Dr. Melanie Joy is one of the most recognized and respected advocates in the global vegan movement. Author of three books (so far) that have become key to the movement’s growth and development, she is also the founder of Beyond Carnism, the organization committed to exposing and transforming the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals; and is co-founder with Tobias Leenaert of CEVA, the Centre for Effective Vegan Advocacy.
However, the next 12 months will see another three books come out. Here, she gives Plant Based News exclusive insight into why she wrote these new publications, and her hope for what they might achieve. Interestingly, for building alliances with people and organizations outside the vegan movement, two of them are not aimed at vegans at all.
Psychology of Power
“I’m really excited about the new books,” Dr. Joy said from her hotel in Los Angeles last week. “The first one that’s coming out in September is called The Psychology of Power: Understanding the Hidden Principles of Oppression for Social Transformation. It’s not a book that’s written for vegans, it’s written for everybody who’s interested in bringing about positive social transformation, to recognise the structural commonalities among all forms of oppression, carnism, sexism, racism, etc.
“My hope is that it will help unite activists across different social causes, and provide some tools for working for social transformation. It’s trying to encourage more relationality and more unity.”
Relationality – or rather the lack of relational skills – is one of, if not the, critical issue leading to so many of the world’s current problems, says Dr. Joy, the Harvard-educated psychologist.
“I very deeply believe that a key issue causing the problems we’re experiencing in the world today is a lack of relationality, a lack of relational literacy,” she explained. “That’s why two of these books coming out this year aren’t for vegan audiences, but for everyone, to encourage a shift of consciousness towards more relationality and compassion.”
Getting Relationships Right
The second book is called Getting Relationships Right.
“When I wrote Beyond Beliefs,” she said, a book very much about improving relationships as vegans, “I knew I was writing two books. And so it became two, with Getting Relationships Right. It has the same principles that you read in Beyond Beliefs, but it’s for people in all kinds of relationships, you know, such as Republican/Democrat, Introvert/Extrovert, and not even people who are struggling with differences but maybe even those who are similar but can’t quite get across to each other their own versions of the same belief.”
For those in the vegan movement, the principles of Beyond Beliefs – about building relational skills to be open to working through difficulties – has been a long time coming. It is highly likely that every vegan has, at some point, struggled with the impact of their decision to practice veganism with a family member, friend, or partner. Indeed, only last week, this was the problem hitting the pages of The Guardian’s agony aunt column.
So why did it take so long for someone to write this essential book?
The movement is still young
“I guess it’s because the movement is still fairly young,” she said. “Having worked in these two worlds, in the worlds of relationships and world of veganism, there’s still a lot of evolving consciousness in both worlds. It’s something I’ve wanted to write and address for a long time before I did it, just because I was at capacity with my work.
“But, relationship literacy among the general public is pretty low anyway. Most of us learn complicated geometry which we’ll never use in our lives, but none of us get a single lesson at school on how to relate. And that’s an indication that the culture is still relationally very uneducated, or I should say unaware.
“So in both areas, in veganism and in the space of relationships, there isn’t enough conversation about relationality happening yet, so I’m not surprised there hadn’t been someone who had merged them already. For me, to do so, it was a natural fit.”
Joy was for many years a relationship coach, but she had ‘put that on the backburner for a while’ to concentrate on veganism. And now she is intent on broadening out those messages to the wider public – with the hope, of course, that such new relational skills for non-vegans will help them accept, work with, and perhaps come to understand more the vegan worldview. (Quick, someone pre-order Piers Morgan a copy.)
Relationality for everyone
“My hope is that these two new books bring this message and thinking about healthy relationality to everyone,” said Dr. Joy. “If you look at the problems in the world, it is how we relate that is at the heart of why they remain unsolved. All the big problems we have reflect relational dysfunction. My goal is to raise awareness outside of the vegan movement about healthy relationality, and hopefully pull people into or toward the vegan movement who haven’t been exposed to the conversations around veganism.”
A third book is also coming out this year dealing with oppression in the vegan movement.
Four books in an 18 month period is an incredible output. And as any author knows, writing them is almost the easy part these days. The hard part is getting them into the hands of readers.
“If I could clone myself I would!” she agreed. She is unsatisfied that Beyond Beliefs has not reached more people than it has. “What a normal author would do is write a book and do nothing other than promote that book, to ensure the book reaches the people it needs to reach. I did not do that, because in the process of writing Beyond Beliefs I was also working on these other books that emerged from the same brain burp that led to Beyond Beliefs.
“But the good news is that there is soon to be four books. But Beyond Beliefs has not reached perhaps even two percent of the demographic it needs to reached. And that’s heart-breaking for me because I know there are people who it needs to reach who can be helped.”
Joy enjoys the writing process. The opening of Beyond Beliefs is a wonderfully flowing piece of narrative storytelling, and foregrounds Joy’s experience and ability to help people see a conflict from all sides. It resonated with the famous Fable for Tomorrow that opens Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and which prompted so much action on environmental issues back in the 1960s. Did Joy write it like that purposefully?
“It is my favourite part of the writing process,” she said. “My dream is to have my next book be a fiction, to use narrative to raise awareness. I was always much more interested in creative writing.”
But that isn’t to say her nonfiction work is not effective. It is. And the next book to be released, The Psychology of Power, is aimed at transformation of not only individuals but institutions – including vegan and animal rights organizations that have had the spotlight rightly shone on them for exploitative practices amongst their mainly white, male leadership.
“In the new book,” explained Dr. Joy, “I really ask: what is the meta system that gives rise to all the other -isms? In the vegan movement, there are high rates of trauma among activists, and unaddressed and unrecognized secondary traumatic stress causes a lot of problems. A lot of these vegan organizations are structured in a way to support healthy relational functions, but some are not. If you have a person in that organization who is problematic, you’re going to have problems. It’s a question of how many problems we have, and how we relate to them.”
Dr. Joy’s work in the next few years then is using these books and the lessons they contain to help create a transformation in the way we relate to others – a re-education of our relationship abilities as the most effective way to help all animals, including ourselves.
“I believe so deeply in the need for education to integrate really important changes, such as relationality,” said Dr. Joy, finishing up, “and the skills we know that are central to creating a better world for all beings.”
This is Part 2 of a two-part interview. Part 1 explored how Dr. Melanie Joy’s advocacy work focusses on asking people to be ‘as vegan as possible’ to build a more inclusive and resilient movement. You can read that here