Most People Really Don't Want To Think About Where Their Meat Comes From

Researchers have finally begun testing animal rights activists' claims that most people are only able to eat meat by dissociating themselves from the animal. It's been hypothesized that we say beef instead of cow and pork instead of pig, because too many humans can only stomach ingesting meat if they do not associate it with a living creature. Researchers testing the hypothesis empirically say that, according to their data, these philosophers are mostly correct.

Jonas Kunst and Sigrid M. Hohle, of Oslo University in Norway, conducted five experiments to see if people really do not like to consider where their meat comes from. They ended up examining more than 1,000 different people and their reaction to various presentations of meat, according to Medical News Today.

In the first experiment, the researchers presented the study participants with chicken at various stages of processing. People were presented with a whole chicken, chopped chicken fillets, and chicken drumsticks. They tested to see how the participants associated with the chicken and how far they managed to empathize with the bird.

In the second experiment, the study participants were shown images of a roasted pig, both with and without its head on. The researchers measured their association with the pig as well as their feelings of disgust and empathy. After that, they asked whether the test subjects would prefer one of two dishes: A meat-based dish and a vegetarian dish.

The third experiment involved two advertisements for lamb chops. One ad used a living lamb, while the other did not. The advertisement with the live lamb left fewer people wanting to eat lamb chops and more people feeling empathy towards the animal.

The next experiment altered a restaurant menu to use the words "pig" and "cow." The authors of the study found that when the term for the animal, rather than for the animal's meat was used, people were less willing to choose that meat. The altered menu invoked words usually associated with disgust and empathy the researchers said.

The fifth study, the researchers discovered that using the word "harvest" instead of either the word "slaughtered" or "killed." The researchers speculated that the term harvest is more associated with a plant, rather than a living animal.

With the information learned by studying the behavior of the 1,000 test subjects, the researchers concluded that processing meat actually reduces people's empathy towards the animals they eat. The processing allows people to remove themselves from the idea that the food they are eating is actually the remains of an animal. They found that the less recognizable the meat was, the less empathy they felt and the less disgusted they felt. The less they associated the meat with the animal it was from, the more willing people were to eat that meat, Science Daily reported.

It should be noted that most of the participants in the study were meat eaters and all were already in the habit of disassociating meat from the animals it came from. However, some of the participants found it harder to disassociate the meat from the animals than others and the studied made it even more difficult. One thing that the researchers didn't examine was whether the people included in the study that had a harder time disassociating meat from the animal were normally less likely to eat meat than the other participants.

"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."
Lead author Jonas Kunst told Medical News Today that he is not a vegetarian, but having conducted the five experiments, he has found that he has an increased awareness of his meat eating. In a strange twist, Kunst said that the research could be used in public health. See, in countries where people eat more meat than health experts suggest, he says that the findings could be used to lower diseases. He suggested that these countries could use photos of animals in advertisements in order to reduce sales and 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," a press release stated.

Kunst went so far as to suggest regulators could step in to affect a nation's meat consumption for improved national health and better resource conservation.

"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."
The results of the experiments were published in the journal Appetite.

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