by Marsha Rakestraw

“Every day we engage in a behavior that requires us to distort our thoughts, numb our feelings, and act against our core values, and which enables a global atrocity that can make even the most stoic of us weep in sorrow. And every day we could choose not to engage in this behavior, except we don’t realize that it’s irrational, we don’t see that it’s destructive, and we don’t even know we have a choice.” ~ Melanie Joy

In  her TEDx talk “Beyond Carnism and Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices” psychologist and professor Melanie Joy outlines the ideology (largely invisible) with which we’ve been raised, which conditions us to eat certain animals, but not others.

Joy calls this system “carnism” and notes that it is counter to our core values, such as compassion and justice, so we use defense mechanisms, such as denial and justification, to allow us to act against our values without fully realizing what we’re doing.

Most of us are raised to love animals, she says.

We teach our children to be kind to animals; we empathize with them; and we feel outrage when we see them being abused; yet our culture has taught us to classify a handful of animals as edible (and tasty) and the rest as inedible (and disgusting to eat).

Joy outlines how carnism works and how it is part of a larger system of domination, subjugation, privilege, and oppression — a mindset that allows us to turn someone (nonhumans, women, people who are different) into something that we feel entitled to control and exploit.

Finally, she touches on how we can lead more authentic and freely-chosen lives.

Watch the video here (18 min):

Regardless of how we may feel about eating animals, Joy’s exploration of carnism offers a powerful and fascinating examination of the lenses through which we see the world and the psychological and social means we use to shape, support, and sustain our choices and habits.

It’s a call to awaken ourselves from the fog of culture and strive to make conscious choices that reflect our deepest values, rather than perpetuating a path of unconscious choices and habits that have been established for us since we were children.

As Joy says, “…understanding carnism can help us think more critically about all systems in which we participate.”

“Beyond Carnism” is also a terrific resource for exploring vital issues such as cognitive dissonance, systems of oppression, and inconsistencies in our ethical choices with students.