Saturday, May 25, 2024

In Conversation with Melanie Joy- American author, activist and social psychologist

Interview by – Priyal Dholakia

Edited by – Robin Bhuyan (Editor-in-Chief)

Written by – Mohsin Khaiyam (Senior sub-editor)

Melanie Joy is an American author, social psychologist and advocate for animal rights, who is a prominent face in the animal rights movement worldwide. Her work introduced the concept of “carnism” and its influence on our dietary choices. Through her books and research, she has been a driving force worldwide in conversations about animal rights and ethical consumption. In a conversation with Enigmatic Horizon, Melanie talks about her journey in the field of animal rights, the concept of ‘carnism’, and how we can promote healthy and ethical eating.

Could you share your personal journey towards embracing veganism and animal rights?

My personal experience shaped my current work. I grew up caring for animals but never connected my diet to their suffering. In 1989, I fell ill after eating a contaminated hamburger, prompting me to stop eating meat. This led me to learn about vegetarianism and animal agriculture’s harm to animals, the environment, and human health. I soon became vegan and began sharing my new lifestyle. However, I encountered resistance and stereotypes, which fueled my research into the psychology of eating animals.

Do you mind shedding some light on the term “carnism” and its concept?

“Carnism” is a crucial concept in understanding our relationship with animals and the structures that perpetuate their exploitation. It refers to the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals. Carnism is deeply ingrained in those raised in societies where consuming animals is the norm. It operates through a set of psychological defenses that shield individuals from recognizing the cruelty and environmental consequences of their dietary choices.

The significance of understanding carnism lies in its ability to shed light on why people often remain unaware or resistant to the ethical and environmental implications of eating animals. By recognizing carnism as a psychological construct, we can engage in more productive dialogues and raise awareness about the need for change.

How has your book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” influenced the conversation around animal rights and veganism?

“Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” was written with two primary goals in mind. First, it aimed to raise awareness of carnism among individuals who consume animal products, encouraging them to question their choices. Second, it sought to empower vegans by providing insights into the psychology of those who eat animals.

The book’s impact has been profound, as it has been published in approximately 22 languages and it reached a worldwide audience. It has garnered positive feedback not only from vegans but also from people who had never considered the ethical dimensions of their dietary choices. By challenging preconceived notions and sparking conversations, the book has played a significant role in advancing the discourse on animal rights.

Tell us about your upcoming book, “How to End Injustice Everywhere.”

“How to End Injustice Everywhere” is an extension of my previous work, delving into the broader context of injustice. It explores the non-relational mentality that underlies various forms of injustice, including racism, patriarchy, animal exploitation, and environmental degradation. This mentality shapes how we relate to one another and the world around us.

By understanding and addressing this non-relational mentality, we can work towards ending injustice on multiple fronts. The book aims to provide readers with tools and insights to promote justice in all its forms, offering a holistic perspective on creating a more compassionate and equitable world.

How can we address stereotypes and misconceptions about veganism?

Stereotypes and misconceptions about veganism are prevalent and can hinder productive conversations. It’s essential to recognize these stereotypes and understand their origins. Many negative stereotypes about vegans are designed to discredit the message of animal rights activists. For instance, vegans are often portrayed as overly emotional or sentimental, which can diminish the perceived credibility of their arguments.

One effective strategy is to help people understand that emotions like grief and moral outrage are healthy and legitimate responses to the vast injustices of animal agriculture. It’s concerning that the dominant culture often numbs people to these emotions. By reframing these feelings as natural responses to cruelty, we can challenge stereotypes and foster more empathetic conversations.

What role do you see lab-grown meat playing in the future of food consumption and animal rights? What would you say about its health implications?

While I’m not an expert on cultivated meat, I’m aware of its potential benefits. Cultivated meat is often considered a healthier alternative to traditional meat because it doesn’t involve antibiotics, infections, or the same level of pathogens found in conventional meat production. Given the urgent need to address environmental issues associated with animal agriculture, cultivated meat can be part of the solution.

However, it’s essential to recognize that we are in a race against time to mitigate the environmental impact of meat production. Whether cultivated meat is perfect or not, the priority should be reducing overall meat consumption. This shift is critical for the well-being of our planet.

In countries like India, where vegetarianism is prevalent, how can we further promote veganism, as dairy seems to be an inseparable part of the diet?

India’s strong tradition of vegetarianism, rooted in principles of compassion and ahimsa (non-violence), provides a fertile ground for promoting veganism. However, it’s crucial to raise awareness about the cruelty within the modern dairy industry, which differs significantly from historical practices. Many people in India are unaware of the brutal realities of today’s dairy farming, including forced impregnation, cruelty, and contamination of dairy products.

Educating the public about these issues can spark change. Veganism can be presented as a modern extension of the vegetarian tradition in India, aligning with its values of compassion and non-violence.

What changes do you think are needed in the animal rights and vegan movements to achieve greater impact?

Animal rights and vegan movements have made significant progress, but there is room for improvement. Activists are doing commendable work, but it’s essential to enhance communication skills and avoid an all-or-nothing approach to veganism. Instead of demanding complete and immediate veganism, encouraging individuals to be “as vegan as possible” in each meal can be a more approachable path for many.

Additionally, non-vegans can play a crucial role as vegan allies, supporting the cause in various ways, even if they aren’t fully vegan themselves. This inclusivity can help build a broader movement for change.

For individuals facing societal pressure and struggling with personal habits, what advice do you offer for transitioning to a plant-based diet?

Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be challenging, but it’s essential to recognize that individuals have the power to make positive changes. In places like India, where delicious vegan food is abundant, the transition becomes more accessible.

One helpful strategy is to “crowd out” animal products with plant-based alternatives. Rather than focusing on what you’re removing from your diet, concentrate on adding more plant-based foods. Additionally, aim to make each meal as vegan as possible, gradually reducing your reliance on animal products.


Where do you see the animal rights movement heading in the next 20 years?

The animal rights movement is evolving into an animal justice movement, aligning itself with social justice and environmental justice movements. The signs are promising, with growing worldwide support for animal justice and veganism. While the journey ahead is not without challenges, the movement’s trajectory offers optimism for a more compassionate and equitable future.

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