In the last 24 hours, I’ve had an earful of reasons why people eat meat. Most of the reasoning centers around health. Many say when they tried to be vegetarian their health declined. Others say eating animals is part of the “circle of life.” Still others believe that some animals were somehow born into this world to serve us as food. Having come out of Melanie Joy’s vegan empowerment workshop last night, I am inspired by her insights about why people believe they are justified in eating animals, and how to best communicate with them about the subject.
For Joy, almost all of the reasons why people eat animals can be traced to what she calls the three N’s of justification: Eating meat is normal, natural and necessary. I’ve heard all of these justifications in my discussions with a few friends and acquaintances in the last 24 hours in fact. Joy says not to react judgmentally to these justifications. Instead, name them, identify them and learn more about why and how they function for people.
What are their origins? Most of them seem to be cultural. I explained to one friend that dogs are part of the “circle of life” in China and South Korea where it is acceptable to eat dogs. In the US it is taboo. So which circle of life is right? If we are Americans should we continue believing in the American version of the circle of life? Why aren’t well-educated people examining this belief system they inherited more closely like they do everything else in their life? They question their parents’ religion, politics, family traditions and everything else, all but the beliefs that drive why and what we eat.
The other curious phenomenon I notice in discussions with these people is that the conversation is circular. Touching on animal suffering quickly moves to a response that defends why he or she eats animals because of health or because there is nothing else to eat in the remote mountains of China. But animals eat plants so you need to be able to raise crops for them to eat. So if animals are the only thing you can eat in these remote places, then what do the animals eat? The justifications become obtuse and surreal. Before I know it the conversation has moved from health reasons, to subsistence (it is necessary) to invoking history (it is natural).
I try to bring the focus back to animals to get people to question the very assumption why we believe animals are here for our use in the complete absence of any scientific or other factual explanation for this. The responses get even more mystical. I tell them I believe animals are here for their own value. They were herd animals and wild birds long before we got the idea to domesticate them. Before we domesticated animals, we did pretty well for many centuries/millennia without raising animals for food. And anyway, what is “domestication” if not one of the most euphemistic terms I have ever heard. If we were to apply “domestication” to humans, we would not call this domestication at all. We would call it slavery.