It still shocks me when a carnist tells me that “carnism” isn’t a real thing, but veganism is—like I’ve stepped into an alternate, topsy turvy universe. If someone told you that “sexist” wasn’t a real word or term, I bet you’d be pretty shocked too. Seriously, what rock has this person been living under?
As a vegan, I see and experience the reality of a society completely obsessed with carnism every damn day. It’s everywhere: nine out of ten food products are made from the forced labor of farmed animals. The forced labor itself is hidden, invisible: you can’t apply those words to non-human animals. You can’t say they’re oppressed. People even like to pretend that saying non-human animals are oppressed is actually oppressive to humans—like pointing out that it’s an ideology itself takes away from justice for oppressed humans. As if helping one set of people achieve liberation would ever harm another.
Carnism is the name of an ideology. That ideology states that non-human animals are less worthy of consideration than human animals, and that because they are less worthy, they are property.
Imprisoning, breeding, milking and killing non-human animals for something we can get, or believe we can get (in the case of strength and mental health) is carnism in action. It is the system that carnism, as an ideology, upholds—that even if animals matter, they don’t matter so much that we should actually, you know, stop using them as property.
Those of you who are hip to property status analysis will be able to see the catch in that—no amount of welfarism matters if you are property, because if you are property, there is no violation that cannot be justified; and if you are not, then no one would dare violate you.
If you are, right now, saying to yourself, “I’m not a carnist!” and you’re not vegan, yes, you are a carnist. That is what the word means: that you are willing to use animals as property. If you are not vegan, you are using animals as property—thus, carnist by definition. And if you are not willing to be called a carnist—what? it’s only a few letters away from con carne—then go vegan.
All of the -ism words were made up out of whole cloth at one point in time. They were created to describe a concept, an ideology, that was dominant and thus invisible, because to get people to recognize an ideology you have to name it. Sexism was named because feminism would have been flailing in the dark without it: all social justice movements begin as ridiculous until they name the oppression they fight against. Without being named, those paradigms remain invisible and thus invulnerable, because it’s just normal, it just is. Oppressive power structures that are not named remain unscathed because they are unseen.
The ease with which carnists take for granted their carnism and the blind urgency with which they passive-aggressively attack vegans even for existing—cue umpeenth repetition of, “Oh, I could never do that,” or “I’d just die without [dairy product],” just because you awkwardly refused the damn cheese tray—is in itself indicative of privilege. It’s fine if you freaks want to name yourselves; you’re different. We’re normal. We don’t need a word.
And personally, I think carnism as a word describing power has an advantage over most other -isms: it describes actions as well as thoughts, as well as an embedded status quo. Vegans can be carnists: all they have to do is still believe that animals are property, and that veganism is a “personal choice”—that humans are the only ones that matter. But all non-vegans are carnists. A (vegans) may also be C (carnists), but all B (non-vegans) are C (carnists).
That recognition—that the obsessive consumption of animal products happens, that it exists, and that it only happens at the expense of all non-human animals—is a necessary process, because consuming animal products is otherwise normalized into invisibility. It is also something I wish the feminist and anti-racist movements had—the description of a behavior.
But the extent of the oppression of non-human animals, while monstrous, is also relatively simple on the surface because non-human animals largely do not participate in humans’ everyday lives. It’s very difficult to argue that using animals as products—making them into products—for consumption is not treating animals as property, because that is the definition of property status. It’s telling that the argument becomes significantly more complicated when you involve companion animals: we want to believe that our friends, our family, the people we love want to be with us to, and that they derive joy from us as much as we do from them. But that desire to see ourselves as good for them too is belied in the fact that companion animals are acceptable sacrifices for junk science, breeding, and profits—ultimately, the fact that humans’ interactions with them are still about humans’ comfort, convenience, entertainment and profit proves their property status, too.
Animals don’t participate. Women do. Nonwhite people do. And as much as participation in your own oppression doesn’t mean that you’re not oppressed, it does make it more convoluted. When you have been taught all your life to relish being treated as a valuable piece of property—as women are with cultural tropes of marriage and sexual attraction—you aren’t nearly as able to see that you’re still property. When you’ve been taught all your life to feel triumphant about being promoted in a system where you and everyone like you are still just fucking monetary values—as nonwhites are with capitalism—you’re not able to see just how much the whole system fucks you over. And the more you believe your oppressor when he says that you do have a chance at his approval and the power that entails, the less willing you are to fight the fact that you have to get down on your knees and remember to swallow at all.
The fact that you have to suck dick at all is normalized to the point where it isn’t really there anymore. By contrast, the fact that most animals never have to suck dick doesn’t seem bad at all, provided you’re ignorant of their lived reality enough to trivialize the constant soul-destroying torture simply because no one ever expected them to like it. No one ever expected Black slaves to like it, either, or women with marriage; that your consent is not valued is in itself sign of oppression.
Treating anyone who experiences their life that way is wrong. Not because they look enough like you or are “intelligent” enough, but because they experience what you’re doing to them. That is the baseline—I do not demand literacy tests and poll taxes before you get to claim you deserve rights. And the fact that you do for those you want to be able to use as property, but not the ones you have no interest in, is telling. And unacceptable. Very unacceptable.
Men fucking wrote satirical articles about how animals deserve rights too so they could mock women and nonwhites. It isn’t so fucking funny now, you fucking assholes—you fucking carnists.
Oppression is not acceptable, no matter who it is or what their genetic code looks like. Veganism is a way to emphasize that point, as is feminism, anti-racism, anti-capitalism and open support of unschooling—it’s baseline. Not being an oppressive douche is baseline. Not perpetuating someone’s property status is baseline. Changing your behavior so you do not perpetuate property status or oppression is baseline, not for being a good person, but just for not being a bad person.
And no matter what excuses you give for continuing it, you will still be a carnist, and it will still be fucked up that you think that’s okay.
Veganism isn’t extreme: it’s baseline.