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American children believe that bacon is a plant

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Where does the food we eat come from? The question may seem trivial, but when asked the right people it can yield interesting answers. Take for example this study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and conducted on a sample of American children between the ages of 4 and 7: they were asked to indicate where the food they eat comes from, and what origin a series of foods they consume every day – in particular meat and surroundings.

Disaster! The answers will surprise you, and not necessarily in the positive: a significant percentage of the participants, for example, answered that bacon comes from plants. It is a disastrous situation, but one that could also hide unexpected positive implications.

The study involved a total of 176 children (with 47% girls) living in the southeastern United States. The sample was highly diverse, including children raised in families living below the poverty line and eligible for US government food aid programs. The children were offered two very simple exercises. In the first, they were presented with a list of foods (including cheese, fries, bacon, shrimp and eggs) and were asked to indicate whether they are of animal or vegetable origin; the second instead required that children indicate whether certain animals and plants were edible or not.

Will it be possible to eat? At first glance, the results are terrible: 44% of children indicated cheese as a food of plant origin, 41% said it was about bacon and 40% said about hot dogs. In contrast, 47% of the participants claimed that the chips were of animal origin. There are also problems with edibility: 77% of children believe that cows are inedible, and 73% said it about pigs.

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According to the study authors, the findings reveal an important opportunity. The children’s answers, in fact, indicate an ignorance that is not innate, but induced by what they are told (or not told) by their parents: worried not to disturb them too much with stories of slaughter and suffering, they prefer turns of words that do not they clarify the nature of certain foods and cause confusion.

Let’s take advantage of it! The hypothesis is that if children were educated about it from an early age they could reduce their consumption of meat: according to the authors of the study, many would already do so, if only they knew that what they are eating is of animal origin. Informing the little ones early about the food they eat could help create new generations of citizens who eat less meat and prefer a plant-based diet – and the food transition is one of the many important steps we must take if we are to try to save the planet.

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