Melanie Joy is not trying to turn you into a vegetarian, but that may happen anyway when you come face-to-face with the dark side of the meat industry.
Joy’s thought-provoking book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, examines why we think beef, pork, and poultry make for good eating while rat, dog, and snake make us queasy. Food is food, right? But cultural traditions are powerful influences and the primary determinants of what we consider edible, as well as how we view slavery and slaughter. It’s our perception of animals that determines whether we find dog stew delicious or disgusting, not the taste of the meat.
According to Joy, we employ ‘psychic numbing’ to distance ourselves from the reality of an experience that we consider wrong or at least foreign to our moral code. Whether it’s eating kittens, killing other human beings in war, or allowing mass slaughter to go in our neighborhoods, we have developed ways of ignoring it in order to provide ourselves with a relative degree of comfort while continuing the behavior we find deplorable. Numbing allows for the invisibility of slaughter animals, enabling us “to consume beef without envisioning the animal we’re eating; it cloaks our thoughts from ourselves.”
Cowardly readers should be warned: Joy does not spare us the details. Her book includes vivid description of the horrific procedures that bring those steaks and chops to the plate. The brutality taxes our numbing skills to the limit. Despite being forced to recognize our complicity, most of us will continue to eat just as we always have because psychic numbing is both effective and ingrained. It’s the same mechanism that allows soldiers to distinguish between comrades (humans they protect) and enemies (humans they kill); it’s the same mechanism that allows villagers to ignore a Nazi concentration camp down the road; it’s the same mechanism that provides an excuse for enslaving other human beings.
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows will be compared to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and rightfully so. It exposes a world that is dept deliberately hidden by the food industry – with our consent. A hundred years later, however, Melanie Joy addresses an audience that views food in a totally different way. For most of human history, we’ve raised our own meat animals and participated in their slaughter and preparation. The last two or three generations have experienced a dramatic change in the relationship between food and consumer. A fast food burger or frozen microwavable pork entrée is so far removed from the source that most consumers never even realize they are eating animals.
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows concludes with a call to eat mindfully, to take responsibility for our own physical and emotional health. Ample resources are included for those who choose to act on the revelations. In the end, though, this book is not so much about the food we eat as the choices we make in all areas of our lives. Certainly it is a call to wake up and face ourselves in the mirror.