Why You “Can’t” Go Vegan (psychology mechanisms that control you)
So today I wanted to write this article because when people learn that I don’t eat animals, most of the time they answer me “I really admire it! I agree with you but I just can’t stop eating meat, that’s so good.”
It’s difficult to be more contradictory haha! So I’ve done a lot of researches and I read some books about what causes this contradiction.
It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not about whether you like animals or not, but rather about being coherent with your acts.
PS: My goal is to be a responsible being, I want to take care of the world and to promote peace. I know that this article can make some people angry. If it’s the case, don’t feel offended, it’s not against you, but rather an article to encourage reflection on oneself and to be aware of psychological mechanisms that prevent us from being in control of our life and from being aligned with our values.
To introduce this article, I would like to share with you this video of the psychologist Melanie Joy. Don’t be afraid of the length, because it could really change your life forever.
So why can’t you go Vegan? Here’s a summary of my (long) answer:
The 3 main internalizations that deform your reality
Lobbies hide you the truth and keep up invisibility of suffering (= no empathy)
I. The mythology of meat, or how to explain Carnism
1) You’re influenced by institutions and lobbies who want profit from you
→ Veganism advance frightens institutions. it is difficult to measure the extent of these associations “anti-veganism” and lobbies. However, it is quite clear that the industry works to keep up the carnism hegemony by extolling the nutritional virtues of meat, eggs, dairy products or fish.
→ Institutions know how difficult it is for an individual to change his established beliefs during childhood. That’s why lobbies want to attract children: for instance, McDonald didn’t hesitate to put little children parks in their restaurant to appeal to them. They know that if they start being addicted as a kid, they will keep coming as an adult.
→ Moreover, In France for example, Meat lobbies can count on the Ministries of Education and Health to promote and distribute leaflets saying “meat, fish, and eggs are 3 essential elements of our diet” so that they can make more profit. Yep, bribery.
→ Teachers and doctors encourage us to follow the advice of the state in nutrition. However, Ambroise Martin, who is Nutritionist teacher at the University of Lyon (France) tells us that “nutrition is a recent university medical discipline, small and still fragile” that doctors are very poorly trained in dietary issues. In the United States, dietetic researchers asked the State to give at least 7 hours of nutritional education on the first 2 years of medicines, but it was refused due to lack of time. “Professionals” play a key role in supporting ideologies.
→ Many doctors warn against the dangers of stopping meat consumption, despite the mass of studies indicating that vegetarians are doing better than omnivores. Moreover, vegetarianism among young women is willingly portrayed as a symptom of a tendency to anorexia.
→ On the contrary, vegetarianism and veganism are better for health, they greatly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer or heart-related diseases and even help developing physical abilities.
In short, all that is under the system and advised by the state is presented as reasonable.
2) Denial mechanisms control you
→ The denial, according to Stanley Cohen, is an unconscious defense mechanism which aims at overcoming guilt, anxiety, and other negative emotions engendered by the reality. The psyche blocks information that is considered unthinkable or unbearable. Therefore it’s a way to hide the truth about the consequences of acts that we prove (by the pleasure of eating meat for example).
→ By denying that we do what we do, that we see what we see, we reach a kind of moral appeasement that allows us not to ask further questions. Questions that could create a feeling of internal discomfort or shame. It is a denial that leads to certain ideas such as negationism, the genocidal mechanism or even slavery and which took away all forms of humanity from people of color.
→ Some people agree that animal exploitation is a kind of pact between animals and humans. Humans protect animals from their natural predators so that they have the rights to exploit their flesh. This vision of things is called “neocarnism“. It is a kind of belief that the “traditional” exploitation is legitimate (you know, the marketing image meat lobbies want to give to their product, that animals are killed according to “ancestral” techniques). Well, they have just forgotten to point out that traditional breeding also involves live castration, confinement, separation of the babies from their mother, force-feeding, or slaughtering.)
3) 4 ways you unconsciously overcome Cognitive Dissonances
→ “Cognitive dissonance” concept was created in 1950 by the American psychologist Leon Festinger. It refers to the psychic discomfort in which an individual finds himself when two of his beliefs, and some of his acts, are contradictory in an obvious way.
→ Since Festinger, many works have been written by a multitude of psychologists and sociologists on this cognitive dissonance. This phenomenon, which is extremely widespread and affects many aspects of human life, allows us to understand the meat paradox. But when omnivores realize the amount of suffering caused by their way of life, the denial I mentioned earlier is no longer possible.
Feelings of sadness and guilt are overcome in 4 ways:
● First, the behavior change (which is rather rare unlike other cases explained just after).
→ By adopting the vegan diet, people no longer feel the discomfort related to their dissonance (eating animals but loving them at the same time). This behavior seems to be the easiest way to get rid of the dissonance, except that many people decide not to become vegan because of social pressure. It seems difficult or impossible for some not to comply with the practices of their friends or family. To be vegan, one must assume to have opinions that diverge and that can annoy a lot of people.
● Then, minimizing the negative effects of our behavior.
→ The dissonance can also be achieved through a reinterpretation of one’s own actions and their consequences on animals, environment or health. For example, someone who consumes animal products could say that it is useless to become vegan or vegetarian because “a single person cannot makes things change, only mass movements can. my choices can’t change the world so I’d better keep it like this”. Or else the case of people who say that they have reduced their consumption or that their meat still comes from ethical farms where the animals are well treated. (Moreover, it seems that omnivores often underestimate their meat consumption according to the sociologist Rothgerber)
● Then we have dissonant information value minimized.
→ A psychological research conducted by Steve Loughnan has shown that meat consumers attribute fewer mental faculties (and therefore fewer values) to the animals they eat than to those they do not eat. Mr. Loughnan writes that “to give animals less intelligence and cut their ability to suffer is a powerful way to solve the meat paradox“. In short, we tend to change our beliefs to make them coincide with our actions.
→ Another way to lower the value of dissonant information is to discredit their sources. Individuals can thus suspect books or documentaries denouncing the breeding to be biased, offbeat and deceptive. They say that the filmed images are not representative of the usual functioning of this kind of establishment, that they only represent minorities.
● Finally, the fourth behavior is the use of consonant information.
→ It is not a process that denies, minimizes or ignores the suffering of the exploited animals, but it is a process that legitimizes eating animals. So the person who eats meat will find arguments to legitimize his actions. For instance, that we are at the head of the food chain, that it is natural, or that humans are just superior beings. But we can also hear other arguments like the so-called need of animal proteins, the maintenance of a gastronomic tradition, the taste pleasures or the safeguarding of the domesticated species.
II- Internalized Carnism
1) The cognitive trio
Our minds have internalized carnism: we act as passive consumers and not as active citizens. This internalization deforms our perception of reality and our relationships with animals. This way of seeing them as things, undifferentiated mass or as edible/inedible categories is called the cognitive trio, mechanisms of defenses composed of three main elements: reification, deindividualization, and dichotomization.
● First, reification is seeing animals as inanimate objects.
→ For example, most butcher’s pieces or cooked meats are named after the muscles, limbs or organs from which they come from (for instance, in French “filet” is at the same time the name of a fish and the word for ‘net’).
→ Reification is also present in the legal fields, public policies and in institutions: animals are seen as goods, which can be sold and bought just like buying a car. Thus, this commodification presents animals as units, or as “stocks” (this is particularly the case for fishes, for example).
● The second element of the cognitive trio is the deindividualization, which leads to seeing animals as abstractions, that is, they are seen as a whole, by their collective characteristics, as if they were any other group member.
→ Thus, the larger the number, the less empathy we feel. When this process breaks, it is more difficult to keep up the emotional distance that enables us to hurt someone: for example, most people would be uncomfortable with consuming a domestic animal or one they gave a name.
● Finally, the dichotomization, which is the mental process by which we classify others into two categories, often opposed.
→ Forging categories is a natural process that helps us to process information and to bring distinct feelings to both groups. Concerning meat, the two main internalized categories are “edible” and “inedible”. These categories may also vary between cultures. For example, many Americans do not eat animals that they consider as smart (like dolphins), cute (rabbits) or consider as pets. Whereas in other countries rabbits and horses are eaten (hi French folks!).
→ It does not matter that the classification is arbitrary and that in reality, the animals are intelligent: the dichotomization allows us to feel entitled to eat such animal for such reason. Thus, deformed ideas help us to continue to consider animals as edible and to support things as they are.
To sum up, the cognitive trio prevents us from identifying with animals: the identification process does not take place. However, empathy goes hand in hand with identification: we have more empathy with people we perceive as more similar.
2) Maintaining the suffering invisible
Many factors stand in the way of our compassion and seek to hide all traces of animal suffering. For example, in a report funded by the French Minister of Agriculture, He reminded how important it is to hide the animals living and slaughter conditions and from the public: indeed, consumer compassion has become incompatible with the meat trade as this leads to lower sales.
→ That is why in several states of the United States, a series of laws called ag-gag laws have emerged: they formally forbid that we photograph, film and broadcast the conditions in which livestock are kept, to keep up this invisibility. In Utah, anyone who transgress these laws is considered a terrorist and is liable to a fine of $ 5,000 and 5 years in prison.
Thus, the systematic concealment of the way animals are killed and the “whistleblowers” criminalization seem today the best ways to neutralize the compassion of consumers, (=threat for the lobbies and meat industries).
They want slaughterhouses to be and remain places that are beyond our gaze, places we never think about, places that do not really exist.
But now that you are aware of these psychological facts, It’s important to reflect on it and to ask yourself if you were not part of this dissonance and if it’s really what you want for others.
By the way, I’ve just discoveredNutriciously’s Vegan Starter Kit. I thought it would be perfect to talk about it, because I’m aware of the dangers of a bad Vegan Diet when you’re just starting.
Alena and Lars from their blog Nutriciously are an adorable couple specialized in Vegan nutrition. I can’t recommend you enough to go check their complete bundle to avoid health issues and embrace all the benefits of a plant-based diet:
lean and muscular body / weight loss
clear and glowing skin
stronger and shinier hair
better energy and focus
more confidence & better thoughts
strong immune system
I’ve talked with them, they are really friendly and very professional in their work!
(PS: they also have a weight loss program if you’re interested. I didn’t try it personally so I can’t review it for you but I am confident in their work quality)
Anyway, I hope you liked this article about psychology, I enjoyed writing it so much ♥ Always be proud of the values you want to spread, even if people make fun of you. The difference is what really makes our society evolve!
So I’m interested to know if you were aware of these mechanisms? Did it make you think again?