Carnism is a word that Melanie Joy, Ph.D. used to define the value system and norms that define the dominant meat-eating culture. Meat-eating or Carnism is the culture that is learned.
Actual carnivores would eat any meat no matter what it is. In our system, we would eat only a few animals that we deem as food. For example, would you eat your dog? The average intelligence of the pig is at the level of a 3-year-old child, and the pig is more intelligent than a dog. Pig is a very smart animal. Do we think that dog meat does not have a good taste? In China, for example, they do eat dogs.
So why don’t we eat them? Why not human meat? Do we think that human meat does not have good taste? In the words of Alexander Pearce, an Irish convict notorious for cannibalizing his fellow prison escapees:
“Man’s flesh is delicious, it tastes far better than fish or pork.”
Alternatively, how about this:
“It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted… It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have.”
– William Seabrook, an explorer who ate a human rump steak on a trip to West Africa.
In more recent times science presenter Greg Foot was trying to get to the secret of what human flesh tastes like in an experiment with BritLab for the BBC. Unfortunately, it is illegal to eat our own flesh. Having the understanding that it is illegal the entire end goal was to experience some resemblance of the taste. They performed a biopsy of Greg’s leg muscle and settled for the aroma of his cooked flesh. The aroma of the flesh can account for up to 80 percent of our sensation of taste. They put the cooked human meat in an aroma analyzing machine and did the smell test. In Greg’s words, his leg muscle smelled like beef stew. Analysis of the leg muscle showed that it is very similar in composition to both chicken and beef. It is about half of the muscle we found in chicken breast and have similar muscle fiber we found in cuts of beef. In the end, they created a ground meat mixture of different animal meets to recreate the fibers they found in the biopsy of his leg and made a fake human burger.
Cannibalism is thoroughly documented around the world, from Amazon Basin to the Congo, Fiji, and the Maori people of New Zealand. It is not a modern invention, and in some cultures, it is normal. There is ceremonial ritual cannibalism also. In the modern world, it was still practiced in Papua New Guinea as of 2018 in ceremonial rituals and the war ceremonies in various Melanesian tribes. Neanderthals are believed to have practiced cannibalism. Anatomically modern humans may have also eaten Neanderthals.
On the smaller farms, slaughter is always done with bare hands without anesthesia. Same with any other animal. Male chicks do not lay eggs and don’t grow quickly enough so after hatching they are selected and put into a grinding machine while still alive. Females are sent to a hot blade to remove part of the chick’s beaks. After debeaking, birds are put into cages where they are going to spend the rest of their lives confined in tiny space. Because of selective breeding, they are grown to be so large so quickly that many suffer crippling leg disorders and chronic joint pain. At the slaughter, plant birds are snapped upside down into moving shackles by their legs and then pulled across a blade which slices their throats.
The truth is that we do not really care or ever would. Humans have selective empathy. We may feel bad for dogs but not for pigs.
Dr. Melanie Joy calls it a gap in our consciousness, the block of awareness. A form of denial or self-defense mechanism.
She talks about three ends of justification. Eating meat is healthy, normal, and necessary.
However, what we think is normal is just the social structure of the dominant culture. For most of the time of the entire human existence, slavery was normal, natural, and necessary. Even in the Christian Middle Age Europe with the inquisition, slavery was normal and natural. Slave trade was even necessary for the economy of the newly acquired territories of the new world. There are just “savages” that run naked. Well for most of human history running naked was running natural. That is what is called selective awareness.
Clothing is a modern invention also. What is natural also represents the dominant cultural interpretation of history. Murder, rape, infanticide, abortion, and child sacrifice were all-natural for most of human history.
Patterns of behaviors are usually the same and do not change. Only selective awareness changes for justification of behavior.
In the end, just in case if you may have some idea of rescuing some piglets, today it is not just breaking and entry and stealing. In 2008 the FBI wrote: “Together, eco-terrorists and animal rights extremists are one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the U.S. today.” The U.S. is so concerned with animal rights extremism that there is specific legislation for them: The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). No other terrorist act targets a specific ideology.
Many of the people of the vegan community believe that the treatment of animals is a social justice issue. That is exactly what for example Dr. Melanie Joy teaches in her lectures. The problem is that justice depends on our perception of norms. The more we will learn the more we understand the nature of human existence. And there is nothing evil about it. Existentialism is the force that drives all animals and evolution. Self-preservation, self-interest no matter what.
What some of the people from vegan communities do not understand is that selective awareness is not just a defense mechanism. It is an evolutionary instinctive subconscious self-preservation instinct.
The only reason, for example, we do not eat dogs is not because we somehow culturally learned not to, but because we had more use of them alive. It is self-interest again. We have used dogs for hunting to catch other animals, and we used them as some form of primitive alarm system. They will bark when bear or wolf or another human or Neanderthal cross into our territory because wolfs are territorial animals and dog, is part of the human pack now.
The tendency we have to not eat cats is not that we learned it culturally. It is because they are a form of primitive pest control. Cats tend to eat rats, so we had more benefit from domesticating them instead of eating them. In time behavior merges with our culture and became integrated into social norms. The same reason we do not like pigs is that they do not bark, they do not catch rats, they don’t do anything. We have no benefits from them, they are “stupid”, and we are going to eat them. If we try to milk them, that will not be good also because they are relatively small. Cattle, in contrast, are larger so no pig milk for us.
The only reason we even have civilization is that primitive hominids like Homo erectus had more benefits from cooperating than living as lone wolves on their own. Hominins also had communities because it benefited the individual. Even a beta male will tolerate the alpha male not because it feels good to be beaten but because it is more beneficial for him to be beta than to go lone wolf and die. Everything ever conducted by any animal including humans come down to preservation instinct and existentialism. And then it became part of cultural norms.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]