That we sustain fulfilling bonds with certain animals but turn others into fulfilling dinners baffles Dr Melanie Joy, a professor of Psychology and Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, USA. ‘Carnism’, a term she coined, describes the invisible belief system that normalises eating certain animals while harbouring meaningful relationships with others despite similarities in anatomy. Her book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows (2010) comments on industrialised animal food production that chases cost-effective methods with an absolute disregard for animal rights. Excerpts:
When did you decide to champion veganism?
In 1989, I was hospitalised because of a contaminated hamburger. After that, I just stopped eating meat. I was researching how to cook vegetarian meals and that led me to the brutality of animal agriculture. That was when I decided to be an objector.
What led you to venture into the psychology of meat eating?
I was curious as to how rational, compassionate people can just stop thinking and not react to what to me was a global atrocity. I was interested in finding out why we have ‘atrocities’ in the first place. It is a mentality of privilege — we can exploit you and treat your needs as less, because we have the power to do so.
Are veganism and carnism at opposite ends of a spectrum?
Where we are on that spectrum is less important than where we’re heading. It’s not as though you are vegan and are part of the solution or are not vegan and part of the problem. I think that’s a false dichotomy. I encourage people to be as vegan as possible and when people do that, it makes this change easier.
Do you think veganism, often seen as an elitist ideology, is economically feasible?
Veganism has its roots in India. It emerged from vegetarianism. It’s associated with elitism but that detracts from the traditional roots that it has here. It’s really based on ahimsa. Having said that, it is a diet or a lifestyle for people who can make their food choices freely.