Denial can become commonplace when the truth of a situation is beyond what the typical individual is able to comprehend. An example that illustrates this point is the animal abuse and suffering that occurs on industrialized farms. Society as a whole suffers from the denial of these extreme acts of cruelty and as a result continues to consume goods produced by these farms. This denial facilitates the continued sale of meat and contributes to fewer people leading a vegetarian lifestyle.
Cohen defines denial as “the maintenance of social worlds in which undesirable situation (event, condition, phenomenon) is unrecognized, ignored or made to seem normal” in his book States of Denial, Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. The practices of industrialized farmers to increase profit by increasing the amount of meat that they produce through raising the animals in dismal living conditions then falls into the category of an undesirable phenomenon. Increasing profit at the expense of the an animal’s ability to lead a healthy long life is accomplished in a variety of ways including: decreasing the amount of space in which each animal lives as much as physically possible, injecting the animals with growth hormones to reach maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, and impairing the animals (example: teeth clipping and tail docking of pigs so they don’t hurt each other). These are not the images the people want to conjure when eating the meat that they purchased from their local market-instead they choose to deny that these events ever occurred so they will be able to enjoy their meat guilt free.
Cohen describes this level of denial as cultural because the whole of society slips into a state of denial without provocation from public sanctions or other methods of control. A society accomplishes this extensive denial through use of a specific, shared vocabulary used to normalize the undesirable phenomenon. In industrialized farming, this shared vocabulary is represented by the names given to the animal when it is butchered and sold as meat. For example, a cow becomes T-bone steak, tenderloin, chuck, etc. and a pig becomes sausage, ham, spare ribs, bacon, etc.
If society did not exist in this state of denial and considered the repercussions of factory farming for meat, then more people would likely become vegetarian. Perhaps if the conditions in which the animal was raised were on the forefront of the consumer’s mind when purchasing meat, the consumer would opt not to buy meat.
Sources: A Sociology of Food & Nutrition: The Social Appetite by John Germov & Lauren Williams