Today’s “Making Hay” blog entry was written by guest blogger Christopher Logue. Chris is currently a Farm Sanctuary legal intern based in New Orleans, where he is helping to mastermind legal efforts on behalf of farm animals. Learn more about Farm Sanctuary’s internship program.
I can’t say for sure what we had for supper that night, but if the night was like most others, it was spaghetti and meatballs. Our meal was interrupted by a sudden silence, as the constant, low-level whir of the living room fish tank came to a stop. The oxygen system – that little machine that breathed precious bubbles of life into our family’s goldfish – had failed. I could see a panic come over my father’s face. My sister and I hadn’t much idea of what was going on, and my mother begged my father not to worry about it and return to dinner. But the idea of letting those little creatures suffocate on his watch was too much for him to take. He rushed out in the middle of dinner – an unprecedented event – and bought a replacement. The fish were saved.
A few years later, while still living with my parents, I became vegetarian. While unconditionally supportive of my choice, my parents didn’t really understand it. And I didn’t make much of an effort to explain it. But then a tactic befitting my introverted teenage years presented itself: what if someone else could explain it to them for me? I found that opportunity in a music video by the band Goldfinger. The song – a visceral blend of folk and punk rock entitled “Free Me” – is written from the perspective of a farm animal and is accompanied by factory farm footage. I queued up the video on my dad’s computer and left it for him to find in the morning. The next day I asked him if he had watched it. “Well, I started to,” he told me. “But I couldn’t get through. I don’t like that stuff . . . it’s just, it’s too much for me. I get emotional and, well . . . yeah, I just couldn’t do it.”
Out of these two stories arises an important question, one that, as animal activists, we face every day: how do we make sense of a culture so steeped in contradiction that people can have immense compassion for one animal while eating the flesh of another? How do we live with the hypocrisy of a society whose attitude toward animals is nothing short of schizophrenic?
Olivia and Tyler
Answering this question hasn’t been easy, but lately I’ve had some help from friend, teacher and indefatigable activist Dr. Melanie Joy. In her forthcoming book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism,” Dr. Joy explains the psychological and social bases for the system that perpetuates the exploitation of non-human animals through factory farming and other practices. She calls that system carnism. Carnism is the belief system, or ideology, in which it's considered appropriate to eat certain animals and not others. It includes a set of psychological mechanisms that allows us to welcome cats and dogs into our homes as members of our extended family while eating the flesh of other animals. It is the belief system that allows the sanctity of a “traditional” family dinner to be interrupted to save the life of a goldfish.
To be a carnist is not simply to be a carnivore. What we eat – what we choose to consider food – is the product of ideology when we aren’t forced by necessity to eat whatever we can get. As a vegan, this is easy for me to understand. I don’t know how many times I have been brought to the brink of explosion when somebody asked me to “cheat – just a little bit.” Though I fantasize about jumping up on the table, feet stomping and fists pumping, imploring everyone around to understand that this is not the South Beach Diet but a serious ethical decision, I remain calm. I resist the urge to completely freak out, because I realize that it isn’t always understood that my actions are part of a larger belief system – the ideology of veganism. In this same way, animal advocates must not overlook the fact that the actions of those who eat animals are not valueless. They do not live outside the realm of ideology. It’s true that it may seem this way. But that is because the ideology of carnism is the dominant one, and the most effective way an ideology defends itself is by remaining invisible, by stalking about every moment of our lives namelessly. But when we name it – as Dr. Joy has done – it becomes visible. We can begin to see that carnism suffuses every aspect of our society and that our task as farm animal advocates is not to simply change people’s eating habits but to open their hearts, change their minds, and hopefully get them further involved in speaking out against this cruelty.
Our goal isn’t to simply get people to stop eating meat, dairy and eggs, but to abolish the system that is carnism, one burgeoning vegan advocate at a time. In doing so, we must remember that when we ask a person to stop eating meat, we're not simply requesting a change in diet. We are requesting a shift in deep-seated ideology, one that is intimately connected with family, community, spirituality, and politics. Making a change in lifestyle, the roots of which lie deep and strong, is no small task. When we realize this, we are able to approach our advocacy from a place of love and compassion, not anger and judgment. I really believe that when we advocate from this loving place, the world is possible.
For those non-vegan readers out there, Chris asks that next time you sit down to a meal of meat, eggs or dairy, think about the companion animals you love and how you would feel if their lives had been sacrificed for the sake of a meal. And for the vegans, Chris asks that you talk to your friends and family about extending their compassion to the animals that we call “food,” and not just the ones we call “pets.”
For more info about going vegan, visit vegforlife.org. And to get further involved with our advocacy campaigns, join our Advocacy Campaign Team.
Guest blogger Chris Logue was born and raised in Boston, MA. Chris is not ashamed to admit that he went vegan mostly as a romantic gesture. He has since established a more sustainable foundation for his veganism. Chris spent six years patiently pursuing his love of Philosophy and Political Science at UMass Boston where they eventually let him have a bachelor’s degree. During this time he also founded the university’s first-ever animal rights club and began his career as an animal activist. Chris is currently a second year law student at Northeastern University in Boston. Early last month, Chris took the painfully long drive down to Louisiana to work with Farm Sanctuary’s director of legal campaigns. While he is enjoying his lawyerly time in New Orleans, he also thinks it’s completely inappropriate to be 90 degrees in October. Weather aside, he is happy to be pursuing his dream of using the law to improve the lives of animals. Chris believes that the law is an amazingly powerful and important tool for the animal rights movement, and he is eternally grateful to his friend and mentor Melanie Joy for bullying him into law school. While Chris is passionate about legal research and writing, he also enjoys playing the ukulele, hanging with his kitty Maude, and writing in the third person.