We’re becoming increasingly aware of narcissism, but few of us know that it doesn’t only apply to individuals. Collective and cultural narcissism also exist. The problem is, however, that this can be hard to see when it’s part of our own culture. So, I’m going to unpack exactly how the meat industry and other animal industries engage in collective narcissism, and how society’s support for these industries is a form of cultural narcissism.
If you eat or use animal products yourself, then please read this with an open mind. My goal is not to call you a narcissist, but to arm you with information, so we can end this form of cultural narcissism together.
Two thirds of US households have at least one cat, dog, or other companion animal. We don’t expect these animals to do anything for us. They’re valued purely for their company. Often, they’re considered part of the family, and we recognize that they each have their own unique personality and love them for it.
In the animal industries, however, the exact opposite happens. One of the core traits of narcissism, treating others like objects, is expressed to the fullest extent here. The industries don’t bring animals into this world to love them, but to kill them and sell their bodies. They literally turn living beings, who are just as sentient as cats and dogs, into products. The animals’ desire to stay alive isn’t even factored into the decision, only how much they weigh when they’re killed.
Entitlement and grandiosity
Entitlement is about taking what isn’t ours. And if there’s one thing that isn’t ours, it’s someone else’s life. Taking a life is the most extreme form of entitlement. Even if it was an “us or them” situation, the idea that animals should die for us would still be entitled, but it would be understandable. However, that’s not even remotely the case. To quote the largest organization of nutrition experts in the US:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
So, not only are all animal products unnecessary, cutting them out of our diet can actually benefit our health. And the average person has access to a wide variety of plant-based food. We even have plant-based products that look and taste like animal products. So, the industries aren’t killing trillions of animals for us out of any kind of necessity.
The fact that, even under these circumstances, they feel entitled to kill as many animals as they want so we can eat as many animals as we want can only be described as grandiosity.
The rules don’t apply to them
Because of the animals we share our homes with, we do have some animal protection laws. But even though the industries house far more animals, they consistently manage to get exemptions for these laws. Kicking a cat is illegal, but killing a chicken is legal. Standard practices like keeping animals in confined spaces their entire lives and cutting off testicles and tails without anesthesia would be illegal if done to dogs but are legal when done to pigs because they are standard practices. So, the fact that they always abuse animals in these ways is used as a justification to keep doing it.
But it’s bad for the industries’ image if people see this, and the industries also don’t like the few restrictions they do have. So, they have actually managed to get so-called ag-gag laws passed. These laws make it illegal for people, even for employees, to expose the animal abuse that goes on inside. In some states, these laws have been overturned because they’re unconstitutional and make investigative journalism illegal, but various states and countries still have them, and the industries continue to push for them.
In other words: If they abuse animals and you film them, then you are the criminal. This is nothing short of gaslighting by law.
Lack of empathy
Practically everything I’ve mentioned so far shows a lack of empathy. If they had empathy for the animals, they wouldn’t needlessly kill them, and the industries wouldn’t exist. The lack of empathy is so pronounced that even documentaries that simply show the standard practices in the industries, like Dominion, are hard to watch for most people. I still recommend you watch it, though. It’s available here for free: https://youtu.be/LQRAfJyEsko
Taking credit while being counterproductive
The people in the animal industries consistently refer to themselves as “farmers” and often emphasize that they’re “feeding the world.” In reality, however, we would have more food without them. This is not something most people are aware of, so allow me to explain.
Crop farmers actually produce food. They start with seeds, soil, and sunlight and end up with something we can eat. But the same can’t be said for the animal industries. Animals need to eat, just like us. And just like us, they use most of their food to maintain their bodies and only part of it to grow. So, the industries actually need to feed a pig 5 pounds of plant-based food, grown by a crop farmer, to get just 1 pound of meat. By definition, they end up with significantly fewer calories and fewer nutrients than what they started with. That’s not food production, that’s food waste.
So, the whole claim that they’re producing food for us is incorrect. Just like it’s incorrect that they’re producing protein. Animals simply recycle the protein that’s already in their plant-based food. And the same goes for calcium in dairy. Cows don’t make calcium, they get it from their plant-based food.
Worldwide, of all the land used by the food industries, 19 percent is used to grow crops for direct human consumption and 81 percent to produce animal products. However, we get 83 percent of our calories from plant-based food and only 17 percent from animal products. That’s how wasteful the animal industries are. And because of the simple fact that animals produce more poop than meat, the animal industries also produce the most pollution. They are responsible for 60 percent of the food industries’ greenhouse gases. And on top of that, they’re also major contributors to ocean dead zones, deforestation, and new antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases.
Because they take more steps to end up with less food, animal products cost more money to produce than plant-based products. So, the animal industries feel entitled to subsidies. And through persistent lobbying, they manage to get billions of dollars in subsidies every year.
Even though the USDA recognizes that we don’t need any animal products and acknowledges that most people don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, they spend 52 percent of all subsidies on animal products and animal feed crops while spending only 2 percent on fruit and vegetables. The subsidies are completely at odds with their own recommendations, just to appease the animal industries. And, of course, society also pays the bill for the environmental and healthcare costs caused by these industries.
The reason these industries are getting widespread support is because we’re all being manipulated and have been manipulated since we were children.
Part of this is done by the industries themselves, who spend millions of dollars on advertising every single day. They have no problem killing an animal, putting their dead body in a box with a toy and some fries, using a clown to promote it, and calling it a Happy Meal. Children cannot see through that kind of manipulation if adults don’t point it out.
And that’s the other part of the problem. Most adults not only act as enablers who actively pay the industries to kill animals for them, but those who are parents also act like flying monkeys. They manipulate their own children into supporting these industries.
Parents start feeding their children meat before they can talk. The children get used to eating animal products for years without realizing that animals are being killed for them. And all this time, their love for animals is actually encouraged. They grow up with Piglet, Peppa Pig, and petting zoos, while unknowingly eating actual pigs.
What they learn about “farm” animals is propaganda. Pictures and stories about happy animals living harmoniously on farms and “giving” us eggs, milk, and meat. The farms look nothing like the buildings and cages where animals actually live, the male chicks who get killed because they don’t lay eggs are never covered, the calves who are taken away from their mothers so we can drink their milk are never covered, and the slaughterhouses where they all get killed are never covered.
Some children do actually see through the manipulation and want to stop eating animals. But usually, that just leads to more manipulation. For example, they are told that the animals are already dead anyway, so they might as well eat them, as if that’s a reason to keep paying the industries to kill animals. Or they are told lies, like that the animals are treated well and killed painlessly after a happy life and that animal products are necessary to stay healthy. If all of that fails and a child still resists, parents often simply fall back on force.
This manipulation that starts in childhood continues in adulthood. Companies shamelessly market the bodies of animals that they abused and killed with photos, videos and drawings of happy animals. Organizations that claim to want to protect animals still condone killing them. Journalists consistently present the “hardworking farmer” narrative and never ask them basic questions like: “How can you say you love these animals when you’re killing them all?” And while anyone can post pictures on social media of the meat they eat, footage that actually shows how the animals lived and died immediately gets covered with a graphic content warning.
The animal industries also abuse the legal system to attack their competitors. For example, they’ve managed to get lawmakers to make it illegal in the entire European Union to call soy milk “soy milk.” And in various US states, a vegan burger can’t legally be called a “vegan burger” anymore. These are just two examples out of many, and the industries are continuously pushing for more of these laws to make it impossible for plant-based competitors to market their products. Of course, their official story is that they’re just trying to protect consumers from “misleading” labels so they don’t get “confused.”
Furthermore, the animal industries exploit people’s lack of knowledge. For example, they often imply that more ingredients in plant-based products means they’re automatically less healthy than animal products. Or they cherry-pick certain plant-based products with sustainability problems, like avocados and quinoa, and conveniently leave out that most of the demand for these products comes from meat eaters and that they’re not even an essential part of a plant-based diet. Or they emphasize that their products are “local,” while leaving out that one person adopting a plant-based diet does more for the environment than seven people switching to local food.
If, despite the manipulation, you decide to stop consuming animal products, society has a problem with that. Even though research shows that meat eaters consider people who don’t eat meat more virtuous, research also shows that they dislike them almost as much as they dislike drug addicts. And you’re disliked more if you’re doing it for the animals than if you’re doing it for your own health.
Even if you don’t set out to talk about it, you run into a lot of gaslighting. People act like you’re annoying/preachy/pushy/militant for simply talking about it, even when they brought it up. People say they love animals while paying for them to be killed. People act like you have a superiority complex when you’re the only one not feeling superior to animals. People say they respect that you don’t want to have animals killed and therefore you should also respect that they do. People claim that the animals are treated well and killed “humanely” while refusing to watch any footage. People insist there are essential nutrients that you can only get from animal products, even when shown proof that there aren’t. People are okay with seeing meat ads every day of their lives, but dismiss verifiable facts about the industries as “vegan propaganda.” People say you’re choosing animals over humans, even though your choice benefits both. Et cetera.
In a healthy environment, people would be thrilled to find out that we can end animal exploitation and improve our health and the environment at the same time. We would all be working together to close slaughterhouses immediately. So, why do people side with the animal abusers and gaslight anyone who doesn’t? Because eating and using animal products is a form of cultural narcissism.