Tag Archives: Veganism

A Month of Vegan Research: Veganphobia

scared-peppers

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Cole, M. and K. Morgan.  2011.  “Veganphobia:  Derogatory Discourses of Veganism and the Reproduction of Speciesism in UK National Newspapers.”  The British Journal of Sociology 62 (1):  134-153.

This paper critically examines discourses of veganism in UK national newspapers in 2007. In setting parameters for what can and cannot easily be discussed, dominant discourses also help frame understanding. Discourses relating to veganism are therefore presented as contravening commonsense, because they fall outside readily understood meat-eating discourses. Newspapers tend to discredit veganism through ridicule, or as being difficult or impossible to maintain in practice.Vegans are variously stereotyped as ascetics, faddists, sentimentalists, or in some cases, hostile extremists. The overall effect is of a derogatory portrayal of vegans and veganism that we interpret as ‘vegaphobia’. We interpret derogatory discourses of veganism in UK national newspapers as evidence of the cultural reproduction of speciesism, through which veganism is dissociated from its connection with debates concerning nonhuman animals’ rights or liberation.This is problematic in three, interrelated, respects. First, it empirically misrepresents the experience of veganism, and thereby marginalizes vegans. Second, it perpetuates a moral injury to omnivorous readers who are not presented with the opportunity to understand veganism and the challenge to speciesism that it contains. Third, and most seriously, it obscures and thereby reproduces exploitative and violent relations between human and nonhuman animals.

veganphobia

 

This article lends important evidence to how hegemony protects its privileged interests and marginalizes those who pose a threat to that power. This is partially due to the elite ownership of an increasingly consolidated media industry, but also due to the interests of those elites who purchase advertising. Society’s most privileged are creating the media that the rest of us are expected to absorb.  And absorb it we do. The media is a powerful agent of socialization, so elites have a vested interest in making sure that socialization is one that normalizes oppressive conditions.

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the challenges posed by state and industry institutions in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 2, 2013.

Comments Off on A Month of Vegan Research: Veganphobia

Filed under Essays

A Month of Vegan Research: An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan

Young boy holds hand on his mouth to stop eating

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.



Barbara McDonald.  2000.  “‘Once You Know Something, You Can’t Not Know It.’  An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan.”  Society & Animals 8 (1):  1-23.

In spite of a growing body of vegetarian literature, there remains a lack of information about how people learn to become vegan. Using qualitative methodology, this research identified a psycho- logical process of how people learn about and adopt veganism. Elements of the process include who I was, catalytic experiences, possible repression of information, an orientation to learn, the decision, learning about veganism, and acquiring a vegan world view. Noteworthy observations include individual and temporal variation in the use of logic and emotion, the centrality of reading, the repression and recollection of undesirable information, and the importance of two types of learning tasks to successful vegans.

moral-shocks-veganismWhy people go vegan (or don’t) is a hugely complex issue.  It can depend on one’s available networks, one’s history with institutional discrimination and colonization, or gender roles.  It might be thwarted by activist misconceptions, negative media, and the power of the state and industry elites. We may never be able to pinpoint an exact cause, but McDonald attempts to narrow things down by applying the scientific method with participant interviews.

What she finds is no surprise; everyone is different.  It seems that going vegan and rejecting speciesism requires a sort of resocialization, which is understandable given how thoroughly ingrained Nonhuman Animal exploitation is to every aspect of society.  Her findings support the theory that moral shocks are a major element in the decision to go vegan.  However, some people take time to think about the issues and learn more before eventually going vegan at a later time.

 
This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 21, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the effective vegan activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on A Month of Vegan Research: An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan

Filed under Essays

The Vegan Politics of Taste

12582229724_5423168e8f_zImage from BZDogs

Psychologists tell us that we eat with our eyes. Sociologists, however, think we eat with our ideologies.

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has theorized extensively on the politics of taste. What is good taste? What is bad taste? How do we know what we like? It has less to do with our taste buds than we might think.

The human senses are, of course, capable of detecting sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness, and so on, and these tastes are synchronized with our brain to help us to determine what is edible, nutritious, and potentially useful for our bodies. However, as with so many embodied experiences, this process is highly shaped by our social environment.

For example, “vegan food” is regularly chastised for tasting like cardboard, sticks, and leaves (taste tests popular on Youtube exemplify this), but how much of this is based in reality? Stealth vegan entries into bake-offs should give us pause:

Tweet by username @ShultzTheWorld: "@triplejHack a vegan pie accidentally judged as meat pie and came 2nd at fine foods expo yesterday. Pie makers furious vegans rejoice"

Strange how vegan food can taste pretty good when we’re focusing on the flavor and not the politics.

Without culture to shape how we assign meaning to food, we are free to objectively rate it according to our senses, not our conditioning. The silliest part is that all humans eat plant food regularly without thinking twice about it. Fruit, grains, and vegetables, for instance, do not contain animal products, but nonvegans do not grimace when offered a banana not wrapped in bacon or dipped in butter.

Once the vegan label is attached, suddenly all the cultural baggage, promoted and reinforced by powerful industries and the government they influence, flood into the brain, manipulating the consumer’s experience of that food.

vegan-food-taste

 

Social constructions of taste are one of many operatives in the maintenance of oppression. What tastes good, bad, healthy, or not is determined by those with the power to shape interpretations. In Western society, this means corporate influence should not be discounted.

Some food companies and activists avoid describing their products as vegan, fully aware of market research that demonstrates apprehension about alternatives. “Plant-based,” “meat-free,” “soy alternative,” “vegetarian,” “veg,” and “animal-free” are labeling schemes that have been tried with varying success to encourage nonvegans to overcome their politicized palate.

Treating adults like toddlers, however, is perhaps not the best approach. Reducing vegan stigma by coming out of the closet, so to speak, is one way to resist. Until veganism is promoted proudly by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, it cannot overcome stigma or challenge social constructions of taste.

Unfortunately, most professionalized organizations in the movement enable this behavior. Reclaiming veganism as a matter of political support for the advancement of Nonhuman Animals is a crucial first step. Taste follows power structure; until veganism is recognized as legitimate, vegan food will continue to “taste” yucky in a speciesist society when human privilege is on the line.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on The Vegan Politics of Taste

Filed under Essays

Selling Cancer to Beat Cancer? When Nonvegan Foods Go Pink for Profit

Yoplait Breast Cancer Campaign logoVegan theory acknowledges not only the systematic violence imposed on vulnerable Nonhuman Animals but also the tendency for this oppression to intersect with the suffering of vulnerable humans. One such instance occurs in the pink ribbon “find a cure” campaign.

There is a tendency for companies that peddle carcinogenic products to go pink to increase sales. Caring about cancer is commodified, with the well-being of both women and other animals undermined. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was, at one time, donating proceeds from every bucket purchased of deep-fried chicken parts to fund cancer research. That is, KFC encouraged the consumption of chickens to fight cancer, although the consumption of these body parts are known to cause cancer.

In another example, dairy consumption is linked with increased breast cancer occurrence, recurrence, and mortality, but Yoplait brands its yogurt products as cancer friendly with its “Save Lids to Save Lives” marketing scheme:

The goal of Save Lids to Save Lives is to support the millions of people who have been impacted by breast cancer by raising awareness and funding to fight the disease.

If Yoplait’s goal really is to save lives (and not to bandwagon on a serious disease to profit from public fear and sympathy), then Yoplait might consider changing out its animal ingredients.

Instead, Yoplait works to make their carcinogenic product “synonymous” with fighting cancer:

For many, Yoplait has become as synonymous with breast cancer research as we are with yogurt. We are proud that over the last 15 years, our commitment to the cause has resulted in nearly $35 million from all our donation programs. Because of this, programs like Save Lids to Save Lives have given many women the support they need when they need it most. However, we can still do more.

I agree, we can still do more. How? First, there is a need to prioritize prevention over “cures.” Cure research is an extremely profitable enterprise, and for the amount of resources it entails, offers very few beneficial results. Much of this research is conducted through vivisection, a speciesist, archaic, and scientifically unsound approach (which also happens to be an extremely profitable enterprise).

Prevention programs require just a fraction of the billions expended on cure research. Importantly, these programs could aid vulnerable human demographics in avoiding suffering and death. They could also spare billions of Nonhuman Animals exploited to both create these dangerous products and test their toxicity.

Prioritizing cure research and trumpeting more consumption to support it is conducive to corporate interests, but a truly effective strategy for combating cancer would entail a focus on prevention. This must begin with structural support for food choices not shown to be carcinogenic (meaning there will be no place for fried chickens or dairy-based yogurt). For those who also wish to support cancer research, they might consider donating directly to animal-friendly cancer foundations, a much more efficient strategy than collecting yogurt lids.

A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 20, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the intersections of capitalism and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on Selling Cancer to Beat Cancer? When Nonvegan Foods Go Pink for Profit

Filed under Essays

White Women Wanted? Research Uncovers Diversity Strains in Vegan Media Spaces

Cover of BUST magazine showing a white woman, cover of VegNews showing a white woman, and cover of The Advocate showing James Franco

A two-part content analysis I began in 2012 has just been published in Societies and the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. The first study, published in JAEE examined media diversity in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the second study, published in Societies, expanded that analysis to include other movements for comparison. I conducted this research with the understanding that the vegan movement, for the most part, has escaped scientific analysis, although many theorists (such as Dr. Breeze Harper) have commented on the curious tendency for anti-speciesist media to portray mostly white, thin women. Vegan media is a vast and varied landscape, and my content analysis could only give a limited perspective. Yet, with so little prior research to inform vegan studies, a magazine analysis of high-profile publications is as good of a place to start as any.

I wanted to see exactly who was dominating the covers of vegan media (I particularly looked at VegNews and Animal Times). I was concerned that, as with Yoga Journal, which features almost all thin white women and reflects (or aggravates) the same demographic in yoga classes to the potential alienation of people of color and people of size, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, too, could be presenting (and thus attracting) a very limited demographic. For comparison, I analyzed two magazines from the feminist movement and two from the gay rights movement. 

The conclusion? None of the movements are adequately representative of their actual movement constituency or the diversity found in the wider public. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement, in particular, seems to love its skinny white women (probably as much as Yoga Journal, come to think of it!).

This is important for movements in two ways. First, any movement in the business of social justice should be concerned if its strategies are complacent in the marginalization of vulnerable groups. Second, a diverse constituency is not just an ethical problem, but a strategic one. Diversity is important for movement success.

The good news is that this is an easy enough fix. Vegan media producers could work more mindfully to ensure that no demographic is underrepresented. However, even if more diverse body types and backgrounds were to hit the covers, I don’t think the solution is so simple. If the movement structure itself doesn’t change to become less white-centric/thin-centric, non-normative cover subjects will only act as tokens. Diversity isn’t a matter of checking off quotas; it’s about redesigning the space to be more inclusive and safe for a variety of experiences and identities.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about gender and race politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on White Women Wanted? Research Uncovers Diversity Strains in Vegan Media Spaces

Filed under Publications

Essay on Incorporating Diversity into Vegan Advocacy published on The Vegan Society

logoforsite

I have just published an essay originally authored in 2013 on The Vegan Society’s blog. The essay is titled, “In a world of food deserts and many other inequalities, Professor Corey Wrenn gives tips on how vegan outreach can be made more inclusive for all walks of life.” It explores how white-centrism in our discourse and attention can alienate communities of color who might otherwise be interested in or benefit from vegan outreach. Diversity is important for improving resonance, and this should be incorporated into our dialogue, our outreach materials, and our campaign frameworks.

 


whyveganism.com

Comments Off on Essay on Incorporating Diversity into Vegan Advocacy published on The Vegan Society

Filed under Publications

Should We Promote Veganism or Meet People Where They Are?

Vegan Outreach

In my research, I have uncovered that many large non-profits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement spend considerable effort invisibilizing, dismissing, or vilifying radical vegan activism. Consider this Vegan Outreach newsletter excerpt as an example:

In the end, we each need to make a choice — do we spend our time glorifying and defending our specific veganism (and any other food and political obsessions we insist on attaching), or do we do realistic work for a vegan world?

Presenting veganism as a “glorification” and “defense” of “political obsessions” is one such way that nonvegan (or “veg”) organizations are able to present themselves as “common sense” to the detriment of social justice positions. But this is not a fair comparison. Activists can absolutely promote veganism and keep goals realistic.

Vegan Outreach conjures an “either/or” scenario because it has a vested interested in doing so:  it fears that promoting veganism would alienate donors (it admits this in public interviews I analyzed). Without donors, organizations trapped in the non-profit industrial complex will have difficulty supporting staff and amassing wealth. Large non-profits thus appeal to nonveganism to protect and grow their resources.

Unfortunately, what is beneficial for individual organizations is not necessarily good for the Nonhuman Animal rights movement at large or its nonhuman constituency. As long as the professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights movement invisibilizes or diminishes veganism as the bare minimum of what is owed to other animals, it cannot reasonably be expected that the movement’s audience will value veganism.

Of course, some folks will respond to the vegan message with compromised actions; this is unavoidable given the reality of structural and social barriers.  However, if organizations such as Vegan Outreach are broadcasting that veganism is “dogmatic,” “arrogant,” unrealistic, not “psychologically sound,” “crazy,” “misanthropic,” and “obsessive,” it is highly unlikely that anyone will acknowledge veganism as an option at all.

How can we “realistically” work for a vegan world without compromising veganism?  I suggest that professionalized organizations are correct to insist that achieving Nonhuman Animal liberation will be a step-by-step process (no one seriously expects the world to go vegan overnight), but it is disingenuous to proclaim that incremental change means promoting anything less than veganism.

The Vegan Outreach strategy entails “meeting people where they are,” but such a strategy is deliberately and strategically non-pressuring and noncommittal. Non-profits attempt to tap into the concern that people already have for Nonhuman Animal suffering to encourage donations. If anti-speciesist representatives are not promoting veganism, and donors are encouraged to donate to help other animals instead of going vegan, when exactly will the interests of other animals be advocated for in such a system?

When I lecture on anti-speciesism in the classroom, the effects of this misconception is sobering. Many of my students enter the classroom believing that “cutting back” or buying “humane,” “organic,” or “cage-free” is the best (or only) response to their concerns for Nonhuman Animal welfare. Advertising campaigns funded by wealthy dairy, “meat,” and birds’ eggs industries have successfully shaped consumer opinion in a way that assuages their guilt and keeps them purchasing the problematic products.  Nonhuman Animal rights organizations should not be in the business of making things easier for exploitative industries. To the contrary,  is their duty to challenge those misconceptions.

 


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on January 23, 2013.

whyveganism.com

Comments Off on Should We Promote Veganism or Meet People Where They Are?

Filed under Essays

Irish Car Bombs aren’t Cruelty-Free, but Not for the Reasons You Would Expect

Content Warning: Discusses violence against civilians and children in Ireland during The Troubles.

A couple drops a shot of Baileys Irish Cream into a pint of Guiness

As St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I notice the usual sharing of veganized Irish recipes on social media sites. As with many Western countries, traditional Irish foods tend to be heavily based on Nonhuman Animal products.1 Usually vegans at least catch a break in the alcohol department, with most popular beers and liquors being animal-free. Sadly, this is not the case for many Irish drinks like Bailey’s and Guinness.2 Even brands that are vegan in America are not vegan there. With few options, I am left drinking a lot of crappy Coors Light or expensive local brews when I visit.

I can understand the social desire to drink what everyone else is drinking, especially on popular drinking holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. One of the biggest inhibitors for vegans is that desire to fit in. There is one known Guinness variety available in America that is vegan, but good luck finding it. As for Bailey’s, the veganized recipes are drearily complicated. Then, there is the inevitable desire to combine the two to create the ubiquitous “Irish Car Bomb.”

For those who aren’t in the know, the Irish Car Bomb is a widely available American drink that is especially popular on St. Patrick’s Day. It consists of a shot of Bailey’s dumped into a pint of Guinness. The drinker must consume the drink quickly before the cream in the Bailey’s curdles the beer. Yuck.

I went vegan years before I reached the legal drinking age, so I’ve never had one. Neither do I feel as though I’m missing out. Definitely not vegan, or appealing. However, this is more than a matter of nonvegan ingredients. This drink represents an important intersection in oppression.

The thing is, Irish car bombs are a symbol of national tragedy. For a period in the 1960s- 90s known as “The Troubles,” intense political skirmishing occurred in Northern Ireland with a clear ethnic and religious undercurrent. This was a gruesome time. Cities became dangerous places; folks were afraid to go out at night. Car bombing was commonplace. People were killed, some of them children. At times, bodies of victims were so dismembered from the explosions, their cleanup necessitated a shovel.

The Troubles are part of a centuries-long history of Irish oppression, with many millions suffering, starving, and dying. Even today, Northern Ireland has the highest rate of PTSD in the world. Meanwhile in America, vegans are more preoccupied with a good time in the bar with “cruelty-free” novelty drinks.

Child stands next to burning rubble and exploded car

Veganism as a political endeavor is first and foremost about Nonhuman Animals, but it cannot end with Nonhuman Animals. Vegans must begin to recognize intersections. This will necessitate a firm rejection of any objectification or commodification of human suffering in “vegan” products and Nonhuman Animal rights campaigning. So long as the movement fails to take seriously the oppression of vulnerable humans, it will appear calloused, ignorant, and illegitimate.

The vegan movement should, by all means, encourage the creation of plant-based alternatives, but this should be coupled with a respect for the suffering of others. It will be a mistake to taint the vegan project with bigotry and ugliness. Can we call our soy-Bailey ‘n beer mix by another name perhaps? Otherwise, let’s just stick to Jameson’s.

 

Notes:
1. A detailed vegan sociological history of the Irish foodscape can be found here.
2. Guinness has announced that its production process will be altered in late 2016 to become vegan-friendly, while Bailey’s introduced a vegan variant in 2017.

A version of this post originally published on March 15, 2015 on the Academic Activist Vegan.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about vegan intersectionality in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on Irish Car Bombs aren’t Cruelty-Free, but Not for the Reasons You Would Expect

Filed under Essays

Can Veganism Save Your Life? I’m Skeptical

Engine 2 Diet founder pictured holding an axe wearing a shirt that reads "KALE"
Rip Esselstyn, founder of the Engine 2 Diet

Perhaps one of the most dangerous trends in Nonhuman Animal rights activism is the relentlessness of bogus health claims made in the name of veganism.  Plant-based eating1  is often marketed as the secret solution to every health crisis under the sun.  Want to reverse heart disease?  Go vegan.  Want to fight depression?  Go vegan.  Want better skin?  Go vegan.  Want a better sex life?  Go vegan.  And the list goes on.  Encouraging healthful and ethical eating is not in of itself a bad thing (so long as it does not include body-shaming or concern-trolling), but encouraging others to expect miracles is disingenuous.

In many cases, veganism becomes a mask for capitalizing on the vulnerable. Blatant marketing schemes adulterate the nonviolent message of veganism, repackaging it into profitable fad diets in order to sell programs, books, videos, and membership access.

Unsubstantiated or inflated claims inevitably undermine the vegan movement’s legitimacy. They could possibly endanger individuals who ascribe to them as well.  Vegans committed to nonviolence and justice have an ethical obligation to take issue with those who misguide and exploit the sick or dupe the worried with fear-mongering.

Take, for instance, VegNews, which launched a “Veganism Saved My Life” column in 2013. It features seriously ill people who are supposedly pulled from the edge of the grave by the power of fruits and vegetables.  In the first installment, a woman with Stage IV Breast Cancer is approached by a Seventh Day Evangelist who encourages her to try plant-based eating.  After forgoing her medications and going vegan, the patient reports:

I felt results within the first few weeks of changing my eating. I felt lighter, and even though I was still very ill, I began to have more energy. My immune system grew stronger and stronger—it’s why I am here today.

Extraordinary claims might be expected from vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists, as faith-based claimsmaking is customary in the religious community, but when a respected authority in the vegan community such as VegNews lends platform to these questionable claims under the guise of science, it then becomes necessary to consider how the vegan movement could be engaging human exploitation and endangerment.

Engine 2 Diet founder poses with a bounty of vegetables

Can veganism cure cancer?  Diabetes?  Heart disease?  Perhaps so in some cases.  Nevertheless, activists  should keep in mind that there are a litany of other variables impacting life quality and longevity including genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, sex and gender, exercise, and stress levels.  Of course consuming processed foods, “meats,” dairy, and birds’ eggs is not helping much, but it isn’t entirely accurate to claim that plant-based eating is the mysterious key to recovery and long life.

Many studies have been conducted that do suggest that plant-based consumption improves health and lifespan, but to exalt the practice as a magical cure-all is potentially very dangerous.  Anyone who is considering shifting to plant-based eating with high expectations of Oprah-worthy medical turnarounds is advised to do their research.  Buyer beware: look beyond the shiny claims endorsed by celebrity doctors, manufacturers, and authors.  Actually take a look at the original medical research.  This information is available to anyone (Google Scholar is a great place to start). Many mainstream medical journals ensure that the main findings of their published research are free from jargon and easily located in abstracts.

Plant-based eating has potential to improve quality of life and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, but, no, veganism can’t exactly “save your life.”  What it can do, however, is save the lives of Nonhuman Animals.  Going vegan means refusing to support the exploitation and killing of others.  Indeed, while I have argued thus far that a health-scare approach to vegan outreach is risky for public well-being, it also disempowers the vegan movement.  Activists can’t reasonably hope to create meaningful social change for other animals by enticing new members with fear, quackery, and anthropocentrism. Furthermore, only a few privileged humans have access to pricier plant-based eating of the “life-saving” kind.

An honest approach to veganism will acknowledge that Nonhuman Animals must be included in the message as a matter of coherency. An honest approach will also acknowledge that health claims are limited both in efficacy and in accessibility.

 

Note: I use the phrase “plant-based eating” in lieu of a veganism, as I am careful not to conflate a vegan diet with veganism as a political position.

 

A version of this essay first appeared on The Academic Activist Vegan on January 7, 2013.


You can read more about the problems of health-centic vegan outreach in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave 2016). Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on Can Veganism Save Your Life? I’m Skeptical

Filed under Essays

What’s Wrong with “Carnism”?

Sponge Bob Vegan

Many of my readers have asked over recent years why I do not support the rhetoric of “carnism.” The short answer is that it is speciesist.

In an interview with ARZone, Dr. Melanie Joy discusses her theory on carnism, which she defines as an invisible ideology of “meat”-eating (I place “meat” in quotations as it is a euphemism) that is (according to her website) “‘essentially’ the opposite of veganism” (I place “essentially” in quotations as I will show this not to be true).

One host asks Dr. Joy why she rejects the more logical and straight-forward concept of speciesism. Her reply was that speciesism is “too abstract” and “confusing,” but most people seem to “get” carnism.

This is where I have a problem.  Why the focus on flesh? To single out flesh as somehow more problematic is nonsensical. Instead, it becomes yet another campaign for reductionism/vegetarianism. Carnism obscures the importance of veganism and unnecessarily confuses anti-speciesist campaigning.

Dr. Joy insists that the term carnism actually entails all animal products. To the casual observer, however, this is not true. Having read her books, for that matter, I can attest that this hidden vegan meaning is never made clear. She even concedes in the ARZone interview that she rarely mentions “leather” or “wool.” Carnism also excludes vivisection, companion animals, and animals used in entertainment.

Following up with this important oversight, the ARZone host asked if she believes that audiences exposed to carnism ideology were “getting it” or if they were finding themselves “confused.” Dr. Joy  clarified that she’s had no problem with confusion at all; most people do indeed “get it.” Of course, we would not expect many authors promoting their work to suggest that it left readers or listeners confused! But aside from the leading question–Dr. Joy isn’t really pushing us to consider anti-speciesism or veganism, so there isn’t much to get confused about. Vegetarianism as a concept has been largely accepted in our culture for some years now. She’s not proposing anything radical or new.

The real intention of carnism lies in its ability to sell.

At the time of the ARZone interview and the publication of her second book, Joy had recently launched the Carnism Awareness and Action Network. As with dozens of other reform-focused organizations, CAAN does not explicitly promote veganism, but instead promotes arbitrarily defined reductionism. It’s all about the meat.

Most importantly, CAAN’s website also loudly displays “DONATE” buttons.

Clear anti-speciesist messages discourage donations, and large non-profits are wary of this. As organizations professionalize, they compromise. This is a pattern that surfaced in my dissertation research spanning the late 20th and early 21st century of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. When an organization professionalizes, donations become key to its survival. Carnism language helps CAAN to stand out in the crowded social movement space. It also makes it more appealing to elite donors when that nasty, offensive “vegan” language is carefully tempered, obscured, or erased entirely.

Joy’s argument is that the carnism schema simplifies an overly complicated concept (that we shouldn’t hurt others). She insists that speciesism (the correlative to racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, and ethnocentrism) is just too confusing. But rarely (if ever) does she herself make a clear case for veganism in her writing or campaigning. Also troubling is she never clearly states why exploiting species, such as cats, elephants, and dolphins, that are not used for food is problematic. Nor does she make it clear that exploiting Nonhuman Animals for their skin, milk, or eggs is inherently linked to the flesh consumption that carnism highlights.

Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants inhaling an endless stream of Crabby Patties
Again, the misleading nature of carnism ideology is intentional, as further evidenced in Joy’s essay titled, “Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the ‘Welfare-Abolition Debate’.” This essay published with One Green Planet at the time of the ARZone interview and CAAN’s launch, and it seeks to downplay the importance of the growing divide between “abolitionist” veganism and reductionist/reformist non-vegan approaches. Washing over factional divides in the movement is critical for non-profits, as acknowledging them would mean legitimizing pundit concerns about the non-profit structure itself. Acknowledging them would certainly undermine Dr. Joy’s superfluous theory on carnism as well.

Like many non-profit leaders,  Dr. Joy ardently defends counterproductive and ultimately speciesist tactics of reform and vegan-bashing.  Her suggestion for “moving beyond” the debate is simply that anti-reformist vegans cease their claimsmaking and join the status quo (“our voices, our movement”). Carnism works to invisibilize veganism as a rhetorical matter, but also as a political one.

This essay is not intended to character attack Dr. Joy. Her approach to anti-speciesism is a common one–it is part of a larger system of pro-capitalist non-profiteering which stagnates social change, despite the good intentions of its participants. While her approach to social change is deeply flawed, her social psychological work on how humans and societies interact with and understand other animals is very approachable. I have even assigned it to my students in the past.

That said, carnism has got to go. Joy insists that we must understand carnism in order to understand the mental blocks preventing liberation. However, caring about Nonhuman Animal suffering while simultaneously participating in their exploitation doesn’t need yet another label. In social psychology, it’s called “cognitive dissonance,” and it is a result of oppression generally speaking, and speciesism specifically. That’s the language the social justice community understands, but a new label for an old idea makes for jazzy grant proposals. That’s the bottom line.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Comments Off on What’s Wrong with “Carnism”?

Filed under Essays