The Meat Paradox

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“It is time for a revolution in how we talk about human beings, animals and the planet, and acknowledge our own hypocrisies. Rather than doing mental gymnastics to justify unethical behaviour, we must consider actually changing it. Identifying and addressing even just a few of your guilt-ridden ethical inconsistencies is likely to make you a happier person, and the planet a better place.” Dr. Julia Shaw

Dr. Julia Shaw is a psychologist at University College London. She wrote an interesting article for the BBC online titled, “What the ‘meat paradox’ reveals about moral decision.”

In her article Dr. Shaw talks about how people deal with the inner conflict of …”forms of behavior that conflict with deeply held moral principles,” specifically, this “meat paradox” whereby we consume and/or use animal products despite being against animal cruelty.

” According to psychologists Brock Bastian and Steve Loughnan, who do research on the topic in Australia, the “meat paradox” is the ‘psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering’.”

This is something I did for a very long time, over 40 years. With no thought whatsoever to how my meat, fish, eggs, milk, clothes, makeup, etc., were made. I understood they came from animals but I never considered that it might be wrong to use animals for our food, entertainment, products or research. I never thought about it because no one did. No one talked about it as a problem, it just…is. And we never questioned it. Ever. We have all been taught and raised to believe that we need to consume meat and dairy to survive, to live healthy. And the factory farm and clothing industries have gotten so big that they have to implement certain standard practices (things that are done to every animal at every factory farm) in order for them to produce the amount of product as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, this comes at a very high price for the animals used.

When I discovered the truth about how these animals live and are treated I cried for 3 days. I felt deeply depressed and kept wanting to scream aloud, “WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?” I feel horrible. I feel so guilty. I feel so ashamed. I have been an animal lover my entire life. I am the person everyone calls to catch bugs and bring them outside. I donate to animal causes all over the world. I am writing a book about “less adoptable” animals at shelters to inspire others to consider adopting these overlooked/passed-up animals like my Hudson. How could I have let myself be so deluded? I knew (as most do) that living conditions were not great. I knew some people abused the animals. I had absolutely no idea that these industries, as part of their standard practice, abuse, neglect, torture, mutilate, maim and rape these animals. No idea. Most of us don’t know because they don’t want us to know. But that’s a topic for another blog article.

Dr. Shaw suggests that cognitive dissonance (saying one thing and doing another) is how this happens. The term was developed by Leon Festinger, who first used it in 1957. 

In 1962 Festinger further formalised his ideas. He stated that although we believe ourselves to be generally consistent – in our behaviours, beliefs and attitudes – sometimes we go rogue. This inconsistency he called dissonance, while consistency he called consonance. He summarised his cognitive dissonance theory as follows:

  1. The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance.
  2. When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.

Most of us are all too familiar with #2. We are blissfully unaware of how these animals are suffering every moment of every day of their lives. And we don’t want to know. I didn’t want to know. It was by accident that I was made to face it and for a split second, I wanted to unsee the images and unknow the information. But you can’t. It doesn’t work. I realize that I needed to know. I wish I didn’t but I am glad I do.

Everyone needs to know. We all need to face it and admit that what we have done – collectively, as a society – is wrong. So wrong. And we must change. It is up to us to do better.


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