Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy, Ph.D.

Listening to Melanie Joy before reading her book left me perplexed: why would anyone who has researched the horrid state of affairs for animals take a “veg*n” stance rather than to simply promote veganism?  I first heard Dr. Joy speak in an interview with Rae Sikora and then next heard her speak, or more specifically, read her notes, on the ARZone forum chat.  In both places, Dr. Joy presented some interesting concepts but failed to take a stand for veganism, stating that she was trying to appeal to a wider audience. This seems to be the moral equivalent of being a dietary flexitarian – a widely acceptable position that doesn’t really stand for much of anything.

Starts on A Hopeful Note

Dr. Joy starts out with a clever title that captures the potential reader’s imagination — a good start.  Her explanation of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows is based on some standard psychological theories — not surprising since Dr. Joy is a social psychologist and professor of sociology and psychology — and a term that is her own creation – carnism. Carnism is a term used to denote the speciesist ideology that permits human beings to commodify and consume animals. According to Dr. Joy, carnism is invisible and therefore, without terminology and presence, it is impossible to give it visibility. Her book is her attempt to do just that.

She starts out by imagining our possible distress if a friend served us stew that we are told was made with Golden Retriever — would we pick out the meat, feel sick, or eat it anyway? There are certainly more people who would understand this dilemma than those who would see that they are behaving in a morally confused way by continuing to cause billions of animals extreme suffering while “loving” animals. According to Dr. Joy’s theory, this is because of the invisible manifestations of the carnistic schema. She looks at the institutionalization of meat eating and challenges the “Meatocracy.”

Filled With Pertinent Information

While it is disappointing when an informed author lacks the will to stand up for ethical veganism, this author does nonetheless make several good points. She presents many statistics regarding the use of animals (70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is now pastures for livestock) and reveals much about the business of animal commodification. Profiled are the costs to workers in the slaughter industries, the failures in logic we humans struggle with to validate our choices to eat meat, and some of the horrific conditions under which animals live and die as commodities for human consumption. She discusses the reasons (normal, natural, necessary) that permit omnivores to continue their consumption of animals as products and examines the Cognitive Trio of objectification, deindividualization, and dichotomization as resources in maintaing the current animal exploitation. She talks about the myth of free will and looks at how early programming and even government-food industry alignment continues to promote carnism without our conscious awareness.  It is a slender volume that should not be intimidating to the average reader. It is thought-provoking, clear and well organized.

Dr. Joy’s Book Adds to the Moral Confusion

The cover of Dr. Joy’s book has a picture of bacon under the word “pigs” and a pair of expensive men’s shoes under the word “cows,” with a Golden Retriever on the top — exactly the type of thinking we should be working to eradicate.  The list of suggested resources and reading material is even more disappointing, with some of the large animal “protection” organizations that hold stock in companies that benefit financially from animal exploitation and books that are strictly welfarist (promoting the subjugation of animals) finding her favor.  She seems drawn to the “happy meat” approach (animal welfarism and subjugation) which will continue to promote the status quo rather than moving towards a respect-for-life (non-violent, abolitionist) approach. Her book seems to promote her own theory and her newly coined term– carnism –while avoiding a simple yet relevant existing term – veganism.

While her book may inform people who would otherwise not have delved into this arena, those readers will still not be likely to take appropriate steps towards the end of animal exploitation because Dr. Joy never gives the reader the appropriate information to do so. Promoting vegetarianism is not an improved moral stance, because it relies on the continued suffering and exploitation of animals, when there is a simpler, healthier and better way — veganism.  Dr. Joy goes mainstream and takes the easy way out, missing an opportunity to inform the public by choosing the way more palatable to potential readers.  By adding to the moral confusion that already exists in the mind of the public, she fails to move beyond the carnistic schema herself.