately twenty years, after only four years in a dairy factory they are considered spent and are sent to slaughter. A significant proportion of U.S. ground beef is made from dairy cows.
In the United States, ten billion sea animals are slaughtered each year, commercial fishing and through aquatic farming. Each of these methods causes intensive suffering to the animals and extensive damage to the environment.
Commercial fishing is responsible not only for the depletion of 70 percent of the world's fish species, but also for serious injury to other species of animals.
Various slaughter methods may be applied, including electrocution, which leads to a lethal, epileptic-like seizure; percussive stunning, which is administering a blow to the head with a club; live chilling, in which the animals are left on ice and frozen alive; suffocation; or spiking, where a spike is inserted through the animals' brain.
Violent ideologies are structured so that it is not only possible, but inevitable, that we are aware of an unpleasant truth on one level while being oblivious to it on another. Common to all violent ideologies is this phenomenon of knowing without knowing. And it is the essence of carnism.
They tell us the billions of animals that we never see live outdoors on peaceful farms, and as illogical as this is, we don't question it. We make their job easy because on some level most of us don't want to know the way things really are.
And meat consumers roughly 300 million Americans are unknowingly fed an array of contaminants. Our meat is often laced with synthetic hormones, some of which have been linked to the development of various cancers and are banned from both human and animal consumption in the European Union; massive doses of antibiotics; toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that are known carcinogens; potentially deadly strains of bacteria and viruses; petroleum; poisoned rat carcasses; dirt; hair; and feces.
Employees find themselves in working conditions that are exploitative, hazardous, unsanitary, and violent. They spend hour upon hour in a death-saturated, high-stress environment, and they suffer for it imagine killing twenty-three chickens per minute, totaling twenty-five thousand a day.
Not surprisingly, meatpacking is the single most dangerous factory job in the United States, and it is also the most violent. For instance, workers must wear hockey masks to prevent their teeth from getting kicked out by conscious animals being dragged along a conveyor belt. In fact, in 2005, for the first time ever, Human Rights Watch issued a report criticizing a single U.S. industry the meat industry for working conditions so appalling they violate basic human rights.
‘The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in that stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn't let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that's walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, “God, that really isn't a bad-looking animal.” You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later, I had to kill them beat them to death with a pipe. I can't care.’
‘Most people can experience only so much violence before they become traumatized by it. Most stickers have been arrested for assault. A lot of them have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing live, kicking animals all day long. . . . A lot of guys . . . just drink and drug their problems away. Some of them end up abusing their spouses because they can't get rid of the feelings. They leave work with this attitude and they go down to the bar to forget. Only problem is, even if you try to drink those feelings away, they're still there when you sober up.’
Meat production is a leading cause of every significant form of environmental damage: air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, erosion, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and depletion of fresh water.
The United Nations has declared the livestock sector “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The impact is so significant” they warn, “that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” Animal agriculture is likely the world's largest source of water pollution. The main sources of the pollution are from antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, animal wastes, sediments from eroded pastures, and fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops. Seventy percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is now pastures for feeding livestock.
Livestock-based agribusiness causes 55 percent of the erosion and sediment produced in the United States. Also, 37 percent of all pesticides and 50 percent of all antibiotics used in this country are used by animal agribusinesses.
Thirty percent of the earth's land surface that is now used for livestock was once wildlife habitat. Sixty to seventy percent of the world's fish catch goes to feed livestock. CAFO antibiotic use adds an estimated $1.5 billion a year to public health costs.
The methane produced by cattle and their manure has a global warming effect equivalent to that of 33 million automobiles.
Animal agribusiness is a $125 billion industry controlled by just a handful of corporations.
The power of animal agribusiness is such that the industry has become intertwined with government, blurring the boundary between private interests and public service.
One process that has enabled the intertwining of the public and private sectors is the “revolving door” through which corporate executives and governmental officers exchange positions.
Another reason for such public-private overlap is the massive political funding and lobbying efforts on behalf of the meat industry.
Animal agribusiness subsidies have been criticized by those across the political spectrum as one of the most egregious corporate welfare programs in the history of the United States.
More than 97 percent of American adults, however, eat animal foods, and despite much research demonstrating the connection between the consumption of animal products and disease, we are not warned of these dangers.
‘The vast majority, perhaps 80 to 90 percent of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based [vegetarian] diet.’ -T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., M.S., Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and best-selling author of The China Study, the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition conducted to date.
Surgeon General's Warning: Eating Meat Can Increase Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease by 50 Percent. Surgeon General's Warning: Eating Meat Can Increase Your Risk of Developing Colon Cancer by 300 Percent and Significantly Increase Your Risk of Developing Certain Other Cancers. Surgeon General's Warning: Daily Meat Consumption Can Triple Your Risk of Prostate Enlargement and Regular Milk Consumption Doubles Your Risk.
Surgeon General's Warning: This Product May Contain Dangerous Levels of Pesticides, Arsenic, Antibiotics, and Hormones. Surgeon General's Warning: This Product May Contain Microbial Organisms That Could Lead to Illness or Death.
Hints of the truth surround us: “cruelty-free” veggie burgers at the grocery store; the resilient vein in the drumstick that's suddenly reminiscent of a living chicken; snapshots of meatpacking plants that occasionally make the news; vegetarian guests at dinner parties; dead piglets hanging in the windows of Chinatown markets; the hog on a spit at the company barbecue;
‘If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.’ - Voltaire
Children giggle and clap, mothers and fathers smile fondly, and everyone seems determined to touch and be touched by the pigs, cows, and chickens. Yet these people, who feel so deeply compelled to make contact with the animals, and who as children may have wept when they read Charlotte's Web and fallen asleep hugging their stuffed pigs or calves these same people will soon leave the grocery store with bags containing beef, ham, and chicken. These people, who would undoubtedly rush to the aid of one of the barnyard animals were it suffering, are somehow not outraged that ten billion of them are suffering needlessly every year.
Where has our empathy gone?
In order to consume the meat of the very species we had caressed but minutes before, we must believe so fully in the justness of eating animals that we are spared the consciousness of what we are doing.
There is a vast mythology surrounding meat, but all the myths are in one way or another related to what I refer to as the Three Ns of Justification: eating meat is normal, natural, and necessary.
The Three Ns have been invoked to justify all exploitative systems, from African slavery to the Nazi Holocaust.
When an ideology is in its prime, these myths rarely come under scrutiny. However, when the system finally collapses, the Three Ns are recognized as ludicrous.
So, though we have become adept at ignoring the part of us that knows the truth, we must be continually coached to maintain the disconnection between our awareness and our empathy.
Another way professionals help sustain a violent ideology is by pathologizing or thwarting those who don't support it, as with psychologists who assume that a young woman's refusal to eat meat is symptomatic of an eating disorder or doctors who warn of the dangers of a meat-free diet despite much evidence to the contrary.
The animal agribusinesses and their executives, actively sustains the myths of meat by influencing the institutions and professionals that in turn impact policy and opinion. Consider, for instance, the partnership between the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the National Dairy Council. The ADA is the nation's leading organization of nutritionists, and it is also the governing body that oversees the accreditation of universities that offer degrees in dietetics; all registered dietitians are required to have graduated from an ADA-accredited institution. The National Dairy Council is one of the ADA's leading “corporate sponsors.”
The sponsor “can leverage benefits to achieve marketing objectives . . . gain access to food and nutrition leaders who influence and make critical purchasing decisions . . . [and] build brand relevance with [the ADA's] highly-desirable target audience.”
And the doctors and nutritionists who appear in the media virtually always advocate carnism, often assuming a “reasonable moderate” stance.
‘Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.’ - George Bernard Shaw
When we view the tenets of an ideology as normal, it means the ideology has become normalized, and its tenets social norms.
And by carving out the path of least resistance, norms obscure alternative paths and make it seem as if there is no other way to be.
Another way norms keep us in line is by rewarding conformity and punishing us if we stray off course. Practically and socially, it is vastly easier to eat meat than not.
Vegetarians often find themselves having to explain their choices, defend their diet, and apologize for inconveniencing others. They are stereotyped as hippies, eating disordered, and sometimes antihuman. They are called hypocrites if they wear leather, purists or extremists if they don't. They must live in a world where they are constantly bombarded by imagery and attitudes that offend their deepest sensibilities.
Most of us believe that eating meat is natural because humans have hunted and consumed animals for millennia. And it is true that we have been eating meat as part of an omnivorous diet for at least two million years (though for the majority of this time our diet was still primarily vegetarian). But to be fair, we must acknowledge that infanticide, murder, rape, and cannibalism are at least as old as meat eating, and are therefore arguably as “natural” and yet we don't invoke the history of these acts as a justification for them.
When an ideology is naturalized, its tenets are believed to be in accordance with the laws of nature (and/or the law of God, depending on whether one's belief system is science- or faith-based, or both).
Naturalization reflects a belief in the way things are meant to be; eating meat is seen as simply following the natural order of things. Naturalization maintains an ideology by providing it with a (bio)logical basis.
The belief in the biological superiority of certain groups has been used for centuries to justify violence: Africans were “naturally” suited to slavery; Jews were “naturally” evil and would destroy Germany if not eradicated; women were “naturally” designed to be the property of men; animals “naturally” exist to be eaten by humans.
And consider one of the central justifications for carnism, the natural order of the so-called food chain. Humans supposedly reside at the “top” of the food chain yet a chain, by definition, doesn't have a top, and if it did, it would be inhabited by carnivores, not omnivores.
The belief that eating meat is necessary is closely connected to the belief that eating meat is natural; if meat eating is a biological imperative, then it is a necessity for the survival of the (human) species. And, as with all violent ideologies, this belief reflects the core paradox of the system: killing is necessary for the greater good; the survival of one group depends on the killing of another.
The belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.
A related myth is that meat is necessary for our health. This myth, too, persists in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If anything, research suggests that eating meat is detrimental to health, as meat consumption has been connected with the development of some of the major diseases of the modern industrialized world.
The Protein Myth: But where do you get your protein? This is often the first response a vegetarian hears after disclosing his or her dietary orientation. In fact, this question is so common as to be a running joke among vegetarians across the nation. I use the term “joke” because the question reflects one of, if not the, most common and unrealistic myths about carnism: that meat is a necessary source of protein. Vegetarians refer to this misconception as the Protein Myth.
Like other myths of meat, the Protein Myth exists in the face of longstanding, widespread, and substantial evidence to the contrary; it acts to justify continued meat consumption and maintain the carnistic paradigm. But it is, indeed, a myth.
Here's what doctors have to say: Today . . . Americans tend to take in twice the amount of protein they need. . . . Excess protein has been linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers. People build muscle and other body proteins from amino acids, which come from the proteins they eat. A varied diet of beans, lentils, grains, and vegetables contains all of the essential amino acids.
It was once thought that various plant foods had to be eaten together to get their full protein value, but current research suggests this is not the case. To consume a diet that contains enough, but not too much, protein, [one can] simply replace animal products with grains, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and fruits. As long as one is eating a variety of plant foods in sufficient quantity to maintain one's weight, the body gets plenty of protein.
History shows us again and again that, when people become aware of violent ideologies, they demand change.
It is for this reason that the atrocities of carnism must remain hidden and the myths of carnism must remain intact. Violent ideologies require willing participants, and most Americans would not willingly harm animals.
Carnism distorts reality: Just because we don't see the animals we eat, this doesn't mean they don't exist.
Like other groups that have been victims of violent ideologies, pigs raised for meat may have numbers rather than names and are considered no different from one another; a pig is a pig and all pigs are the same.
Recognizing the individuality of others interrupts the process of deindividualization, making it more difficult to maintain the psychological and emotional distance necessary to harm them.
The greater the number of victims, the more witnesses blurred, or depersonalized, individuals and the less they tended to care numbers and numbing go hand in hand.
We retain false assumptions about the animals we eat so that we can continue to classify them as edible. Intelligent pigs and chickens are seen as stupid, and handsome turkeys are viewed as ugly.
enabling us to treat certain animals as objects and abstractions objects, because they literally become units of production on a disassembly line, and abstractions, because the sheer volume of animals killed for meat inevitably deindividualizes them.
Modern methods enable us to eat billions of animals every year without witnessing a single part of the process by which these animals become our food.
The carnistic schema, which twists information so that nonsense seems to make perfect sense, also explains why we fail to see the absurdities of the system. Consider, for instance, advertising campaigns in which a pig dances joyfully over the fire pit where he or she is to be barbecued, or chickens wear aprons while beseeching the viewer to eat them. And consider the Veterinarian's Oath of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “I solemnly swear to use my . . . skills for the . . . relief of animal suffering,” in light of the fact that the vast majority of veterinarians eat animals simply because they like the way meat tastes.
Or think about how people won't replace their hamburgers with veggie burgers, even if the flavor is identical, because they claim that, if they try hard enough, they can detect a subtle difference in texture. Only when we deconstruct the carnistic schema can we see the absurdity of placing our preference for a flawless re-creation of a textural norm over the lives and deaths of billions of others.
The carnistic system is riddled with absurdities, inconsistencies, and paradox. It is fortified by a complex network of defenses that make it possible for us to believe without questioning, to know without thinking, and to act without feeling.
Thus, one cannot help but wonder: Why all the acrobatics? The answer is simple. Because we care about animals. And because the system depends on our not caring, and the system is built on deception.
‘Our grandchildren will ask us one day: Where were you during the Holocaust of the animals? What did you do against these horrifying crimes? We won't be able to offer the same excuse for the second time, that we didn't know.’ - Helmut Kaplan
Think about it: virtually every atrocity in the history of humankind was enabled by a populace that turned away from a reality that seemed too painful to face, while virtually every revolution for peace and justice has been made possible by a group of people who chose to bear witness and demanded that others bear witness as well.
The goal of all justice movements is to activate collective witnessing so that social practices reflect social values. A movement succeeds when it reaches a critical mass of witnesses that is, enough witnesses to tip the scales of power in favor of the movement.
Another reason we resist bearing witness to the truth of carnism is that witnessing hurts. Becoming aware of the intense suffering of billions of animals, and of our own participation in that suffering, can bring up painful emotions.
A related reason we resist witnessing the truth of carnism is that we feel powerless to change suffering of such magnitude.
The paradox is that the very reason we resist bearing witness to the truth of carnism is the same reason we desire to witness: because we care. This is the great truth that lies buried beneath the elaborate, labyrinthine mechanisms of the system.
A final reason that the timing is ripe to challenge carnism is that the primary defense of the system, invisibility, has been weakening. It is becoming increasingly difficult for carnistic industries to hide their secrets from the public; the animal agribusinesses that depend on controlling information to sustain the myths of meat are now challenged by a ubiquitous, unregulated information source: the Internet. Carnism is like the Wizard of Oz: once the curtain is pulled back from the system, its power virtually disappears.
I have witnessed, again and again, the courage and compassion of the so-called average American: previously apathetic students who become impassioned activists; lifelong carnists who weep openly when exposed to images of animal cruelty, never again to eat meat; butchers who suddenly connect meat to its living source and become unable to continue killing animals; and a community of carnists who aid a runaway cow in her flight from slaughter.
Ultimately, bearing witness requires the courage to take sides.
Judith Herman argues that all bystanders are forced to take a side, by their action or inaction, and that there is no such thing as moral neutrality.
Indeed, as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel points out, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”