Food Industry Scientists explore the disconnect between eating meat and eating animals.

Published on October 19th, 2016 | by Guest Contributor

1

The Disconnect Between Eating Meat and Eating Animals

by Silje Pileberg, University of Oslo

A new study explores the disconnect between eating meat and eating animals. That cognitive dissonance has led us to eat more and more meat.

Scientists explore the disconnect between eating meat and eating animals.

Participants watched pictures of chicken in different processing stages. Photo illustration: Kunst & Hohle/ UiO

We like eating meat more than the thought of eating animals. Scientists conclude that we choose not to really think about what we eat, because if we do we lose the appetite.

When we eat beef, chicken wings, hot dogs or spaghetti bolognese, we do it in denial. Already by referring to what we eat as “beef” instead of “cow”, we have created a distance between our food and an animal with abilities to think and feel.

Related: The Secret Psychology of Eating Meat

The meat paradox: eating meat and eating animals

“The presentation of meat by the industry influences our willingness to eat it. Our appetite is affected both by what we call the dish we eat and how the meat is presented to us”, says Jonas R. Kunst, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Psychology, University of Oslo.

Kunst and his colleague Sigrid M. Hohle conducted five studies in Norway and the U.S. In the first study, chicken was presented at different processing stages: a whole chicken, drumsticks, and chopped chicken fillets. The scientists measured participants’ associations to the animal, and how much empathy they felt with the animal.

In the second study, participants saw pictures of a roasted pork – one beheaded the other not. The scientists examined their associations to the animal, and to which extent they felt empathy and disgust. They also asked participants whether they wanted to eat the meat or would rather choose a vegetarian alternative.

Participants felt less empathy with the pig without head.

Participants felt less empathy with the pig without head. Photo illustration: Kunst & Hohle/ UiO

“Highly processed meat makes it easier to distance oneself from the idea that it comes from an animal. Participants also felt less empathy with the animal. The same mechanism occurred with the beheaded pork roast. People thought less about it being an animal, they felt less empathy and disgust, and they were less willing to consider a vegetarian alternative.”

In a third study participants saw two advertisements for lamb chops, one with a picture of a living lamb, another without. The picture of the lamb made people less willing to eat the lamb chops. They also felt more empathy with the animal.

An advertisement for lamb chops with and without lamb.

An advertisement for lamb chops with and without lamb. Photo illustration: Kunst & Hohle/ UiO

Supports Zuckerberg and McCartney

Philosophers and animal rights activists have long claimed that we avoid thinking about the animal we eat, and that this reduces the feeling of unease. This mechanism is described by the “disassociation hypothesis”. Celebrities have spoken up for the animals as well. Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, ate only self-slaughtered meat for one year, claiming, “Many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat”. Vegetarian Paul McCartney said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”.

Kunst and Hohle are the first scientists to test the hypothesis empirically, and it gains support from all five studies. We do have a tendency to distance ourselves from the thought of what we actually eat; this reduces discomfort and increases the willingness to eat meat.

Related: Rising Meat Consumption Takes a Bite out of Grain Harvest

In the three first studies, the scientists examined processing stages and presentation. In the next two studies, they investigated the use of words and phrases. They found that replacing “pork” and “beef” in the menu with “pig” and “cow” made people less willing to eat meat. The choice of words also affected feelings of empathy and disgust. Lastly, researchers investigated the effect of using the word «harvest». Traditionally the word has referred to plants, but in the U.S., it is now increasingly replacing words like “slaughtered” or “killed”.  The scientists found a clear effect: When the word «harvest» was used, people felt less empathy with the animal.

Some are more sensitive than others

In total, more than 1000 people participated in the studies, and most of them were meat eaters. For some of them, eating meat was difficult, for others less so. Everyone disassociated meat from animals in their daily lives, but those that spent the most effort on disassociating were more sensitive when the presentations and descriptions of meat changed.

“We did not test whether these sensitive persons ate less meat than others in general. However, we all have a sensitivity in us, but this sensitivity is rarely activated because of the presentation of meat,” said Kunst.

He is not a vegetarian himself, but during these studies, he has become more aware of his meat consumption.

Might reduce meat consumption

In many western cultures people consume more meat than what authorities recommend. High consumption of red or processed meat can increase the risk of several diseases. Reducing meat consumption is also more resource friendly.

“The science results support a line of philosophers and animal rights activists who have said that the way meat is presented and talked about in our culture, makes us consume more of it”, said Kunst.

The results are published in the journal Appetite and might help authorities limit people’s meat consumption.

“For instance, authorities can influence people’s diets by presenting pictures of the animals in meat advertisements or contexts where meat is consumed. However, the will to do this is probably limited, since there are strong financial interests involved,” said Jonas R. Kunst.

Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign up!


Tags: , , , ,


About the Author

is many, many people. We publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. :D



One Response to The Disconnect Between Eating Meat and Eating Animals

  1. Krupa Parekh says:

    As a dietician from Mumbai, India and a vegetarian, I am also firmly of the opinion that just like the other burning issue of global warming, vested interests are at work to stop the world from doing what is truly right and good for the benefit of all of us in the long run!

Back to Top ↑
  • Support our Site!

  • Let’s Connect!

  • Popular Posts & Pages


    Whether you are looking to completely give up animal products or just want to try eating vegan some of the time, we want to support you! Below, you’ll find articles answering some common questions about vegan cooking and nutrition. If you don’t see your question answered below, please get in touch with us! We are happy to investigate for you!

    Find out what's in season now, plus get plenty of recipe inspiration to help you make the most of every season's beautiful, local fare.

    I love infographics. When I came across this one about what, how, and when to plant vegetables, I thought I’d share. Keep reading after the pic for a few of my own lessons learned.

    Top Sustainable Food Jobs of the Week.

    Looking for an all vegan grocery store? Even if you’re not lucky enough to have one in your town, there are lots of online options for vegan grocery shopping.

  • Search the IM Network

  • The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.


Shares