There’s a disconnect in the way Americans think about animals. Just look at our fairy tales.
Take the story of the three little pigs. They each try to build a home (and two out of the three suck at it) in order to keep themselves safe from the big bad wolf and all of his “I’ll HUFF and PUFF and BLOW your house down!” (and then presumably eat you) business. As kids, we unquestioningly side with the pigs. Children automatically register that the wolf is the villain because he’s big and bad and wants to eat the three little pigs, and that would just be wrong.
The wolf is the villain because it’s wrong to eat pigs.
Uh, wait a second…
See the disconnect?
For some reason, most of the kids who well up with childish indignation at the thought of the wolf eating the three little pigs somehow turn into adults who salivate at the words “baby back ribs.”
Something’s up here.
How is it that a premise that seems so unshakably true to children somehow becomes murky and controversial to adults?
The three little pigs of the fairy tale are very clear-cut characters. The pigs don’t get buried under the adult jargon of “livestock,” “loin” or “bacon.” The whole point of the story (other than that it’s really dumb to build a wimpy house) is that the pigs very clearly belong on no one’s dinner plate. I mean, rewriting the story as “the three little pork chops” would just be morbid! No, the pigs in the story are not creatures of pork flesh to be pulled and roasted. They are members of a family, or at the least friends. They are laborers working to create a place for themselves in the world. They are thinking, feeling creatures capable of experiencing emotions ranging from pride to fear. And the thing is, those qualities aren’t just for the fantasy animal. Turns out they’re actually a part of the real animal, too.
And yet while we don’t even blink while graciously bestowing a (correctly) high level of sentience to the pigs of our fairy tales, carnists refuse to bestow it to the pig on their plate. Somewhere along the way, American carnists learn to forget that by their own childhood standards, they have become the villain. In fact, they even learn to justify it. And the pigs lose out. The dynamic, 3D fact behind the fairy tale is lost as adults swap it for a flatter, more convenient 2D fiction.
But that’s not even close to what happens to the wolf.
Part 2: … and the Big Bad Wolf?