The Joy of Summerfest

One view of the UPJ campus, where Summerfest is held.

It's a big weekend for the portion of Earth to Philly staff most concerned with living sustainably by eating low (lower, lowest) on the food chain, that is to say, me.

I'm off to Johnstown again (specifically, the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown) for North American Vegetarian Society's Summerfest, an annual conference right here in Pennsylvania that mixes delicious food, reunions of old friends and the latest thinking and trends in vegetarianism. (If you're reading this on Thursday, there's still time to register for the weekend package, which starts Friday evening)

This year a new presence at Summerfest will be Melanie Joy, a sociology and psychology professor at UMass and the author of "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism." Joy has a Philly connection in that, as she puts it, "a huge inspiration for my activism began in Philly, when I attended a workshop at Training for Change."

Melanie Joy suggests that instead of thinking of "vegetarianism" or "veganism" as the odd, "marked" ideologies set against normal folks' atttitudes, we should have a name for the peculiar ideology of meat-eating (especially eating one animal while petting another). For any of you who may not make it most of the way across the Keystone state for Summerfest, here's a quick Q&A with her.

Earth to Philly: What's the difference between carnism and carnivorism?

Joy: The term “carnivorism” is actually an oxymoron: a carnivore is an animal that needs to eat flesh to survive, while “ism” denotes a belief system. Carnivore (like omnivore) describes one’s biological predisposition, not one’s belief system.

Earth to Philly: Why are you proposing a new term?

Joy: For the vast majority of the world today, eating animals is not a necessity, but a choice—and choices always stem from beliefs. Just as we’ve named the ideology in which it’s considered inappropriate to eat animals (vegetarianism or veganism), it only makes sense to name the opposing ideology; otherwise, eating animals is seen as a given rather than a choice.

Earth to Philly: Do you see vegetarianism as an ideology making any strides against carnism?

Joy: Yes, I do. But I think it’s vital that vegetarians become aware of carnism, because the goal of the vegetarian movement isn’t simply the abolition of meat production and consumption, but the transformation of carnism—the ideology that makes meat consumption possible in the first place. If we see eating animals not as simply a matter of personal ethics, but as the inevitable end result of a deeply entrenched, invisible belief system, we can dramatically change the way we think and talk about the issue.