Not only that, but many of them get angry if you try to shed light on where their meat originates—just telling people you’re vegan can sometimes inspire hostility. That’s because people know, on some level, that animal agriculture is horrific but support it anyway. By raising awareness of the reality of animal agriculture, you shed light on that moral discomfort that most people feel at the idea of eating animals.

Had an interesting discussion over lunch with a friend who experienced backlash while on vacation with friends when she casually stated that she wasn’t interested in eating much meat because she was cutting back. Their chilly reaction and subsequent efforts to tempt her into eating various hunks of seared flesh left her puzzled. But longtime vegetarians and vegans will no doubt recognize this reaction, and Dr. Melanie Joy describes the phenomenon in this linked article on GOOD. She has coined the term “carnism” to refer to the systemic cultural belief that eating meat is right, healthy, and required, rather than the choice it truly represents. She highlights the fact that it is a choice by pointing out the wild inconsistencies in our attitudes and assumptions towards different kinds of animals.

I’ve found it to go beyond that, too. In my experience, any behavior (the deviation doesn’t even have to be verbalized) that demonstrates an effort to make conscious choices about food and diet becomes suspect. It is as if my desire to eat a salad impinges on your ability to eat a steak.

The trouble with that is that my chosen diet is pretty non-mainstream. I am vegan and have been since 1998. Being vegan is as much an ethical choice as a health-conscious one, but I realize that ethical ideals are impossible so I try to respect everyone’s ability to arrive at their own ethical compromises, within reason, and I try not to force my values onto anyone else. I’m also learning more and more about raw food and other optimized nutrition, and that has to do with improving my health: I’m not overly concerned about the welfare of carrots. But uttering the word “vegan” can stop a cocktail party conversation cold. Everyone is waiting for the other non-leather shoe to drop, I suppose, and for the lectures to begin.

I’m not a lecturing kind of person. (Not usually, anyway.) But I think this article presents some valuable new vocabulary and food (ha!) for thought, so whether you choose to eat meat or choose to abstain, you may find it valuable to read this whole article and possibly see some of the nearly-invisible constructs we’re surrounded by in a new light.

Let me know your thoughts.

Carnism and the social rejection of conscious eating
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6 thoughts on “Carnism and the social rejection of conscious eating

  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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    For 2012, my only resolution is to eat and drink healthy. This post and the one on GOOD are a good starting point towards learning more about what I have chosen to ignore all these years. I dont want to promise that I will do anything drastic but I am inspired enough to try, one step at a time…. Thanks for the post, Kate.

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  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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    i was vegetarian all of last year. i totally agree with you that the response from most people is of dismay and then a desire to justify their choice to eat meat. after half a dozen uncomfortable professional dinners and lunches, i started eating chicken again. my disgust of meat wasn’t strong enough to stomach all the drama that surrounded being veg. i’m impressed by your veganism, especially here in nashville.

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  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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    Wow, Katelyn, I’m sorry you experienced that level of discouragement. If you ever think you might like to go back to a veg approach, let me know if I can help at all by listening, providing support, or whatever.

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  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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    What are some of your most common rebuttals you have to a display of hostility not involving the ethical argument?

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  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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    When you stand for anything, you’re going to be tested.The question is: Can you put up with the tests?Control = FearMost people are scared. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and their fears of making wrong decisions. That’s why most people just do what everybody else does. Being vegetarian upsets that.Being vegan upsets that.Not drinking upsets that.So how do you handle it? Here is what I do…I’m not vegan, but don’t wear leather. That can be a bitch when looking for dress shoes.Was being fitted for a suit the other day and, because I was wearing sandals, I had to put on some of the store’s leather dress shoes in order to get a good measurement.This lead to a pitch. I said I don’t wear leather. End of story. I didn’t follow it up with, "Do you know where leather comes from?" or make a big deal about it. That’s a mistake I see a lot of vegan/vegetarian people make.Still, the guy looked shocked and asked, "Any particular reason why?"And the conversation was started…or could have been. I’m not into evangelizing though, so I told him "I feel it’s a compassionate thing to do" and left it at that.If you want respect from somebody, you have to recognize that people are the ultimate authority of their own lives. If that means following what everybody else is doing or believing a certain way, so be it. A lot of people (vegans and Christians come to mind) don’t recognize that. And when that happens, the conversation is over.

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  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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    As it turns out… I have been recently on both sides of this debate. I don’t know why my reaction to vegetarians at the table was hostile. I know that when I found out that a guest was vegetarian I felt the same way that I did years earlier when I found out that a cousin was interested in exploring my aura. (that sounds worse than I intended).Now I guess I feel that we are not far from a day when the general consensus is that eating an animal is as unimaginable as eating a person. In fact, it would not surprise me to find out that "food animals" are more aware than we realize. Wouldn’t it be odd if one day a pig writes the history of the centuries of genocide perpetrated against his people… ;)"Whoso would be a man one must be a non-conformist." RW Emerson

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