{A-Z:Veganism} C is for Carnism

C is for…


Carnism is a term coined by Melanie Joy, author, psychologist and vegan.

Carnism has been referred to as ‘an extremely important concept that has the potential to dramatically transform the way society thinks about eating animals.’ *

It has been termed a ‘revolutionary concept that neither animal advocates nor meat eaters can afford to ignore’. **

So, what exactly is carnism?

Quite simply, it is ‘the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals’.

Where I live, in Australia, it is perfectly ‘normal’ for people to eat chickens, cows and pigs (among others). It is regarded as inappropriate or repulsive for people to consider eating cats, dogs and budgerigars (among others).

Most people do not question this. It is just the way it is. I certainly never questioned it during my childhood and most of my adolescence.

As a child, I was served lamb, beef, chicken and fish on my dinner plates. Our companion animal friends were cats, dogs and mice.  I never thought twice about it. I didn’t stop to consider why some non-human animals were friends and some were food. I remember, as a young child, finding out that people in some meat-eating cultures ate dog meat. I was horrified! How could anyone do that? How could they be so callous?

I did not realise it at the time, but my beliefs were carnist in nature. I had been successfully inculcated with a carnist value system- from my parents, society and the media. I thought it was cruel to eat a dog, but normal to eat a cow. I never asked: why does one deserve my love, and not the other? 

At 19, I embraced veganism. I adopted vegan values because I recognised that all animals were worthy of my respect. Prior to veganism, I regarded myself as an animal lover. However, once I embraced veganism, I understood that true respect meant no longer eating animals. Now, the thought of eating any sentient being horrifies me. I no longer make the distinction between a cow or a dog or a chicken.

But carnism is more than a belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals -it is a belief system that conditions us to believe that eating meat is normal, natural and ‘value-free‘.

There is recognition that veganism – choosing not to eat animals and animal products -is rooted in a belief system, a philosophy.

But the same is true of meat-eating – although this is not usually acknowledged.

Choosing to eat meat- indeed, to eat animals –  is the manifestation of a belief system.

In Australia,  meat eating (non-veganism) is regarded as the ‘normal’ way of being. It is the default position. Anything that deviates from that, such as veganism, is regarded as different or abnormal.

Sometimes, vegan parents are asked whether they will ‘allow’ their vegan children to eat meat when they are older. I assume it is uncommon for non-vegan parents to be asked if they will permit their meat-eating children to be vegan when they are older.

Moreover, non-vegan parents don’t usually ask their young children if they want to eat animals. Yet, vegans are encouraged to give their children ‘a choice’.

Some vegan parents have been accused of  ‘forcing’ their values on their children, as though meat eating parents aren’t passing on a value system to their children – one that says ‘eating animals is acceptable and ethical’.

This demonstrates how deeply entrenched carnism is.

Most people do not recognise that they are subscribing to a belief system when they eat meat- a carnist belief system. Meat-eating is not value-free.

Meat eating is certainly more common than veganism in our society, but this does not mean that people should engage in meat eating without making a conscious choice to do so. I do not think that saying ‘it’s just the way it is’, ‘it’s the way it has always been’, or ‘everyone else I know is doing it’ is adequate. Not when the lives of millions of animals depend on our daily choices.

Melanie Joy states that eating meat is a choice, and ‘choices always stem from beliefs’.

When I broached this subject with a friend recently – that eating meat stems from a belief system; a belief system that says it is OK to eat animals – she told me that she ate meat because it is how she was raised. She appeared horrified that I had described it as stemming from a value system. Perhaps many people think like this.

I am truly grateful that I was able to remove my carnist blinkers, that my food choices are now in harmony with my belief system.

Today’s post is a basic introduction to the concept of carnism. For a more detailed analysis, refer to Joy’s book ‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows’ and Carnism Awareness & Action Network.


* Gene Baur, President and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, and author.

** John Robbins, author of  Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution


In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

About Ally
Mamma. Vegan. I blog at Made of Stars.

12 Responses to {A-Z:Veganism} C is for Carnism

  1. susykat says:

    “Choosing to eat meat- indeed, to eat animals – is the manifestation of a belief system” – spot on! I wish more people would awaken to this fact.

    This was a very thought provoking piece, Ally, I really enjoyed it.

  2. Xiomara says:

    Great, great read!

  3. mrsnikkiv says:

    I had never heard of this term prior to finding your blog and it rings so true! It would explain why omnivores can be so defensive when we change our lifestyles, as if we are directly challenging them. Such a great read!

  4. Ally says:

    Hi Nikki, I’m glad you found this article useful. Thank you for your positive comment.:)
    I think Carnism is an important concept. I’m glad you have been introduced to it!

  5. Pingback: {A-Z:Veganism} F is for…Fishing « Made of Stars

  6. Reblogged this on Honk If You're Vegan and commented:
    I thought this was interesting and wanted to share. Enjoy!

  7. Pingback: {A-Z:Veganism} I is for Inspiration | Made of Stars

  8. Excellent article! I was also horrified to learn that “other people” eat dogs and cats but when I started questioning the differences (and discovering the similarities) between all animals, I realized that loving one and eating another is carnism (I didn’t have a name for it though). Now I value all animals equally and don’t eat any of them. I didn’t expect to find a sense of peace when that happened but I did. Removing prejudices and the hierarchy I’d been culturally told was acceptable has really made me appreciate all life.

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