Nothing like a weepy, emotional rant about the cruelties of meat-eating disguised as academic research to ‘enlighten" the clueless consumers who embrace the gospel of veganism.
In a TED talk titled, "Beyond Carnism and Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices," Dr. Melanie Joy, a University of Massachusetts professor of psychology and sociology, discussed why we can eat meat, when at the same time we show concern and care for other animals.
It's an interesting question, but hardly some inscrutable mystery.
According to Dr. Joy, "There is an invisible belief system or ideology that conditions us to eat (only) certain animals." She called that belief "carnism."
"We tend to assume that only vegans and vegetarians follow a belief system," she said, "but when eating animals is not a necessity, which is the case in most of the world today, then it is a choice, and choices always stem from beliefs."
Or from experiences.
Dr. Joy has been a vegan since 1989, but it wasn't some spiritual awakening that prompted her choice back then, rather the fact that she contracted food poisoning from eating a hamburger she said was contaminated with campylobacter.
Without knowing the circumstances of that incident, it's hard to assign blame, but in any case, easy to understand why she might swear off eating meat in the aftermath of such a trauma.
Fueled by her newfound embrace of vegetarianism, Joy oriented her subsequent research to explore why people can have pets they love and cherish, yet at the same time eat meat that results from killing other animals. In her talk, she argued that the choice to eat meat "goes against core human values like compassion." Meat-eating is a violent ideology, since meat "cannot be procured without violence, and the egg and dairy production cause extensive harm to animals."
I thoroughly disagree with both of those propositions.
"Violence" is endemic across the entire biosphere in which we live. Plants and animal alike compete to the death for food, habitat and reproductive superiority, and in the process, some live and many others die. And that process is, as vegans love to berate when castigating the meat industry, "normal, natural and necessary."
Of course, you can bet money a proselytizing veggie like Dr. Joy is going to play the slaughterhouse-as-Holocaust card, and sure enough, it's not too far into her TED talk that she started showing slides of packing plants, hog barns and poultry houses only the imagery is of the very worst, most unprofessional and wholly unacceptable operations.
She showed workers in some rundown plant beating pigs over the head with a giant crescent wrench, pigs being knocked out not on a modern stunning line but as they scramble around inside a pen and the liberal use of cattle prods wielded by blood-stained, testosterone-fueled handlers.
It's disgusting, but it's about as representative of state-of-the-art meat production as showing footage of some back alley medic treating a person's grievous injury with nothing more than a whiskey bottle, a pair of pliers and a sewing kit.
Although her real beef appears to be "factory farming" and the alleged suffering it causes, like other ideologically motivated vegans, Joy insisted that all animal husbandry is morally suspect, that all consumption of animal foods is aiding and abetting criminal violence.
Turning back the clock
But her entire "paradigm shift" that humanity must avoid raising or eating anything from the animal kingdom rests on a platform of advanced science and technology the same science and technology developed, applied and marketed by the corporate interests veggies universally loathe.
Hers is a simple argument to deconstruct, really. Just turn back the clock a century or so, before the advent of modern agriculture, food processing, refrigeration, transportation, energy production, etc. Heck go back to the 1930s, when America had more than 30 million farmers, one-quarter of the country's entire population (versus somewhere south of 2% these days).
Is it really plausible that 30 million people could raise enough food to feed themselves and the other 90 million Americans on what were much smaller farms, without the use of tractors or combines in many cases, without access to supplemental fertilizers, growing strains of wheat, corn and soybeans that were far less productive than today, and do so without the use of single animal or so much as a wagonload of manure?
Without a flock of farmyard chickens to produce eggs and the occasional Sunday stew? Without a single horse or mule to pull the plows? Without even one dairy cow to supply some fresh milk, butter and homemade cheese? Without a single pig that could provide weeks" worth of meals for what were substantially larger families in those days?
Oh, but all those millions of farmers would certainly have had a family mutt or three running around not hunting dogs, god forbid, just friendly, loyal pets like "Fritz," the dog Dr. Joy claims was her best friend growing up.
And what were all those friendly, loyal pets supposed to eat, pray tell? The semi-feral cats that roamed around most farmsteads in the old days were expected to hunt wildlife for a living. But dogs are scavengers. They're bred to be fed, and they don't do so well on a vegetarian diet of soy protein, salad greens and tropical nuts.
Joy's so-called paradigm shift is based on an absurdity: That we can have millions of carnivorous pets in our households, but the farmers who are expected to feed the rest of us and the rest of the world cannot and should not raise livestock, produce dairy products or sell meat, poultry or eggs, and that all animals, except for a couple species she and her vegan pals deem acceptable to "imprison" in ways completely contrary to their natural lifestyles, are to be sequestered from contact with humanity other than watching them from a (safe) distance on some photo safari, I suppose.
Meanwhile, the rest of the entire animal kingdom literally functions on a kill-or-be-killed proposition.
Which is just fine and dandy if you happen to be a city-dwelling, Harvard-educated professor of sociology who lives on a diet of processed foods grown with the efficiencies of industrial agriculture and supplemented with the hard labor of millions of farm workers across the developing world, then delivered daily to affluent consumers like her via an energy-intensive marketing and distribution system.
While she spends her time delivering TED talks to make the rest of us feel guilty we ate a piece of meat that our beloved Fido or Fritz begging at the table would be happy to scarf down if we chose to share.
Guess what, Dr. Joy? We can and we will continue to raise food animals, assure them optimal living conditions while they're alive, then humanely dispatch them at maturity and process them for our sustenance.
And purchase, prepare and consume the food products so produced without a shred of psycho-social angst whatsoever.
You keep talking.
We'll keep eating. □
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator