Hey, thank you! And great question.
Personally I use carnist and omnivore a little differently…I use carnist to refer to people who are aware of the damage caused by consuming animal products but choose to do so anyway…carnism is just the idea that animals are here for us to use however we want and that it’s completely fine to cause them unnecessary suffering as long as we’re getting something out of it.
I use omnivore to refer to someone who may just not be aware of what they’re supporting, or someone who is not in a situation where they can go vegan or vegetarian, like someone who is dependent on family for food but their family won’t let them be vegan, or someone with an eating disorder who may be set back in their recovery by any dietary restrictions, that sort of thing. There are lots of people who can’t be vegan but who would still like to do whatever they can for animals…people can still do other things like not wear wool and leather, not use animal tested products, not go to zoos and aquariums and whatnot but sometimes there are reasons why people still need to eat animal products and I wouldn’t call that person a carnist. They might still have their mindset in the right place but there are extenuating circumstances preventing them from being vegan. I hope that makes sense!
As for the history of the word “carnism”, I have no idea honestly! Any of my followers feel free to chime in if you know anything on that.
I believe Melanie Joy coined the term. She talks about it in her presentation, Carnism: The Psychology of Eating Meat.
I’ve been wondering recently, though, what the importance of having the word carnist is when we already have the word speciesist. Carnism is basically just focusing on speciesism as it relates to what we eat, and ignores everything else. What is the benefit in that?
She tries focusing on the beliefs behind the diets, but doesn’t address the fact that there is a speciesist belief system behind both carnism and vegetarianism. Also, someone can still be 100% a carnist, but still not eat meat for various reasons (eg, health, environment), while still believing that it would perfectly fine if their non-speciesist reasons stopped applying (eg, they end their diet, or they find affordable organic meat). On the other hand, like you mentioned, someone can completely support the philosophy of veganism, but still be forced to eat meat because of their circumstances. In other words, there’s not always a direct link between the belief and the diet.
This is also the reason I’m against trying to tell someone they can’t call themselves vegan if they believe in the philosophy of veganism but have barriers from participating in a pre-set list of actions. We all participate in speciesism to some degree because of how our society is completely built on top of it, so our goal should be to reduce our participation in it as far as is practical and possible. What is practical and possible, however, varies by individual, and is often caught up in other forms of oppression.
Veganism is a philosophy. Your family can’t prevent you from believing that speciesism is wrong. They can force you to participate in it, but that doesn’t change your beliefs and I don’t think someone should be told that they aren’t vegan because of something completely out of their control. We talk about this more at the anti-speciesism blog, too.
Basically, if you are against speciesism and the exploitation of non-humans by humans, and believe that we should not participate in it to the extent that we are able, then you agree with the philosophy of veganism and can call yourself a vegan. If you do not agree with that, and you think it is fine to exploit nonhumans and put their rights below humans’, then you are a speciesist. Whether you eat meat or not, or even if you eat an entirely plant-based diet, is irrelevant. I don’t really see a place for carnism in this perspective.
^ All of that.
Also the heavy focus specifically on the consumption of flesh (since “carn” means flesh) implies that unnecessarily eating an animal is the only immoral act that someone could participate in. It’s a fancier way to call someone a meat-eater. It’s problematic for vegans to use because of that specific meaning, and really only makes sense for vegetarians to use. It also equates vegetarians (someone against killing animals) with vegans (someone against the marginalization of animals which of course includes an opposition to all exploitation and killing).