Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism is a 2009 book by American social psychologist Melanie Joy about the belief system and psychology of meat eating, or "carnism".[1] Joy coined the term carnism in 2001 and developed it in her doctoral dissertation in 2003.[2][3] Carnism is a subset of speciesism,[3]:9–12 and contrasts with ethical veganism, the moral commitment to abstain from consuming or using meat and other animal products. In 2020, an anniversary edition of the book was published by publisher Red Wheel.[4]

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows
AuthorMelanie Joy
CountryUnited States
SubjectFood and drink
PublisherConari Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback) and audiobook
Pages204 pp.
LC ClassTX371.J69 2010


Joy, a social psychologist and author, was concerned about linguistic bias inherent in terms like carnivore, which were inaccurate and failed to account for the "beliefs beneath the behavior". Carnivores require meat in their diet for survival, but carnists choose to eat meat based on their beliefs.[5]:422[6]:30 There was no label, Joy discovered, for the beliefs of people who produce, consume, and promote meat eating. She created the term carnism (Latin carn, flesh or body) to name and describe this dominant cultural belief system. "We assume that it is not necessary to assign a term to ourselves when we adhere to the mainstream way of thinking, as though its prevalence makes it an intrinsic part of life rather than a widely held opinion. Meat eating, though culturally dominant, reflects a choice that is not espoused by everybody", Joy writes.[7]


Carnism, according to Joy, is the dominant, yet invisible paradigm in modern culture supporting the choice to consume meat.[8]:138–139 Carnism is an invisible system of beliefs in both the social, psychological, and physical sense. For example, in the physical sense, an estimated 10 billion land animals are slaughtered for their meat every year in the United States, yet most of the animals are never seen—they are kept in confined animal feeding operations,[5]:422 invisible to the public and off limits to the media.[6] Joy maintains that the choice to eat meat is not natural or a given as proponents of meat claim, but influenced by social conditioning. The majority of people, Joy claims, care deeply about animals and do not want them to suffer.[9]

President Bill Clinton at the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. Clinton presented a "discursive challenge to carnism" when he publicly recognized that turkeys were independent and had different personalities.[10]:111,116

Joy argues there is a neurological basis for empathy; most people care about nonhuman animals and want to prevent their suffering. Further, humans value compassion, reciprocity, and justice. However, human behavior does not match these values. To continue to eat animals, Joy argues, people engage in psychic numbing, which alters the perception of our behavior towards animals and uses defense mechanisms to block empathy.

First, carnism denies there is a problem with eating animals; second, it justifies eating meat as normal, natural, and necessary; third, to prevent cognitive dissonance, carnism alters the perception of the animals as living individuals into food objects, abstractions, and categories.[11] People who hold to these beliefs may also be called carnists.[7]

Through this denial, justification, and perceptual distortion, Joy argues, carnism influences people to violate their core values.[12] Animal advocates and cultural studies scholars have implicated both the government and the media as the two primary channels responsible for legitimizing carnist discourse in the United States.[10]:103

Critical reception

Writer Megan Kearns agrees with Joy's argument that the system of carnism is at odds with democracy, but takes issue with Joy blaming the system rather than the people who make carnist choices: "[The] way we as a society envision eating and animals is contradictory and insidious. Yet it seems incongruous to blame the system and simultaneously hold people accountable to awaken their consciences and exercise their free will." Kearns also notes that not only are there many empathic people who choose to eat meat, but many vegetarians who base their diet on health, not moral reasons.[13]

Helena Pedersen of Malmö University questions whether it is accurate for Joy to treat meat eaters as a homogenous group as there may be many different types of meat eaters all of whom have different reasons for eating meat.[14]:112 Proponents of the abolitionist theory of animal rights, such as Gary L. Francione, do not accept the concept of carnism as they believe it indirectly supports the animal welfare position by neglecting to call for the immediate rejection of all animal use and for not explicitly promoting veganism.[15]


Journalist Avery Yale Kamila reviewed Joy's book in 2020 and said it has "played a pivotal role" in changing "how humans think about animals." Kamila wrote:[4]

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.


The book has also been translated into several languages, including Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, French, Traditional Chinese, Swedish, Danish, Croatian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Dutch.[16]

A 10th anniversary edition was released in 2020, with a new foreword by Yuval Noah Harari.[16]

See also


  1. Rising, Dallas. (2013). Turning Our Heads: The "See No Evil" Dilemma. In Kim Socha, Sarahjane Blum (Ed.), Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism (pp. 11-21). McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-6575-0.
  2. Kool, V. K.; Agrawal, Rita (2009). The Psychology of Nonkilling. In Joám Evans Pim (Ed.), Toward a Nonkilling Paradigm (pp. 349-370). Center for Global Nonkilling. ISBN 978-0-9822983-1-2.
  3. Joy, Melanie (2003). Psychic numbing and meat consumption: The Psychology of carnism (Doctoral dissertation). OCLC 729946807
  4. Kamila, Avery Yale (2020-09-13). "Vegan Kitchen: A decade on, Melanie Joy's book on carnism still casts a big shadow". Press Herald. Retrieved 2020-10-09.
  5. Matejka, George S. (December 2010). Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. Teaching Philosophy, 33(4), 422-423. doi:10.5840/teachphil201033450
  6. Joy, M. (2011) [2009]. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. Conari Press. ISBN 1573245054.
  7. Joy, M. (2001). From Carnivore to Carnist: Liberating the Language of Meat. Satya 8(2), 26.
  8. DeMello, Margo (2012). Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231152949. pp. 138-139.
  9. Erbe, Bonnie (January 6, 2010). Understanding Why America Loves Animals, But Eats Them. U.S. News & World Report.
  10. Freeman, Carrie Packwood, Leventi-Perez, Oana (2012). Pardon Your Turkey and Eat Him Too: Antagonism over Meat Eating in the Discourse of the Presidential Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey. In Joshua Frye and Michael Bruner (Ed.), The Rhetoric of Food: Discourse, Materiality, and Power (pp. 103-120). Routledge. ISBN 978-0415500715.
  11. For more about categorizing animals as food, see Bratanova, Boyka; Loughnan, Steve; Bastian, Brock (August 2011). The effect of categorization as food on the perceived moral standing of animals. Appetite 57(1), 193-196. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.020
  12. Empirical data may support the claim that carnism violates core values. For slaughterhouse workers in particular, see Dillard, J. (2008). A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress through Legal Reform. Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy 15(2). "[Slaughterhouse] work violates the natural tendency of a person to avoid the direct killing of an animal. One study found that 85% of the meat-eating participants stated that they could not kill an animal to obtain meat. This overwhelmingly common aversion to killing suggests that the slaughterhouse employment causes a majority of the employees to violate their natural preference against killing. By habitually violating one's natural preference against killing, the worker very likely is adversely psychologically impacted."
  13. Kearns, Megan (2009). "Uneasy Witness". Open Letters Monthly. Archived from the original on October 1, 2010.
  14. Pedersen, Helena (January 2012). Critical Carnist Studies. Society & Animals 20(1), 111-112. doi:10.1163/156853012X614404
  15. Francione, Gary L. (October 2, 2012). Nothing "Invisible" About Animal Exploitation Ideology. Opposing Views.
  16. "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism". Beyond Carnism. Retrieved 2020-07-21.

Further reading


  • Pilisuk, Marc, Joy, M. (2001). Humanistic Psychology and Ecology. In Kirk J. Schneider, James F. T. Bugental and J. Fraser Pierson (Ed.), The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology: Leading Edges in Theory, Research, and Practice (pp. 101–114). Sage Publications. ISBN 0761927824.
  • Joy, M. (March 2003). Toward a Non-Speciesist Psychoethic. Society & Animals 11(1), 103-104. doi:10.1163/156853003321618882
  • Joy, M. (Winter 2005). Humanistic Psychology and Animal Rights: Reconsidering the Boundaries of the Humanistic Ethic. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 45(1), 106-130. doi:10.1177/0022167804272628
  • Joy, M. (January 21, 2013). Speaking Truth to Power: Understanding the Dominant, Animal-Eating Narrative for Vegan Empowerment and Social Transformation. One Green Planet.
  • Joy, M. (February 26, 2013). Why Horsemeat Is Delicious and Disgusting. Huffington Post.

Author interviews

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