You and I befriend one another on a camping trip. It turns out that my dad owns the land, and, because I like you, I invite you over to the adjacent plot of land for a midsummer festival. You’re not really sure what is going on, and then someone blows a whistle, 9 animals are brought into the field and are rounded up around us. An old and overweight pig, 2 mother chickens, a calm and solemn cow, and 5 others, gather around us. “Like a nice grill?” I ask you. With the animals surrounding us, I bring out an old shaving razor, and slit the pig’s throat. Then I pick up the chickens who flap and squark, and crack both their necks. Then I behead the cow. Would you sit there, calm and licking your lips, or would you be shocked, angry, exasperated?
I was comfortable in my worldview and did not question meat-eating. Now I am disturbed that there is no debate
Why on earth am I telling such a story? Because I want to put something on the agenda. I want to do that because I’m very worried about the way we are all socialised. In this article, I just want to open eyes, point something out, bring something up that is too often neglected. Until recently I was comfortable in my worldview and did not question meat-eating. Now I am disturbed that there is no debate, discussion or controversy about the practice. The reason I described the scenario as I did is because the average person in the world is responsible for the deaths of 9 animals per year. So a Western meat-eater is responsible for more deaths. Not to mention the environmental damage.
Horrible practices are widespread
I am doubly disturbed. First, there is the scale of the problem, which we are not told about. It simply doesn’t hit the headlines. Globally, 1.2 billion animals are slaughtered every week for human consumption . More animals are killed every single week than the number of humans that have ever been killed in war. Think about the horrors of war: bombing, losing loved ones, fear, anxiety, destruction of families, communities, hopes. Then think: this, every week. That is what happens to the world of non-human animals. Horrible practices are widespread, and the idea of animals being reared nicely is a myth. And for what? Meat is not nicer than vegetarian food. It is just slightly harder to make vegetarian meals. So for convenience, these billions of animals must die every week. I do not avoid eating animals because I think non-human animals are as important as us; I don’t. I avoid it because of this shocking comparative.
But secondly, I am scared about the number of carpets that this has been swept under. We’ve gone and bought 6 “cognitive carpets” and put this issue right at the bottom. These cognitive carpets stop us from thinking about animals, they support the status-quo, and people’s perceptions of their actions. Being aware of cognitive carpets allows us to cut through the ways in which we are socialised. Here are the six “cognitive carpets” that, through no fault of our own, mean we simply do not question eating meat:-
- We place trust in others and their judgements. We are prepared to change the way we think based on what others think. As a result, if everyone eats meat, we think it is ok.
- Most of the motivation to be “moral” comes from society, not necessarily ourselves. Sometimes, there is no motivation to change your ways if no one is judging you.
- We are socialised into meat-eating. Before we can question it, we’re used to it. It becomes a habit before we know what the word ‘habit’ means. We are trained to see some animals as pets to be cared for and made safe at all costs, and to see some animals as food, a mere means to convenience. We are taught that poking and tormenting pets is morally untoward, but demanding the death of an animal a month is not.
- The victims are hidden. In times of slavery, black people were not seen as people. They were hidden in cotton farms, sugar plantations, on ships, or behind segregation walls. In the Victorian era, women were not seen as citizens. In parliament, the courtroom, the boardroom, the university, they were absent. We have been conditioned not to see animals as even victims. 98 percent of animals killed for human consumption are locked in factory farm units . And you’d have to hit the deep countryside to see the other 2 percent.
- Meat is advertised, packaged nicely, and presented as like any other food: normal, clean, delicious. We don’t do any of the dirty work ourselves.
- Pervasive myths defend what Melanie Joy calls “Carnism”, the ideology of meat-eating. It’s presented as necessary for health, yet the Harvard School of Public Health warns that red meat should not be consumed more than three times a year. Moreover, vegetarians and vegans live for much longer than meat-eaters . Defence mechanisms are wielded like nunchuks to shut down any debate.
I am confident that one day, we will see meat-eating as an aberration of the past
So meat-eating, a pervasive and institutionalised practice wide out in the open, is deeply hidden. That, I believe, is why we think it is normal, natural, necessary. That is why we do not question it. I am so grateful that at university I met people who removed the cognitive carpets from on top of me. And I am confident that once those cognitive carpets are removed, we, as a society, will one day see that we can make the world a substantially better place just by eating one sort of delicious food instead of another. I am confident that one day, we will see meat-eating as an aberration of the past. I am confident that one day, it will be consigned to the dustbin as a contradictory belief system that clashes with our fundamental notions of rights, respect, and compassion. But, until that day, worthy, sentient, intelligent individuals must suffer in their billions every week.
References Melanie Joy at TedX, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0VrZPBskpg  ibid  One of many studies is cited here http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Vegetarians-have-longer-life-expectancy-than-meat-eaters-finds-study