According to a new survey, many American kindergarteners believe that bacon is made from plants and not from pigs.
This fundamental misunderstanding seems to also extend to cheese, hot dog, chicken nuggets and shrimp, which all were considered plant-based by a large number of children surveyed.
Researchers tested 176 children between 4 and 7 years old in the United States. They found that they had "pervasive errors" in their food knowledge.
The most misunderstood category was meat, but there were also confusion over vegetables like deep-fried potatoes. Nearly half of the participants sorted french fries in the "animal-based" category and 41 percent placed bacon into the "vegetable-based" category.
The authors point out that one reason children might lack basic knowledge about food is that they have not been exposed to the process of food growing.
"With fewer and fewer Americans farming, the United States has seen a decline in the number of children who are raised on farms."
The US's meat consumption has reached an all-time high. In 2018, the average American ate more than 200 pounds of red and poultry.
It is surprising that so little research has been done on children's knowledge of food origins. Some past research shows that young children have limited knowledge about food production, particularly for foods that are quite different from the original ingredients.
For example, in 2014, a large survey conducted across the United Kingdom revealed that a third of children aged 5-8 didn't know how bread, cheese, and pasta were made.
There's another reason. It is possible for parents to be reluctant or obtuse about telling their children what animal products are on their plates.
The current study explains that parents may withhold information about animal slaughter to protect their children's innocence.
It can be difficult to convey information to children, such as telling them that a hamburger is made from cows. According to the authors, a child might believe that a cow makes hamburgers in the same way as a tree makes apples. A child might not be able to understand why milk comes from cows even if they hear it.
This may sound absurd to adults, but a 2003 study of kindergarteners found that most did not know meat was flesh from dead animals. Some children did not know that flesh is harvested from natural deaths.
The authors conclude that these results show that children may not be familiar with meat.
"Failing to understand how animals and meat interact may lead to early dietary choices that have serious environmental consequences, especially if they are resistant to change later in the life.
Researchers conducted similar surveys with 78 children aged 6 to 7, and found that these slightly older children were better at categorizing foods into 'animal-based or 'plant based' categories than the 4- to 5 year-olds.
This indicates that children's knowledge of food improves between the ages 4 and 7. However, older children still don't seem to understand the concept of animals as edible foods.
Two-thirds of the younger children incorrectly classified cows and pigs as "not okay to eat" when they were asked by the survey participants to categorize foods as either "OK or not OK to consume". These children may not be aware that pork and beef are made from these animals.
Researchers believe that young people start to place a high value upon mammal life, but as they get older, these values shift towards food.
If we can find a way to communicate food ethically and environmentally to children, it could make a huge difference in how they eat throughout their lives.
This is vital, because replacing meat is one the best ways to reduce carbon footprint.
To understand this, children must know where their food comes from. There is a lot to be done in this area.
The Journal of Environmental Psychology published the study.