Carnism and speciesism: At the contemplation stage, we must also consider some social and cultural factors. Individual decisions are unavoidably taken in a socio-cultural context. In the case of animal product consumption, there is an overwhelming culture of meat-eating in most Western countries, supported by a pervasive ideology known as carnism (Joy, 2011).
The carnist worldview considers a small group of animals appropriate for human consumption or use. The idea of factory farming most species of animals seems bizarre and cruel, yet society finds it acceptable to factory farm cows, pigs, sheep, and some species of birds and fish. Carnism is pervasive and powerful at every level of society. The exploitation and killing of these animals is a deeply embedded part of human cultures, rituals, and traditions. Carnism is rooted in speciesism – discrimination on the basis of species (Singer, 1975). Of course, one does not need to believe this in order to believe that animals have sufficient moral value to avoid killing. Nonetheless, comparisons of animal and human suffering are often difficult to stomach. Mika (2006) found evidence that activist messages comparing animal agriculture to slavery and rape were likely to put people off engaging with the message.
While it is possible that humans have a richer conscious experience than farm animals comprising ‘higher order thoughts’ (Carruthers, 1992; 2000), there is evidence that animals, like humans, can (and, in most farming systems, do) experience physical and emotional pain and distress. Nonetheless, in order to escape in-group bias, it is useful not to consider comparisons between animals and humans, but instead to consider comparisons between different species of animals.