Word of the year: carnist

May 31, 2010

For years, I’ve been referring to “us” as vegans and everyone else as omnivores, because carnivore wasn’t accurate (most people eat at least some non-meat items,) but it’s always bugged me. After all, technically we’re all omnivores biologically, but some of us have chosen to focus on different parts of the spectrum, is all.

Finally, I have a new word for meat eaters, which I’m going to try using for the next little while: carnists.

A brief explanation:

Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: an Introduction To CarnismAt Tom’s recommendation from an earlier comment, I checked out Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, which is pretty much what the title suggests: an explanation of society’s eating habits, from a social psychologist’s perspective. I enjoyed it, and I’ll talk more about it in a second, but first let’s talk about the carnist thing, which came from the book.

Author Melanie Joy makes the case that the lack of a name for people who choose to eat meat up until now is part of why people don’t realize that they’re even making a choice. Eating meat is a choice, and choices come from beliefs, and the choice to eat meat is an ideology that’s so entrenched, it’s essentially invisible.

Without naming this ideology, it’s just not there. It’s what people do, like breathing air, and if something’s unnamed, it becomes more than just unspoken – it becomes unspeakable.

And so, Melanie Joy has come up with carnism, “the belief system in which eating certain aniams is considered ethical and appropriate,” and a carnist is a follower of carnism.

I like the word, and like I said, I’m going to try to use it for the next little while to see how it fits. I’ll try to link back to this post when I use the word, so if you have any ideas on the topic to share with other readers, be sure to leave them in the comments.

Now, since we’re here, let’s talk about the rest of the book. I liked it, but I think that it’s a kind of game changer which won’t be effective all by itself, but rather, it’ll influence and inspire a lot of books in the years to come.

As a standalone volume, it’s still pretty good, but it bounces between the psychology stuff that I think is really interesting new ground and the usual “here’s how animals are treated” content, which don’t get me wrong, needs to get out there more, but personally I would have preferred more of the psychology aspects, since that’s the title, but maybe I’m not the target market. And that’s my biggest problem with the book, in that I’m not sure exactly who to recommend it to as a “this is the book that’ll solve your problem” kind of thing.

It reads a little scholarly, but somehow overcomes that with smaller page sizes and decent line spacing. That might sound incredibly uneducated on my part, but if this book was three times as long, I probably wouldn’t have read it. As it was, it’s only around 150 pages of actual content (there are resources, footnotes and bibliography sections in the back,) so it reads pretty quickly, but here’s the kicker – I actually wanted this book to be longer. There are individual pages that I think would have made for fascinating chapters all on their own.

And that’s the challenge for upcoming vegan authors. Take this book’s ideas and run with them, please! There are countless doors contained inside, all waiting to be opened, but in the meantime, I think we can all learn a lot through the cracks that the author’s exposed for us.

(Staying Vegan will earn a commission for any purchases made through the links in this post, like this one. I truly believe everything that’s written here, but if you’d rather not help fund our work and still want to read the book, you can use this link, which pays us no commission for purchases.)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Colleen May 31, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Books that claim to be about psychology and then focus on other things always make me wonder whether or not the writer actually has a fully fledged idea in the first place. With meat-eating, or any eating generally, we’re dealing with what is either essentially lower-brain stem stuff or childhood stuff – both very difficult either to change or even explain. How do you use words to discuss the pre-verbal or the sub-verbal anyway?

As for the word carnist, I like it and think I’ll try using it too. And when anyone asks, I’ll have Joy’s nice, succinct description above. I wonder how many carnists will be caught up short by it.

Jason May 31, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Colleen, a lot of that stuff gets addressed, and it’s fascinating stuff that I think is well handled. I could make some guesses about how the merging of the psych and the AR is supposed to work out and who it’s for, but they’d just be guesses, and that didn’t seem right somehow – it just didn’t mesh for me, is all, but the seeds in the book are hopefully going to make some mighty trees later on!

tomb7890 June 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

Maybe what Joy’s book has most to offer a vegan is her
empathic analysis of the meat eater. It can be easy to fall into
corrosive negativity when all around us animals are being eaten with
such commitment and in such numbers. How easy to forget that I was
participating with as much gusto as anyone for most of my life, and
quite happy about it. Thanks Jason.

C Kane June 7, 2010 at 2:19 pm

“I don’t know who discovered water, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.” — Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)

It’s so true that what is everywhere becomes, so often entirely invisible to us, and often also nameless, so folks don’t even think about it, much less think about alternatives, whether it’s what we eat or social, political, or economic or culture..

Mostly unrelated but just found this AR angle from the Onion

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