That childhood naivety could be an opportunity to fight climate change, the paper suggests.

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Kids can be notoriously picky eaters, but a new study suggests that their culinary knowledge may not be refined enough to match their discerning palates. Over two-thirds of the youngsters involved in the research believed that bacon didn't come from an animal, but instead came from some sort of mythical bacon plant.

A study recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology asked 176 American children from the ages of four to seven years old to, among other things, sort 13 foods by their origins: either plant-based or animal-based. Though some level of error was inevitable when dealing with such young participants, the results are eye-opening.

Sizzling hot bacon pieces in a cast iron skillet
Credit: Veselova Elena / Getty Images

Only about 16 percent misidentified the origins of an apple: the most correctly identified food of the bunch. Things went downhill from there. "All animal-based foods — with the sole exception of milk — were sorted incorrectly by at least 30 percent of children," the paper states. "With respect to meats, the percent of children claiming that hamburgers, hot dogs, and bacon come from plants ranged from 36 percent to 41 percent. Even chicken nuggets, a food that has an animal in its name, were categorized as a plant-based food by more than a third of the children in our sample."

In general, the children did a bit better identifying plant-derived foods: After apples, carrots had the second most correctly identified origins. However, French fries were a major exception: The potato-based dish was actually the item with the most misidentified background: over 46 percent of the kids said it was animal-based.

Additionally, as a second task, the children were asked about what is and isn't edible, and once again, the results were seen as surprising: Cows, pigs, and chickens were sorted as inedible approximately 77, 73, and 66 percent of the time respectively, a level deemed higher than simple chance.

In the end, the researchers' primary takeaway was that since most young children misidentify that what they are eating anyway, it could present an opportunity to address climate change. "Unlike adults who have built up an arsenal of strategies to justify the consumption of animals, children appear to be naïve meat eaters," the authors, all of whom are from Furman University, write. "The current study suggests that children eat meat unknowingly, and perhaps in violation of a bias against animals as a food source. Childhood may therefore represent a unique window of opportunity during which lifelong plant-based diets can be more easily established compared to later in life."

And to be fair, the kids aren't all wrong. They're growing up in a world with plant-based everything, including bacon.

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