One of the most joyous consequences of embracing a vegan diet is that I no longer lie to myself. I no longer pretend that chicken nuggets aren’t really made of actual chickens, or that the fish on my plate swam freely for years before being painlessly plucked from the sea by a kindly old man, or that the beef in my tacos came from a cow who was coddled and loved, treated “humanely,” killed out of necessity, and without violence.
Letting go of these damaging lies has been a liberating experience to say the least. But most people, it seems, are perfectly content to go on fooling themselves…to continue living a life based on self-deception and denial. If our meat- and dairy-centric diets are so natural and righteous, I wonder: why do we feel the need to lie to ourselves about them? And how do we reconcile that within ourselves?
A new study from the University of Kent shines some light on this phenomenon. The study “provides direct evidence that people who wish to escape the ‘meat paradox’ i.e. simultaneously disliking hurting animals and enjoying eating meat, may do so by denying that the animal they ate had the capacity to suffer.”
By engaging in denial, “those participating in the study also reported a reduced range of animals to which they felt obligated to show moral concern. These ranged from dogs and chimps to snails and fish.” In other words, in order to justify harming animals for our own appetites, we must convince ourselves that animals are not capable of suffering and/or are outside the scope of our moral concern.
Prior to the study, “it was generally assumed that the only solutions to the meat paradox [were] for people to simply stop eating meat” or to admit to themselves that animals were harmed and killed in order to produce meat. Although, the researcher notes, while “few people live in true ignorance, some meat-eaters may live in a state of tacit denial, failing to equate beef with cow, pork with pig, or even chicken with chicken.”
The researcher behind the study, Dr Loughnan, explained: ‘Some people do choose to stop eating meat when they learn that animals suffer for its production. An overwhelming majority do not. Our research shows that one way people are able to keep eating meat is by dampening their moral consideration of animals when sitting at the dinner table.’
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not live a life based on self-deception and dampened intelligence and empathy. If I have to make up stories and myths about the animals who have been killed to satisfy my desires, that in itself tells me I’m participating in something wrong. When we lie, we are often trying to escape the consequences of the truth. But, as the saying goes, it’s the truth that will set us free.