Vegan Kitchen: A decade on, Melanie Joy’s book on carnism still casts a big shadow

Bestselling author and Harvard-trained psychologist Melanie Joy says the 10 years following the publication of her provocative book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism” have brought significant changes in how humans think about animals.

What she doesn’t say, but I will, is that Joy’s groundbreaking book played a pivotal role in causing ideas to shift.

Last month, publisher Red Wheel released an anniversary edition. The updated book includes a new forward, a new afterword, and other updates.

Yet the overall message has stayed the same: Carnism is an invisible belief system that protects and enshrines a series of cultural myths allowing us to think eating particular animals is normal, natural and necessary while eating others is abnormal, disgusting and wrong. Like other violent ideologies, carnism is illogical and works best when nobody talks about it.

Joy, who named the belief system carnism long before she penned the book, writes: “The first step in deconstructing eating animals, then, is deconstructing the invisibility of the system.”

Psychologist and author Melanie Joy. An anniversary edition of her best-selling book on carnism was released in August. Photo courtesy of Beyond Carnism

To do so, Joy has traveled to more than 50 countries to speak about the book since its original publication. In 2011, she spoke at the Portland Public Library. In 2013, she was given the Ahimsa Award by the Institute of Jainology, based in India and England. It’s an honor shared by a small group who include Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

“Why We Love Dogs” continues to influence current thinking. In December, Vox put “Why We Love Dogs” at the top of its list of “19 books from the 2010s we can’t stop thinking about.” In January, Joy talked with The Washington Post about “Why that vegan meal at the Golden Globes set off so many critics.” And this summer one of three winning essays (out of 1,242 submissions) in The New York Times’ annual Student Editorial Contest was headlined “Bringing Ethics to Your Plate” and cited the book in its second paragraph.

I was able to connect with Joy at her home in Berlin, Germany, via Zoom and she agreed that “since 2010, when the first edition was published, the awareness of what an atrocity animal agriculture is has really grown.”

She points to a number of factors raising people’s consciousness, including the increased availability of vegan food and the impossible-to-ignore body of scientific research that has accumulated during the decade linking an animal-based diet with climate change and a plant-based diet with disease prevention and reversal. Joy said this year the COVID-19 pandemic has further opened eyes to the consequences of animal confinement systems and their role in spreading zoonotic disease.

“In the past few months, more people have become aware that animal agriculture and wet markets are leading drivers of pandemics,’ Joy said. “This combination of more awareness and easier access to more vegan options has made more people increasingly uncomfortable,

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