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The Importance of Understanding Carnism for Non-Vegans

Most of us who have grown up eating animals don’t realize that every time we sit down to a meal, we are acting in accordance with an invisible belief system that has shaped our thoughts, preferences, feelings and behaviors. We aren’t aware of how we have been conditioned to eat animals without considering the implications of our choices on ourselves or on others - or to even realize we are making choices at all. This invisible belief system, carnism, has created the illusion that when we eat animals we are making our choices freely. But carnism is structured to enable humane people to participate in inhumane practices without realizing what they are doing, to block our awareness so that we unknowingly act against our own interests and the interests of others. If you eat animals, you need and deserve to know the truth about carnism so that you can make your choices freely, because without awareness, there is no free choice.

How Carnism Impacts You and Your World

Eating is one of the most frequent and meaningful behaviors that we engage in. Our food choices have a direct and profound impact on our body, our mind, other humans, billions of animals, and our planet:

  • Ninety-nine percent of the meat, eggs, and dairy that the average American consumes come from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), in which thousands of animals are crammed together in filthy and unhygienic conditions. CAFOs are a leading cause of pandemic flus - including H1N1, avian influenza, and mad cow disease - and potentially deadly food-borne illnesses, such as e. coli, salmonella, and listeria.
  • Animals whose bodies are used for meat, eggs, and dairy live and die in misery. They are born into massive, filthy, overcrowded, often windowless, factories; removed from their mothers shortly after birth; castrated, debeaked, dehorned, and/or branded without anesthesia; and millions of females are forcibly impregnated in “rape racks” throughout the course of their lives. These animals are slaughtered on a relentless disassembly line whose pace makes it impossible to stun them properly - so that many are hung, shackled, and “bled” while fully conscious - and, if they survive bleeding, boiled alive. Virtually every animal-based meal comes from someone (a sentient being) who lived and died in agony.
  • Though scientists have demonstrated that fish and other sea creatures feel pain, every year billions of these beings - who have been packed into overcrowded tanks rife with parasites, bacteria, and drugs and chemicals to control disease - are brutally slaughtered for human consumption. “Wild-caught” sea animals also suffer immensely, and overfishing is responsible for the injury or death of nearly 30 million tons of inadvertently caught sea animals (dolphins, birds, turtles, etc.) annually and for the fact that 70 percent of the world’s fish populations are either fully exploited or depleted.
  • Animal agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to some of the most critical environmental problems of the twenty-first century, including water pollution, deforestation, erosion, species extinction, oceanic biodiversity destruction, greenhouse gas emissions, fresh water depletion, and chemical wastes. The United Nations recently issued a report urging a global shift toward a vegan diet as a key measure to address the environmental crisis.
  • Conditions in U.S. meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses are so dangerous and abusive that, according to Human Rights Watch, they violate basic human rights.
  • In order to eat the flesh or secretions (eggs/milk) of a once-living being, we need to disconnect, psychologically and emotionally, from the truth of our experience. We need to “numb” our authentic thoughts and emotions, to block our awareness (i.e., we must think that we’re eating “meat,” rather than a dead animal) and our empathy for the animal who became our food - and awareness and empathy are integral to our sense of self.
  • When we eat animals, we violate our personal integrity. Integrity is the integration of our values and practices. For most of us, our core value system does not condone gratuitous violence toward other sentient beings, so when we consume the products procured by their bodies we are acting in opposition to our deeper values.
  • Carnism is structured like other “isms” which are organized around the oppression of certain groups of “others.” And while the experience of each set of victims will always be unique, the ideologies are structurally similar, as the mentality which enables such oppression is the same. To create a more humane and just society, then, we appreciate that eating animals is a social justice issue, and we must include carnism in our analysis.

Carnism is a dominant, entrenched system; for better or worse, we are all participants in the system. Our choice is not whether we participate, but how we participate. With an awareness of carnism we can choose to be active witnesses rather than passive bystanders, informed consumers and empowered citizens. With awareness we can make choices that are in the best interest of ourselves, animals, and our planet, and live more authentic and freely chosen lives.

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