Carnism founder finds Joy in her work

Carnism, though it sounds strange, is the latest “ism” to hit campus. As psychologist and founder of the Carnism Awareness and Action Network Melanie Joy describes it, carnism is “the invisible belief system or ideology that conditions people to eat certain animals.”

Joy will lecture at King’s University College about carnism tomorrow, discussing the impact our eating habits have on our environment and ourselves.

“The way that we frame what we’ll be talking about is very specific—the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals, and how that belief system really causes us to act against our own interests, our core values and the interests of others,” says Joy of her upcoming presentation.

At just four years old, Joy stopped eating fish after a fishing trip with her charter captain father. Joy’s route to carnism really began, however, at 23, after a stint in the hospital from eating a hamburger contaminated with campylobacter, a bacteria similar to salmonella.

“When I got sick from the hamburger, I had already stopped eating sea life. I stopped eating all flesh and eggs and dairy just a little bit after that.”

Despite her early aversion for eating sea animals, Joy grew up eating meat, just as many of us do. But after her hospitalization at age 23, Joy was determined to educate herself, and eventually work to educate others on the unethical practices of the industrialized animal food production system.

Through her extensive work as a psychologist, animal advocate and as the author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, Joy explores the implications of what we eat and why —and why we should care.

“My goal is to create a better world for all animals—humans included,” Joy says. “I believe that a better world for humans includes helping them to become aware of carnism, which impacts them and victimizes them in a variety of ways.”

Joy discusses carnism through her own experiences, and presents her material in a way to not come off as sanctimonious or preachy.

“All the information I share is through my own story. I don’t say ‘you should’ or ‘this is why people should be vegan.’ I say ‘this is why I became vegan—this is my story.’”

Joy’s approach works to overcome barriers she calls “carnistic defences,” the ingrained social and psychological ideas that mask inconsistencies in people’s values and behaviours regarding their relationships with animals—both on and off the plate.

“It’s important to recognize that carnism is organized around a defence mechanism, and these defences become internalized.”

Joy explains perception is key to our relationship with what we eat. How we perceive different animals, viewing dogs as companions and cows as protein, is directly related to how we have been taught to think of them.

“What I’m encouraging people to do is to examine—to step outside of the system that is carnism, so that they can make choices that reflect what they authentically think and feel, rather than what they’ve been conditioned to think and feel.”

As Joy explains in her book, “A Hindu might have the same response to beef as an American Christian would to dog meat.” Despite this variance, Joy’s theory on carnism applies to cultures and societies worldwide.

“Carnism is a global problem because people eat animals all over the world,” Joy says. “I’ve been travelling quite a bit internationally, talking about carnism overseas. The response is exactly the same as in the United States. Psychologically, people can relate regardless to what culture they’re in, at least in my experience so far. People are curious and want to know the truth.”

“It’s not to make people change—it’s just to raise awareness, because without awareness, there is no free choice,” Joy explains. “My goal is to help people be able to make their choices freely.”

 Joy will speak at King’s University College in Labatt Hall on Friday, November 30 at 7 p.m. Presented by the King’s Animal Rights Club and Cedar Row Farm, the event is free and open to the public.

  • Elaine

    Thank you for discussing this important topic. I am vegan and teach nutrition. Anything we can do to promote a vegan lifestyle is wonderful!