Food is thy medicine for us and the planet: Carnism


We are living in uncertain and rapidly changing times. We are being brought face-to-face with both overt and subtle racist and sexist attitudes that persist in this country and have become more visible with the election of Donald Trump. As a result, we are better able to identify and define the nature and manifestations of these prejudices based on race and sex. Most “isms” are unconscious and unnamed until the oppressed victims revolt, forcing the oppressors into seeing the error of their ways.

There is another “ism” that is beginning to surface amid the growing plant-based diet and environmental movements: speciesism, or the unconscious prejudices and discrimination we harbor against species—and the assumption that humans are superior. In this case, however, the oppressed are unable to revolt or even make themselves heard because they have no voice. As a result, the vegan and animal rights movements are standing in for them.  

Carnism, a subset of speciesism, is the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals. Why do we drink cow’s milk and not dog, giraffe, elephant or pig milk? Why do we, at least in the United States, eat beef, pork, chicken and rabbit meat but not dog, cat or horse meat? It is because we have been unconsciously conditioned to kill or use these animals for food and to keep others as pets. We think nothing of it. We love to cuddle with our dog on the sofa, but would never think of one day killing our pet and eating it. If each of us were forced to kill the animals we eat, we would probably eat a lot fewer animal products than we do now. It is just this kind of consciousness that we need to develop to help us begin to heal ourselves and our planet. 

We are protected from the harsh reality of the animal agriculture industry. Not only do we kill animals for their meat and use their skin for clothing and shoes, we also tear two-day-old calves away from their mothers so the dairy cows can keep producing milk for our consumption. The calves are then either raised as future milking cows, sent away to be raised to maturity for meat, or raised for six months in a small pen for veal. The results are the same for all of these animals, whether raised for meat or milk: they all die an early death. 

Because of this food system, we live in a continual state of cognitive dissonance. We open our emotions to our pets, but harden our hearts to what we eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We are bombarded daily with advertisements of happy cows in beautiful pastures, images of cows carrying signs saying “Eat more chicken” and pictures of juicy burgers with the grease oozing out. This is carnism, the subconscious belief system that conditions us to not only eat animals, but specific animals. Our diet is drummed into us on a daily basis.   

And then there is the part of the animal-agriculture industry we have to ignore: slaughterhouses. To make it easier for us to accept this reality, there are “ag-gag” laws against exposing us what goes on in these places of terror. We are not told that, worldwide, six million animals are killed for food every hour, according to Richard Oppenlander’s book “Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work.” We are not exposed to the sheer horror these animals experience as they are led to slaughter, or the pain the mother cow feels when its newborn calf is taken away after two days so the mother’s milk can be given to you in the form of cheese or liquid. We are never exposed to this dark side of the animal industry. If we were, these industries would certainly not be as powerful as they are now. 

Animals know they are about to die. Don’t you think some of this fear and horror makes it into their flesh? And we wonder why our world is becoming increasingly violent.

If we are to truly heal our bodies—physically, emotionally and mentally—and this planet, it is imperative that we start becoming aware of all of the factors and forces that have shaped us, how we are choosing to live our lives each day and how are actions are affecting others.  

As one of the owners of Black Mountain Ranch, I am personally very torn by these meditations, because a large portion of our income at present comes from leasing the ranch to raise cattle. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I  have been a victim of speciesism and carnism, like we all have. I am working my way through this, and learning more every day. I hope we can all work through it individually and together.


Dave Osborn is a semi-retired contractor and moisture and mold consultant. He has lived in Point Reyes Station for 31 years.