Social Conditioning: The Secret Reason We Eat Meat
Posted on June 08 2018
A couple years back, I asked my [vegetarian] friend how it was that she came to be a vegetarian and how she managed to stay vegetarian. Her answer was simple and unexpected. Instead of explaining to me, she pinched the skin on the inside of my arm (the thin area between the wrist and the forearm) and twisted it just enough to exert a little pain. She then asked me “does that hurt?” to which I replied, “yes.” She then told me “just like that the animals also feel pain.” It was this exchange that got my gears turning and became one of my greatest influences to consider the vegetarian lifestyle.
It is important to note that this friend was not the only non-meat eater in her circle – her entire family (and many friends) led vegetarian lives. For how long they endorsed this lifestyle, that I do not know for sure, but what I do know is that they are some of the happiest and healthiest people I know. As for their motivation, avoiding harm to other species is a part of it but I believe that it is more rooted in the culture of their home nation (Taiwan). The vegetarian lifestyle has always been a very prominent feature of Asian culture for centuries and continues to be up to this day. From India’s Hindu community abstaining from meat consumption due to their spiritual belief system to the Taiwanese and Japanese – their meals are comprised mostly of locally grown vegetables, rice, roots or tubers, and the occasional piece of meat.
Following a diet low in sugar, salt and saturated fat may sound like the foundation for a dream crash diet (if there were ever such a thing) destined to fail. Studies have shown however, that using these guidelines as the basis for a diet, is one of the main reasons the people living in the Blue Zones are thriving. Blue Zones refer to regions of the world where people live much longer than average due to the practices in their diet and lifestyle. The people in these regions typically do not suffer from the degenerative diseases common in most of the industrialised world.1 For instance, followers of the Okinawan diet, in Japan, have a higher life expectancy and are at a lower risk of contracting arteriosclerosis, stomach cancer and hormone dependent cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer.2 Okinawa, among four others, have been classified as Blue Zones; these areas include: Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and Loma Linda in California.
Each of the aforementioned zones have guidelines unique to that particular region and its people; however, there are various underlying similarities.1 The common denominators of these Blue Zones include:
- Natural Movement throughout the day
- Knowing your Purpose
- Stress-relieving Rituals
- Eat until you are 80% full
- Moderate Wine Consumption
- Belonging and Community: forming strong bonds and social networks
So how did these practices come about? Well, simply put, for centuries, the people of these regions have observed what is conducive to good health within their own context, and then proceeded to develop and perfect these standards. You can say that they have been conditioned to eating and living in that particular way. Wouldn’t you say that in the same way these individuals grew accustomed to health conscious habits, so have we become accustomed to our bad habits? And yes, one of those bad habits is the consumption of meat (alas, tis’ true). Think about it – have you ever stopped to wonder why we eat chicken wings and not swan’s wings? Or have you ever wondered why you don’t wonder about these things? Well, it’s like psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy explains, the secret reason we eat meat is not because we need to, but rather because it’s the way we’ve been conditioned.3
Now before I lose your attention for even suggesting such a thing, hear me out. From a young age, before we could even walk or talk, we were fed the flesh and secretions (milk/eggs) of animals. This is a direct result of a belief system that operates outside our awareness and therefore, without our conscious consent. This system can be given the name carnism.3 Just like veganism and vegetarianism are built on the belief that we do not need to eat animals in order to get proper nutrition, carnism is built on the belief that (some) animals are here for our enjoyment and to satisfy our insatiable appetite (disguised as us our need for protein and other vitamins). Carnism, as Dr. Joy states, is a fog that saturates our world with denial and preys on unawareness. Carnism is an unidentified system and it uses that to its advantage – it convinces us that there is no choice to make; eating animals is the norm – the tried and true diet. Those who choose not to participate in carnism are seen as unusual or rebels against what is normal.
Conditioned from a young age
Another way carnism functions is by teaching us to justify eating meat using the three n’s: eating meat is normal, it is natural and it is necessary. Nothing about eating meat is normal for humans – it might have become common during the days of our ancestors but our bodies are naturally designed to eat plants and not animals. It is not necessary to kill countless animals for the sake of ‘nutrition’. The carnistic model promotes violence and harm as it tortures and brutally murders innocent, sentient beings while poisoning others. It has conditioned us to believe that the only way to get enough protein is by eating birds’ wings and pigs’ legs. This is ultimately damaging our health more than we could imagine – we too are invisible victims of carnism.
Lastly, carnism convinces us that animals are not individuals and it numbs us to the pain and fear they experience. Depending on where we live, we have been taught to see certain animals as objects to be used for our motives while others are the subjects of our affection, i.e. dogs and cats. Just as my friend was raised by the vegetarian belief system, which instilled in her a compassion for the more vulnerable, the majority of us have been moulded by this carnistic system that conditions us to block our awareness and empathy, qualities that are vital to our own wellbeing and to the wellbeing of our world.3 A pig is not life-saving bacon nor is a cow your only source of vitamins and minerals. These are animals that want to live, just as you do, eating them won’t do you either of you much good. You can still obtain a proper nutrition from a balanced whole-food, plant-based diet, similar to what is followed by the Blue Zones populations.
So while it is not your fault that you enjoy eating meat, it is your choice whether or not you continue being a part of the illusion. For your sake (and the animals), I hope you use your free choice wisely.
Please feel free to check out Pick Up Limes for more information on the plant-based diet.
Buettner, D. (2017, June). 9 lessons from the world's Blue Zones on living a long, healthy life. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/changing-the-way-america-eats-moves-and-connects-one-town-at-a-time/
Booth, M. (2013, June 19). The Okinawa diet – could it help you live to 100? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/19/japanese-diet-live-to-10
The Secret Reason We Eat Meat by Dr. Melanie Joy | LIVEKINDLY. (2017, June 24). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvm7xymgk_k