Is Meat-Eating Addictive? This 12-Step Program Says Yes

Is Meat-Eating Addictive? This 12-Step Program Says Yes

Whether you come to the vegetarian or vegan diet by way of health, environmental, or ethical concerns, it’s not uncommon to find yourself tempted by animal foods. The recently launched Carnivores Anonymous support group, with meetings currently occurring in southern California, aims to keep people meeting their plant-based goals.

Carnivores Anonymous was founded by Marilyn Kroplick M.D., president of the thirty-year-old In Defense of Animals, an international nonprofit animal protection organization with more than 250,000 supporters worldwide. IDA has worked on numerous animal rights issues including laboratory animal rescue missions, shutting down exploitive puppy mills, and the group also runs extensive rehabilitation efforts through its sanctuaries.

The group calls on the same 12-step program used in other addiction recovery programs, working through accepting the addiction, making amends, and supporting others on the same path.

I caught up with Kroplick via email to discuss the group’s recent foray into taking the 12-step approach to meat-eating.

[This article is edited for length and clarity.]

Jill Ettinger: Where did the idea come from to treat meat-eating like an addiction? Is meat addictive? I mean, alcohol wrecks lives—it literally kills people. Is it fair to put meat in the same light?

Marilyn Kroplick: A study published in Psychology Today found that 84% of people who try to ditch animal products go back to them. Clearly, we need more support for people who want to live full, healthy lives.

Animal products have addictive effects and pose a serious risk to our health. People who eat animal products are at increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Scientists, dietitians and health professionals are only now beginning to discover the extent of the harm that meat, dairy and other animal products cause to humans. Carnivores Anonymous was formed in the model of Overeaters Anonymous to support people to overcome addiction to animal products and gain a healthful way of living.

The World Health Organization has classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, giving it the same cancer-causing potential as tobacco smoking and asbestos. Most processed foods containing animal products are hyper-palatables, meaning they are high in sugar, fat or salt (usually all three) that stimulate endorphins in the brain, making them chemically addictive.

A recent study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine highlighted the shared characteristics between consumption of highly processed foods and drug abuse.

JE: Can you walk me through what a Carnivores Anonymous meeting looks like? I know AA meetings can get pretty emotional for people. Is there an emotional aspect to giving up animal products? For example, does the guilt of eating animals factor into the equation? If so, for how many people?

MK: Carnivores Anonymous meetings follow along the same format of all 12-step programs. Participants introduce themselves by first name and admit that we are all recovering carnivores. We then recite the Serenity prayer and read through the 12 steps together. From there we discuss our recent struggles and invite a featured speaker to tell their story. In our first Carnivores Anonymous meeting held on July 24, our speaker [television journalist, author, and vegan Jane Velez Mitchell] kindly agreed to be recorded for our first meeting, you can view her story here.

There is indeed an emotional aspect to overcoming addiction to animal products as well as food addiction in general. Some people may experience withdrawal symptoms, others struggle with the empathy they feel for the animals they eat, and many struggle with uncooperative or belligerent family members or spouses.

Our main goal of Carnivores Anonymous is to help these people to provide specialized support in the healthy lifestyle they are trying to lead and to bridge the gap between vegans and non-vegans teaching to reach out to each other with compassion in a non-judgmental way.

JE:  What is the biggest challenge for meat-eaters looking to go more plant-based?

MK: Members work through and overcome their own personal challenges with the support of the Carnivores Anonymous group, the 12 Steps, and their sponsor. On a societal level, the biggest challenge to overcome is the social conditioning. Years of government-funded advertisements have convinced us of the false claim that animal products are necessary for a healthy diet. Doctors, most who have little or no nutritional training, instruct their patients to consume animal products not knowing they are harmful for health and completely unnecessary when nutritional requirements can be easily met through a plant-based whole-foods diet. This is compounded by powerful addiction to processed hyper-palatable food, and very low awareness of food addiction, making it very challenging to break out of the social norm.

JE:  What’s the biggest result people see once they shift to a plant-based diet?

MK: Within the first two weeks, people who eat a plant-based diet start seeing improvements in their health. High blood pressure begins to decrease and stabilize, cholesterol in arteries starts to break down, blood sugar evens out. Members report having more energy, clearer skin, and regular bowel movements. These are just some of the benefits to removing harmful animal products from one’s diet. In the longer-term, those on a plant-based diet enjoy lessened symptoms and even reversal of health complaints, reduced risk of further disease, and a longer, healthier life.

JE: I know you just had a meeting last month. How did that go? What’s the response been like?

MK: The first Carnivores Anonymous meeting was a big success. The group was a blend of members interested in going plant-based, others that had just started eating plant-based, and plant-based veterans. All participants brought something to the table, whether it be our current struggles with people around us, the health improvements they were starting to see, or sharing strategies to help us succeed.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.