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Your Burger Will Taste Better If You Think the Cow Had a Happy Life

New research from Northeastern University suggests that beliefs about how an animal was raised influences enjoyment of eating meat.
August 26, 2016, 12:00pm

Everyone's got one of those friends who won't even look at a piece of meat if they don't know the animal's full CV. Where did you buy it? How many air miles has it travelled? Is it certified organic? Around these types, it's easy to wonder whether that Portlandia chicken farm sketch was actually based on a true story.

But according to new research from Northeastern University, the heightened enjoyment we feel from knowing our burger had a happy former life roaming in green pastures could all be in our heads.

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The research, which was published this week in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, found that beliefs surrounding the kind of farm on which an animal was raised influenced how participants reported the look, smell, and taste of the meat.

READ MORE: Why Mega Farms Might Not Always Be Bad for Animal Welfare

Participants in the study were told that two identical pieces of beef jerky they consumed came from different farms. One was labelled as originating from a "humane farm," described as one "where animals lived freely, grazing outdoors," and the other from a "factory farm" in which "animals were more like prisoners, confined to indoor pens."

The findings showed that across categories of appearance, taste, smell, and overall enjoyment, the "factory farm" beef jerky was consistently ranked as more unpleasant.

Yep, we're all that basic.

A similar experiment was also carried out by the researchers with roast beef, introducing a control sample of meat that did not come with any information on how the animal was raised. The control sample and the humane farm-labelled meat were equally liked.

Psychology professor and lead author, Lisa Barrett said in a press release that their findings showed something different to the original hypothesis that labelling meat as humane improves its appeal.

She said: "What we found instead is that explic­itly labeling some­thing as fac­tory farmed harms the per­cep­tual qual­i­ties of the food."

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So, basically don't tell your mates they you're serving them the value stuff next time they're round for dinner.

The final experiment of the study asked participants to comment on the flavour profiles of differently labelled deli ham. Researchers found that "par­tic­i­pants reported that fac­tory farmed ham tasted saltier, greasier, and less fresh than humanely raised ham."

READ MORE: Why Is This Supermarket Using Fictional British Farms to Sell Food?

The Northeastern researchers' study isn't the first to show how susceptible we are to the power of marketing. Chances are you'll fall into the same trap with expensive wine, eco-labelling, and "healthy" foods that are actually more likely to clog up your arteries than give you any kind of glow.

Barrett warned: "We show that what you feel very directly influ­ences not only how you inter­pret what you see but also very lit­er­ally what you see."

The moral of the story? Look beyond the green pastures on the packaging.