I was recently listening to the podcast You Made It Weird – by Pete Holmes, the hilarious, vegan comedian – and he mentioned a video on Carnism that explores our culture of eating meat. So I looked it up and watched it, and it has got me thinking about going vegetarian. Again.
To get started, I recommend you watch the video: www.carnism.org
A lot of it’s points seem fairly self-evident:
- Meat-eating is a cultural thing. We grow up doing it, so it is normal and natural, and we don’t question it. (When I say we, I’m referring to my culture and other similar ones, but there are of course a lot of vegetarian cultures too!) This cultural context explains why we are okay to eat some meats, but not others – so for example my culture doesn’t condone eating dog meat because we love dogs and have them as pets and service dogs, while China has a dog meat festival.
- But you cannot really condemn the Chinese as worse than us when we eat lots of animals who we have decided are not as cute and lovable as dogs. Just think of how the word ‘bovine’ has connotations of being thick, and pigs are associated with being dirty and therefore kinda gross.
- The meat industry is invisible to us, and we are oblivious of the circumstances our meat is derived from. Of course we know animals have to die for us to eat them. But we are removed enough that we never have to think about it, and I mean actually think about it. Chicken is poultry, pigs are pork, cows are beef, mutton is sheep – so even the names which we use for our meat is dissociated from the animal it comes from.
- The way animals are bred and farmed for meat, eggs and dairy products, and the way they are killed, is cruel. (This is more so for large scale set-ups – I suspect some of the smaller operations in SA are not as bad.) This is worrying because animals are not stupid nor lacking in feeling, despite it being convenient to believe this is the case. This last point is probably the one that has stuck with me the most:
- a pig has the same intelligence level as a 3 year old human;
- cows have social systems and cry tears when their calves are forcibly removed from them (and I have read previously that they have best friends and can hold grudges);
- chickens have over 30 sounds to warn each other of different dangers and can differentiate each other by facial features;
- some fish have been identified as intelligent and as a result legal requirements have been established as to the size of aquarium they can be kept in.
(Just a quick aside – here’s a video of a 3-year-old boy grappling with some of the above points: www.youtube.com)
Melanie Joy is the scholar who coined the term carnism, and just by giving it a name she has drawn attention to meat-eating as a thing, and not an invisible and therefore unquestioned norm. And so it puts us in the position where can turn the microscope on it and ask the question: is this good?
Reasons for not eating meat, besides the cruelty of our farming methods:
- Vegetarianism is more healthy than carnism. Melanie points out how big killers like heart disease and obesity are linked to eating lots of meat. (To be honest there is conflicting information that says eating meat is very healthy, too, and in fact many diets are now arguing people should eat more protein – generally as meat – and fewer carbs, so it is a grey area. It is also a loaded topic, as many different stakeholders have an economic interest in the answer to this, so check your sources on this one to see who might be benefiting from the outcome).
- A point my home boy Holmes raised – meat is full of routine antibiotics and growth hormones which cannot be good for us. Plus the animal is likely to have been raised on an unnatural diet meant to make them fatter quicker and more cheaply. This in turn is probably not great for us, the consumer.
- The environmental benefits of a non-meat diet are huge, because you need less space, less water, less everything, to yield a greater amount of edible food. Plus livestock contribute to soil erosion, so with less livestock you will have less of this too. And animals create green house gases. No seriously, they do, especially cows when they fart! So having fewer farm animals there will be fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The size and scale of the meat industry is that vast that these are very tangible benefits.
- Having more agricultural space dedicated to growing non-meat products will mean we can feed more people. I’m not saying this will end world hunger, but it won’t hurt in the battle to feed the world’s growing population.
So there is a lof of food for thought here… Are you vegetarian, and if so what are your reasons? And if you’re not, why not try Meat Free Mondays? This might be a better approach for you if you’re not yet ready to give meat up completely.