Who Is Really Occupying Your Plate?

Eating animals is a practice that shapes and is shaped by the same mentality that enables other oppressions that we accuse governments and big corporations of.
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There are several reasons to be very excited about the Occupy Wall Street protests that seem to be spreading like wildfire across the U.S. and internationally. One can't help but admire the decentralized, leaderless, grassroots nature of the protests, the creative, uber-democratic and transparent nature of the General Assemblies that are the heart of each occupation, and most importantly, its core focus on social justice, as opposed to the polarizing bipartisan debates that we often witness in the media. Many brilliant minds have written some great articles on what this movement really means, what brought us to this point and where it is potentially headed. A common praise offered is how the protests seem to have emanated from a fundamental sense of right and wrong and recognizing that current political and economic systems are deeply flawed and fundamentally unjust.

So are those of us who include ourselves in the 99 percent finally waking up from a long slumber that kept us oblivious to the widespread inequalities that have surrounded us? If that's the case, then now is the perfect time to expand the borders of our awareness even further, to not only examine the systems of oppression that have led to the economic crisis, but to also unearth the very roots of oppression itself. To truly bring about social change, we cannot simply challenge one oppression at a time or even multiple oppressions at once. We must challenge the mentality that underlies all forms of oppression, because as long as the mentality of oppression remains intact it will give birth to ever-new forms of injustice, from undemocratic government policies to corrupt corporate practices.

I found it interesting that the first official statement released by the Occupy Wall Street protestors reflected this inclusive nature of the movement, as it listed a range of key problems that are caused by corporate greed and lead to mass injustice in the United States and overseas. High on the list was a statement about corporations profiting from the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of animals. But if we're serious about challenging the mentality of oppression that is inherent in animal agriculture, we must also reflect on our own beliefs and behaviors, and be willing to reexamine some of our personal practices that may contribute to the very inequities we are opposing. Eating animals is just such a practice.

If you look closely, you will find a paradoxical mentality that resides outside our awareness, but informs our choices to eat (certain) animals. Our choices as consumers drive an industry that needlessly and brutally slaughters 10 billion land animals per year, in the United States alone. Eating animals is a practice that shapes and is shaped by the same mentality that enables other oppressions that we accuse governments and big corporations of.

Dr. Melanie Joy, psychologist, acclaimed author, and longtime human rights activist and animal protection advocate has written extensively about the mentality of oppression. She points out that eating animals, when not a necessity for survival (which is the case for much of the world today), is a choice -- and choices always stem from beliefs. In a fascinating new article on One Green Planet, Dr. Joy discusses how carnism -- the term she uses for the dominant ideology that conditions us to eat certain animals -- is an oppressive ism. She discusses how carnism is an interlocking oppression, and outlines why changing our hearts and minds on an issue like eating animals is a fundamental part of bringing about long-lasting social change.

I spoke with Dr. Joy about her thoughts on what the connection was between eating animals and the social injustices that people are protesting against as part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. "In my research and my experience as an activist for a variety of social justice issues, I have found that when it comes to oppressive ideologies, although the experience of each group of victims will always be somewhat unique, the ideologies themselves are structurally similar," said Dr. Joy. "The mentality that enables such violence is the same. It is the mentality that, for instance, turns someone into something, that enables those with power to exploit those who cannot defend their own interests - and to make it seem as if they don't even have any interests."

Challenging this mentality involves asking ourselves why, for instance, we love dogs and eat pigs and don't know why. Unfortunately, most of us resist making these uncomfortable and inconvenient connections, in part because the ideology that enables us to eat animals is invisible and seeing it involves acknowledging that we can't just vote for change or protest for change and sit back and wait for change to happen; it means practicing change in our daily lives.

According to a 2009 survey, 99 percent of the American population consumes animal products. Understanding carnism can enable us to step outside the system and see who (not what) is on our plates, so that, on this issue, we can join the 1 percent.

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