Vegans – Should We Change the Way We Talk?

Why is meat from a pig called ‘ham’ or ‘pork’? Anything with a beak broadly labelled as ‘poultry’ and meat from a cow, ‘beef’? Is fish the only category of animal that we’re prepared to call by name because we somehow feel less guilt about eating it? As if the sea is somehow a barrier between the sentient and non-sentient? I can’t imagine anyone would ask the butcher for a bag of assorted, unwanted animal organs, so this is probably why they’re classified with the euphemistic title of ‘offal’.

Language can be used to brainwash and distance us from the origin of our food and the simple truth of how the "product" got to our plate

Could it be that the decision to substitute an animal’s name with that of a product is a deliberately orchestrated ploy to keep us desensitised and ignorant of the truth that we’re making a commodity of our fellow earthlings?

Perhaps it’s time we used the term ‘chicken period’ instead of egg, ‘cow secretion’ instead of milk, ‘cow skin” instead of leather, and ‘animal flesh’ instead of meat?

While this would certainly make it difficult for people to turn a blind eye to the reality of what they’re eating, there would surely be plenty of vegan skeptics who would view it as simply another extreme aspect of vegan behaviour.

Using language to hide the truth from children

As a child I went to the petting farm to see the sheep, pigs and cows, yet thanks to euphemistic labelling I made no connection between them and the ‘minced beef’ in my Sunday dinner. I remember on one occasion being perplexed while prodding at a brown lump of steak on my plate and asking my parents, “What’s this?” I was told that it was simply ‘meat’ and my five-year old brain thought no more of it. I wonder how many children would develop an immediate aversion to the meat on their plate if their parents called it ‘cow flesh’ rather than steak?

You might also enjoy these related articles:

Word wizardry for marketing purposes

Galaxy Ripple and other attractive names add weight to the illusion - these are of course far more alluring labels than ‘condensed milk-fat bar produced from a cow separated from her calf

The confectionary aisle of the supermarket is another mysterious world of smoke and mirrors. In some stores it’s almost like walking into a surreal dream and enticing titles such as ‘chocolate melt’ or ‘galaxy ripple’ add weight to the illusion (these are of course far more alluring labels than ‘condensed milk-fat bar’). This wizardry with words plays massively to those who are vulnerable to distraction and the bright colours and decorative boxes that adorn the supermarket aisles are a huge diversion from the shadows of abuse and suffering that lie within the pretty wrapping.

Language use as means of degradation and distancing

This linguistic abuse that animals are forced to endure isn’t restricted to the metonymy employed by the food industry. Farmed animals are generally degraded as lesser beings purely by the fact that we use their names in a derogatory manner. For example by referring to someone as a ‘chicken’ we are automatically denoting chickens as cowardly. Inferiority is thrust onto pigs when we use the term ‘pig’ to accuse someone of being greedy and those with no mind of their own we call ‘sheep.’ We use names like ‘cow’ and ‘bitch’ to disparage someone who is considered unpleasant.

The sad irony is that chickens would be a whole lot braver if they weren’t shoved into factory farms

The usage of language in this manner helps us distance ourselves from the animal which we are abusing. The sad irony is that chickens would be a whole lot braver if they weren’t shoved into factory farms or de-beaked and sheep might display some independence if they weren’t herded about all the time.

For far too long humans have held a hypocritical and schizophrenic relationship with the other beings that inhabit our planet. In our prescribed reality we generally like nothing more than comfort and protection from the harsh realities of life. But what if the tables were turned? Imagine the horror if at birth you were categorized as Soylent Green instead of human!

Conscious eating is all about taking responsibility for what we’re paying farmers to ‘produce’ for us and this hugely depends upon removing the blinders as to what we’re eating and what we’re feeding our children. The truth is hard to hide from when it’s in plain sight; are we ready to acknowledge it? Are we ready to call it by name? 

Emma Gibson

Writer & Reviewer

Like many vegans, I made the transition after a lengthy period of being vegetarian. It was an inevitable evolution and one that I've delighted in for almost two years now. I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed eating so much! Other than writing, my passions are making music, DJing and exploring the magnificence of the great outdoors.