Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy, PhD

"Never underestimate your power to change yourself."
~Dr. Wayne Dyer

What is the belief system that enables us to love some animals and eat others? Social psychologist and professor of psychology and sociology Melanie Joy calls our underlying assumptions about meat eating (eg, that it's natural for us, it's a given, and it's the way things are and the way they've always been), carnism. This pervasive ideology is ingrained in us from earliest childhood by our parents, teachers, friends, and community. Insidious industry slogans that proclaim that "Milk does a body good" and "Meat is Real Food for Real People," continuously condition us into believing that without animal products, we would wither and die (or at the very least, become sick or frail). How ironic, when just the opposite is true.

In Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows Joy reminds us how these messages further ingrain in us the false belief that eating certain, "inferior" animals is ethical and appropriate. But why only certain animals? Why is a pig thought to be less intelligent than the family dog? (Actually, pigs are even smarter than most dogs.) And why do we believe that certain animals like chickens and fish are not capable of feeling pain and fear, when science and logic tell us that they do? Such cultural ideas are transmitted and repeated over and over, spreading like viruses—duplicating and infiltrating every aspect of our lives. They become so completely entrenched in us, we never stop to think about the impact our adherence to carnistic ideology has on ourselves, the animals, or the planet.

Ten billion animals are (deliberately) slaughtered for food in the US every year. While the vast majority of them either have feathers or live in the sea, how many of us know that each year millions of factory-farmed egg-laying chickens suffer uterine prolapse or death by wood chipper? How many of us know that hundreds of billions of dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, seals, whales, and other "nontarget" fish get tangled in nets and hooked by long-lines, are thrown back into the water, and left to slowly bleed to death?

"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." ~Voltaire

Such enormous disregard for life is made possible by our attachment to carnism, an ideology that is, as Joy points out, an oppressive cultural mind-think, as noxious as racism. In the same way that Nazis were able to murder Jewish children and then go home and hug their own sons and daughters, we cause the suffering of cows, pigs, lambs, turkeys, chickens, and fishes, eat their bodies, and then hug our dogs and cats.

But Joy does not lead us on this journey into mass delusion without also providing a light to guide us out of the darkness. She reminds us how all systems of violent oppression depend on both their invisibility and our ability to dissociate or find elaborate rationalizations to keep from recognizing the suffering of socially sanctioned inferiors. In Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows she unmasks the underlying mythology that keeps us chained to carnism, and by naming and witnessing it, offers us a clear path from apathy to empathy.

Special thanks to my friend, Arnold, for sharing the following poem:

Learning to Be a Dutiful Carnivore
By Jane Legge

Dogs and cats and goats and cows,
Ducks and chickens, sheeps and sows
Woven into tales for tots,
Pictured on their walls and pots.
Time for dinner! Come and eat
All your lovely juicy meat.
One day ham from Percy Porker
(In the comics he's a corker):
Then the breast from Mrs. Cluck
Or the wing from Donald Duck.
Liver next from Clara Cow
(No, it doesn't hurt her now).
Yes, that leg's from Peter Rabbit
Chew it well; make that a habit.
Eat the creatures killed for sale,
But never pull the pussy's tail.
Eat the flesh from "filthy hogs"
But never be unkind to dogs.
Grow into double-think-
Kiss the hamster; skin the mink.
Never think of slaughter, dear,
That's why animals are here.
They only come on earth to die,
So eat your meat, and don't ask why.


The Vegan said...

Thank you Gail for reviewing this book. If the book is even half as wonderful as this review then it is a must read. The title alone is very compelling.

melissa said...

This sounds like the perfect book for all the carnists in my life. I will be buying copies for all of them. Thank you!

VeganMarr said...

Sounds like Melanie is saying what alot of us longtime vegans have been thinking. Thank you, Melanie! I look forward to reading this book. It's high time these things were said. Gail, could you ask Melanie if it will be coming out in audio?

Helen said...

Sounds like a brilliant book. I cannot wait to read it. Thank you so much for this review.

Jonathan said...

I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into this book.

Justine said...

That's quite a powerful review of what sounds like a seriously transformative book. I plan to buy a copy of myself and as a gift for the people in my life who would benefit greatly from reading it. Thanks for sharing, Gail!

Angel said...

How humans can be so selective about who we love and who we kill has always mystified me. It sounds like this book will help us to understand the contradiction and empowers us to move beyond our collective delusion.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, glad I stopped to look at the posts I've missed. This book sounds like a must-read for all the people who still cling to meat-eating as if it were a religion. (Funny, because these same people often view vegetarianism as a cult-like religion!) Though still a long way off, I'm thinking this little book will make the perfect holiday gift. Thank you for sharing it with us.