Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows

Patti Breitman | 11/18/09

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New book by Melanie Joy, Ph.D.

The vast majority of Americans view eating meat as natural, normal and necessary while recognizing that vegetarianism is an ideology, or belief system. Thanks to Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy, Ph.D. (published November, 2009 by Conari Press), the way we eat animals now has a name and is exposed to be every bit as much an ideology as vegetarianism. "Carnism" is the belief system that says it's okay to eat certain animals and not others. Like feminism, racism, ageism and speciesism, carnism has been inflicting harm for centuries. And because it was invisible and unnamed, it was challenging, if not impossible, to confront it and and to argue against it.. Now that carnism has been identified, explored, and brilliantly analyzed, it will become a powerful tool in changing the ubiquitous and dangerous misconceptions about eating meat.

The opening chapter of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows is startling and effective. We are asked to imagine a dinner party at which the guests are enjoying a delicious stew. But when one guest asks for the recipe, the host explains that it starts with a golden retriever.  The disgust and revulsion that follows this announcement is examined in detail later in the book, and Dr. Joy is both succinct and smart in showing us the overlapping circles of identification, empathy and disgust that color our relationships with animals.

The publisher created a terrific promotional video with a reenactment of this scene: 


If you can get your non vegetarian friends to read and discuss just this chapter, or to watch this short video, the book will have had a tremendous impact.

But it's the heart of the book provides the real conversation changers.  Dr. Joy writes about the myth of free will when it comes to our food choices and the pernicious effect of a lifetime of living with carnism. "Violent ideologies require willing participants, and most Americans would not willingly harm animals. Thus, people must be coerced into supporting the system. However coercion is effective only as long as it remains undetected. We must believe we are acting entirely of our own volition when we purchase and consume the bodies of animals; we must believe in the Myth of Free Will."

Interspersed with statistics and studies about animal agriculture Joy calls attention to the living, breathing animals whose lives and deaths too often go unnoticed by people who enjoy eating their ribs, wings, legs, and other body parts.  Like Jonathan Safran Foer's excellent Eating Animals,  Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows  includes accurate descriptions of what happens to animals who are bred, confined and killed for food. And it  makes a strong argument for ending these and other systems that allow carnism to flourish. But what sets this book apart is the concept of carnism itself and how, through the lens of carnism, virtually every argument for eating meat loses its legitimacy.

Carnism is original, brilliant, important, and fascinating, like the book itself..

Full disclosure: When I was working as a literary agent, I helped Melanie Joy find a publisher for this book, so I have a financial interest in its success. I will be sending most of my income from the book's sales to support vegan causes that oppose animal exploitation.

Review by Patti Breitman - Patti Breitman is the director of the Marin Vegetarian Education Group and co-author with Carol J. Adams of How to Eat Like a Vegetarian, Even If You Never Want To Be One




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