Part of Hindsight 2070: We asked 15 experts, “What do we do now that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?” Here’s what they told us.
Dr. Melanie Joy is the author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. She is the founder and president of Beyond Carnism.
Imagine one morning you wake up to find that you’ve been unplugged from the “Carnistic Matrix,” a machine that had had total control over your mind. Suddenly, you’re aware that all the meat, eggs, and dairy in the world around you are not, as you had believed, from pigs and chickens and cows but from dogs and cats. The person who unplugged you takes you on a tour of the “real world” and shows you the factories where the animals are raised and killed, and you see torment, hear yelps, hisses, and screams. You witness kittens being ground up alive, puppies being torn from their howling mothers, animals being skinned and boiled while fully conscious.
Later, feeling shaken but newly empowered — as your moral compass is no longer distorted by the Carnistic Matrix — you return home to your family, who are serving steak for dinner. You try to stay calm and explain what you’ve learned. But they didn’t see what you saw. And even though they’re good people who would never want animals to suffer, to them, you’re coming across as unhinged.
You press harder, but the matrix they’re still plugged into causes them to feel defensive of their right to eat meat, eggs, and dairy, and also to perceive you as biased for challenging the biases of the dominant culture they’re immersed in. The conversation ends with them telling you to stop imposing your values on others: “You make your choices, I’ll make mine!”
This is what the world looks like when we step outside the matrix of carnism. Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions us to eat certain animals. Like sexism and racism, carnism is a global system, though it manifests differently in different societies— and, as do other oppressive systems, carnism uses psychological defense mechanisms so that rational, compassionate people engage in irrational, harmful practices without fully realizing what they’re doing.
For example, carnism teaches us that eating certain animals is normal, natural, and necessary, a belief that makes little ethical or logical sense, but which sufficiently disconnects us from our natural empathy toward “edible” animals.
Despite scientific evidence demonstrating that animals (including various fish and crustaceans) are sentient, intelligent beings, the average American consumes more than 220 pounds of red meat and poultry per year. The power of the $4.6 trillion global carnistic industry is unprecedented, which is why animal agriculture has largely been absent from discussions about mitigating climate change, even though it is a leading culprit.
Fortunately, there is a solution: be as vegan as possible. And become a vegan ally, a supporter of veganism even while you’re not yet fully vegan: educate yourself, donate, and speak out against the deception and violence of carnism. Indeed, saying no to oppression must include saying no to carnism, because — although the experiences of victims of oppressive systems will always be unique — the mentality that enables the oppression is the same. In 50 years, I believe more and more of us will have been freed from the matrix of carnism, and we’ll look back at this moment and wonder why we ever consumed so many animals.