Vegan Foods

Up to the age of 11, children are less likely than adults to see animals as food, study finds

When is this belief that some animals should be loved and treated well while others should be killed for food? A new study reveals that this age is around 11 years old. Led by researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK, the study was published this month in Social psychology and personality sciences and examined how attitudes regarding identifying some animals as food and others as pets or companions change from childhood to adulthood.

Researchers interviewed 479 people across samples of children (9 to 11 years old), young adults (18 to 21 years old) and adults (29 to 59 years old) to examine how their beliefs about the value of an animal depended on their species and how they felt the animal is generally treated and how it should be treated. The researchers found that the children’s group was less likely to classify animals according to species according to a moral hierarchy (from pets to food). The children also believed that the pigs should be treated better than the adult group believed.

The researchers believe these findings may help shed light on the fact that our conceptualization of animals as food is formed as we mature into adulthood, giving way to a change in perception during the formative years. “Our findings suggest that we need to think about how we talk to children about humans’ relationship with nonhuman animals,” lead author Luke McGuire, PhD, said in a statement. “Children are motivated to consider harms against the natural world, including animals, and as such we might consider starting these discussions about dietary decisions early in life.”

Cognitive dissonance and animal food

For adults who have solidified their opinions about which animals are food and which are companions, cognitive dissonance is a mental process that bridges the gap between loving animals and eating them. However, he is not impenetrable.

In 2017, KFC aired a commercial featuring live, relatable chickens dancing to the tune of “X Gon ‘Give It To Ya” by the late rapper DMX. The ad intended to entice viewers to order the parts of the bird that KFC was “giving” them, but instead people took to Twitter in outrage, expressing their disgust at the idea of ​​linking the living bird and wings, thighs and breasts. at KFC.

Similarly, in 2016, a photo of a nipple still attached to a slice of bacon went viral after a woman from Burlington, WI shared it on Facebook. Commentators expressed distaste for the bacon strip, with many acknowledging that seeing the nipple put things in perspective. “That moment of cognitive dissonance where you realize the food you’re eating was once a living creature,” one commenter said. “What a concept.”


In addition to the University of Exeter study, there has been other research into these disconnects in thinking, including a 2017 survey by the non-profit think tank Sentience Institute. Here, the researchers asked a representative sample of 1,094 questions about their attitudes towards animal husbandry and found that almost half of the participants (47%) wanted slaughterhouses banned, 33% favored a ban on all animal husbandry and 69% identified animal husbandry as one of the most important social issues in the world today.

However, most of these people continued to regularly consume animal products. Notably, 58% of participants believed that “most farm animals are treated well” despite the fact that 99% of food animals live on factory farms, the squalid conditions of which have been exposed for decades by secret investigations. This illustrates that animal agriculture lobbies have had great success in stoking cognitive dissonance in the general public, convincing them that animals raised for food are treated well and that it is morally permissible to eat them.

Flip script on speciesism

The most recent study points to the fact that humans are capable of so-called “moral acrobatics,” or situations that seem contradictory that we simultaneously hold to be true. In a construct known as “speciesism,” we may treat some animals as well as we treat children (like cats and dogs) while supporting the mistreatment of others (like pigs, chickens, and cows, whom we know to be very intelligent).


Having found that the formation of these categories is quite malleable in early life, McGuire suggests that examining the development of speciesism in adolescence can be beneficial in addressing the climate crisis, much of which is fueled by animal agriculture. “As with all social psychological processes, it’s worth taking a step back to determine where these attitudes and cognitions come from,” McGuire said. “Critically examining our relationship with animals should be a primary goal in the fight against climate change and that begins in childhood.”

For more on the psychology of eating animals, read:
Oxford professor develops bacon-flavored patch to help people go vegan
79 percent of German vegans refuse to date meat eaters
Researchers link meat consumption to sexism

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