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The Secret Reason We Eat Meat by Dr. Melanie Joy (Full Transcript)

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Dr. Melanie Joy – Author, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows; and Strategic Action for Animals

Have you ever wondered why you might eat chicken’s wings, but not swan’s wings? Beef burgers, but not mouse burgers?

Have you ever wondered why you might drink cow’s milk, but not pig’s milk? And have you ever wondered why you haven’t wondered?

I never wondered about these things until I had a shocking experience that changed my life forever.

Let me explain. In attempt to understand what had happened to me, I spent years conducting research, which led to a fascinating discovery. What I discovered transformed my worldview, my health, and my happiness, so that today, at 49, I feel better than I did when I was half my age.

To help you understand what happened to me, I’d like you to imagine you are a guest at a dinner party, enjoying a delicious beef stew, and your food is so delicious that you ask your host for the recipe. “The secret,” she replies, “is in the meat. You need to use three pounds of well seasoned…golden retriever.”

Now, take a moment to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Chances are, even though the meat itself didn’t change at all, your experience of it changed dramatically. So, what happened to cause you to have such a strong reaction? That’s the question I began asking 25 years ago, after I had a similar experience. Well, sort of.

Like many people, I grew up with a dog who I loved, and I also grew up eating meat. And I never thought about how strange it was that while I would never want to eat my dog, I regularly ate the flesh and eggs and dairy of animals who were not terribly different than my dog – they, too, had feelings, and lives that mattered to them.

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I just never thought about why I ate some animals, but not others. I never thought about the inconsistencies in my attitudes and behaviors toward animals, because when I was eating meat, eggs, and dairy, I didn’t actually think I was eating animals. Of course, I knew on some level that these products came from individuals who had once been alive; I had that “knowing without knowing”.

But on another level I just didn’t make the connection. It wasn’t until I wound up hospitalized after eating bacteria-infested beef, that I had a major paradigm shift.

After I got sick, just the thought of eating beef disgusted me. In fact, all meat seemed disgusting. And suddenly, I saw meat not as food, but as dead animals. Beef stew seemed no different than golden retriever stew. And as I looked at the world with new eyes, I saw animals’ body parts everywhere I turned: lining grocery store shelves, filling trucks bound for the market, spilling off lunch trays, packed in delicatessen freezers.

And people everywhere, rational, caring people like myself, were putting these animals’ bodies into their mouths as though nothing at all were wrong. I had to understand how I could have gone through my entire life being blind to what was right in front of me, and why nobody I talked to about this was willing to hear what I had to say.

It wasn’t until two decades later, after I had completed my doctoral research on the psychology of eating meat, that I had the answer. And this is what I discovered.

It turns out, that most of us eat animals not because we need to, or even because we truly wish to, but because we have been conditioned to, by a widespread, destructive belief system that operates outside our awareness and therefore without our conscious consent. We often assume that only vegans and vegetarians bring their beliefs to the dinner table. But the only reason many of us eat cows but not dogs, for example, is because we do have a belief system when it comes to eating animals.

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When eating animals is not a necessity — which is the case for many people in the world today — then it is a choice. And choices always stem from beliefs.

So what my research uncovered is that there is an invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals. And I named that system carnism.

Carnism is universal. In meat-eating cultures around the world, people typically classify only a tiny handful of animals, out of millions of possible species, as edible. All the rest are classified as inedible and disgusting. So even though the type of species consumed changes from culture to culture, members of all cultures tend to find their own choices to be rational and the choices of other cultures to be disgusting and often even offensive.

Carnism is like a vast fog that surrounds, saturates, and shrouds our world. And carnism is a violent system: meat cannot be procured without violence, and egg and dairy production cause extensive harm to animals. In fact, today, the egg and dairy industries are arguably the most brutal of all carnistic industries.

And violent systems such as carnism keep themselves alive by using defense mechanisms so that rational, humane people participate in irrational, inhumane practices without fully realizing what they are doing. These defenses hide the truth about animal agriculture and distort what little we are able to see, so that we support a system we would likely otherwise find deeply offensive.

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