Study Shows Children are Unsuspecting Meat-Eaters


When you can’t tell the origins of bacon from a banana; it turns out you’re just an average kid. 

Chicken nuggets aren’t a subspecies of wild berry. Hotdogs don’t grow on trees and bacon doesn’t get plucked out of the ground like carrots – or do they? According to a new study by the Journal of Environmental Psychology children tend to be naïve and unsuspecting meat eaters, often believing the animal components from their meals to be derived directly from plants.

The team conducting the study assessed children’s knowledge of the origins of foods and 44 percent of the 176 participants guessed that cheese originally came from plants, while 41 percent of the children believed that bacon grows on plants, and 40 percent thought hot dogs grow on plants. Chicken nuggets, which seem rather difficult to miscategorise even for a small child, were misidentified as coming from plants 38 percent of the time.

Additionally the children were questioned about what foods can and can’t be eaten by people, which revealed more absurdity and confusion: 77 percent for cows, 73 percent for pigs and 65 for chicken believed that these animals are inedible. Five percent believed that cats are a type of food.

Activism begins at the dinner table

Part of the poor knowledge with regards to food sources could be due to parents withholding information about where animal products come from. It may simply be that revealing details regarding certain food origins are deemed as difficult or inconvenient topics of discussion.

Adults tend to build up an arsenal of strategies to justify the consumption of animals, but the emotions that may come from disclosing that the meat on the plate was once a living, conscious, pain-feeling lifeform makes it easier to communicate in euphemistic terms or avoid the issue altogether with children.  As a result many kids eat meat unknowingly, perhaps in violation of a bias against animals as food, and has a lasting if not life-long impact on their eating habits, precepts about ethical consumption, and misconstrued beliefs about healthy nutrition. As the Jesuits said; give me the child and I shall give you the man.

Young people tend to start out by placing a high value on animal lives, especially mammals, but as they grow up those values begin to decline in favour of years of ingrained food habits. Once we reach adolescence the automaticity of our food choices are almost seamless and thoughtless.

Replacing meat is one of the most powerful ways an individual can reduce their carbon footprint and if food consumption is conveyed in tactfully descriptive terms, encompassing ethics and the environment, then their dietary practices may change for life. One way to discourage people from eating sausage is by showing them how it gets made and the study shows that providing plant-based meat alternatives children may gravitate towards plant-rich cuisines. It may be wishful thinking, but principled behaviour by children may also lead to question and conversely impact the food choices made by their parents.

More than just a humorous reflection, this study demonstrates that our disconnect from our food system and indeed animal suffering is cultivated from an early age. In our society we are well, and some might say intentionally, insulated from where our animal food products come from.

Watching an animal being slaughtered is a reliable method for producing more plant-based eaters. Ask yourself the following: If you see a lamb is your natural instinct to bite into it? Even when you see a raw lamb chop, one still doesn’t want to eat it. Only once seasoned and cooked does it become appealing – and then only as an otherwise nondescript piece of food.

In recent weeks the arrival of a ship containing 19,000 heads of cattle in the port of Cape Town, en route from Brazil to Iran, caused a major furor and public outrage due to the stench and horrific living conditions of the animals on board. It provoked a potent, visceral reaction in an uncommon scenario where meat consumers were confronted starkly with the realities of animal agriculture. Unfortunately for the animals; it may take just such a jarring and even traumatic experience to drive certain adults into shifting their dietary orthodoxy and re-examining their own food habits.

In defence of rural communities there may sometimes be limited nutritional options, but for urbanised populations, there are usually a variety of choices. Questioning our diets as adults isn’t easy, and so is transformation, but for those who want to try it ProVeg South Africa offers their ProVeg Veggie Challenge along with an App to help guide anyone through their first month of plant-based eating.


Media Contact

ProVeg South Africa – Wikus Engelbrecht – Communications Manager:; +27 64 172 0120

About ProVeg South Africa:

ProVeg South Africa is the local branch of ProVeg International. ProVeg is an international food awareness organisation working to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives.

ProVeg works with international decision-making bodies, governments, food producers, investors, the media, and the general public to help the world transition to a society and economy that are less dependent on animal agriculture and more sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet.