We all love our friends and family members immensely. For this very reason we try and educate them about the numerous benefits of a vegan lifestyle; health, environmental and ethical considerations. And sometimes it is extremely hard to fathom how our ‘facts’ backed by good intentions continuously fall on deaf ears.
There is a science behind this termed, the ‘sociology of denial’, which explores the processes by which individuals and societies condition themselves to ‘not see’ the experiences of terror and pain by others; man or animal.
Denial “Refers to the maintenance of social worlds in which an undesirable situation is unrecognised, ignored or made to seem normal”. (Cohen, 2001)
This process can be performed by whole cultures and societies. With no overt control, collective and unwritten agreement is reached on what can be known, remembered or spoken about.
From this agreement comes ‘normalisation’, which is established through routinisation, tolerance, accommodation, collusion and cover up to the point that suffering is not acknowledged and is then seen as normal.
The important thing to remember is that these cultural denial phenomena rely on a shared vocabulary to aid in its supposed credibility to support and collude others denial. In the case of meat and slaughter houses where denial is playing out before our very eyes it is very common to hear a plethora of comments like:
“These animals were born and raised so we can eat them”
“You need meat for protein”
“But Hitler was a vegetarian”
“God told us to eat animals/ we have dominion over them so we can eat them”
“Fish and chicken don’t feel pain”
“Those animal cruelty videos don’t represent what is really happening/that doesn’t happen where I live”
“I only eat grass-fed beef, it’s better looked after”
“But plants feel pain too”
“I couldn’t do it, I love bacon too much”
I am sure there are a few nods coming from readers at this stage. We have heard it all. These comments are part of the vocabulary to support the denial of suffering that is occurring and it is incredibly difficult to overcome with ‘facts’.
Many readers will also find that these comments come out without ever making reference to slaughterhouses or animal rights at a BBQ or dinner party where meat is on the menu. Just the mere presence of a vegan will make people uncomfortable.
The reason? A vegan or vegetarian presence raises all the ideas and images that are so carefully covered and repressed into consciousness. This discomfort can often lead to aggressive or self justifying behaviour directed at the vegan.
And sadly, although there is an unconscious agreement that reference to slaughterhouses at dinner would be in poor taste, this behaviour is not seen as breach of manners. The vegan is an outsider with opposing views that threaten status quo and the specifically constructed social cohesion.
The presence of a self-declared vegan acts to puncture the carefully fabricated edifice of the suffering of animals on a personal and cultural level; all necessary for the continued production and consumption of meat. It is hard not to lose hope in the face of such pervasive denial in our society.
Don’t lose hope!
More people than ever are turning to a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle.
Efforts made by you, communities, animal rights activists and other social movements have slowly increased awareness to the otherwise hidden forms of cruelty and suffering of animals which were ‘normalised’.
So keep it up! Be that vegan at dinner parties that, with your very presence, punctures through the suffocating blanket of denial to change the status quo. Be the person that lives such an emboldened life that others dare to dream to follow you.
What is my reason for continued persistence on this topic? I know, for every time I speak the truth, as unwelcome as it may be… I am speaking the truth for those who cannot.
Cohen, S. (2001). States of Denial. Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering. Political Press: Cambridge.
Germov, J., Williams, L. (2008). A Sociology of Food and Nutrition (3rd e.d.). Oxford University Press: Australia.