The Frontal Cortex

Do you scoff at those pale Tofu dogs in the health food aisles of the supermarket? Are you one of those people who taunt vegans by talking about Big Macs? A new study suggests that you should think about biting your tongue: According to the researchers, how we feel about a sausage, regardless of whether it’s soy-based or beef, says more about our personal values than about what the sausage actually tastes like. In fact, most people can’t even tell the difference between an ersatz vegan sausage and the real thing. (It should be noted, though, that not all vegan products are equally deceptive: a soy hot dog, in contrast, only fooled 37 percent of subjects. And I’m guessing the soy ice cream fooled nobody.)

The clever experiment went like this: a large group of people were given a “human values” test which seeks to measure fifty six different values (loyalty, ambition, social order, etc.) Then, the subjects were asked to rate a variety of sausages. People who scored high on “social authority” – they believed it was important to support people in power – tended to label the “vegetarian” sausage as inferior, even when the vegetarian sausage was actually from a cow. Likewise, people who scored low on “social power values” tended to score the vegan sausage much higher than the beef sausage, even when they were actually eating meat. Instead of judging the food product on its merits, they ended up preferring the product that more closely conformed to their value system. The scientists also conducted a similar experiment with Pepsi. Sure enough, people who fit the Pepsi demographic – they think having an “exciting life” is very important – always preferred Pepsi, even when they were actually drinking a generic cola.

This research conforms to a growing body of evidence suggesting that our gustatory preferences are an incredibly subjective thing.

Via Mind Hacks

Comments

  1. #1 Will
    July 28, 2008

    I am a little insulted that the author of this post assumes that the reader is not vegetarian.

  2. #2 Jonah
    July 28, 2008

    Don’t be offended: I’m basically a defacto vegetarian, if only because it’s rather hard for me to buy humanely raised meat on a regular basis.

  3. #3 rm dustin
    July 28, 2008

    I’ve been playing quite a bit lately with the subjective versus objective realms with regard to our customers. We own a wine shop. In our state, no two distributors can carry the same wine, so we have 25 of them. Their sales people come at us in waves touting ratings and awards. I’ve whittled them down to 3 that we mostly buy from under the premise that everyone has good juice and everyone has bad. The art is in the sell and as I constantly tell my wife and partner… we don’t sell wine, we sell religion. My bookkeeping has decreased exponentially.

  4. #4 David
    July 28, 2008

    Actually, soy ice cream can be fantastic, and seemed quite deceptive to me. As a vegan, I obviously have some subjective influences (except that I’m allergic to soy milk, which means that actually eating soy ice cream causes my throat to seal), but it is quite good in my limited experience.

  5. #5 Rick Pikul
    July 28, 2008

    Well, for some of us there is definitely a taste difference, give my reaction to biting into the vegan alternative when I expected the real thing.

    (As for Pepsi, if you can’t tell the difference I have to wonder about your sense of taste.)

  6. #6 Jérôme ^
    July 28, 2008

    It’s quite normal that sausages are a difficult product to sort into meat and soy classes – even meat sausages are full of refuse anyways, and the more processed a food is, the most refuse is in it, all the way from the duck magret to the frankfurter, with shredded steack somewhere in the middle.

    But then, the fact I’m writing this is probably only telling something about my French “no junk food, ever!” agrarian value system. :-)

  7. #7 Julie Stahlhut
    July 28, 2008

    The taste of sausages comes pretty much from the flavorings, not the meat, so if the texture is close enough, it works pretty well.

    I love really good soy based ice cream substitutes (Tofutti is my favorite.) There are some very poor ones out there, though. For example, “It’s Soy Delicious” is only 50% right.

  8. #8 Ian
    July 28, 2008

    Did they actually ask people about their dietary preferences before this test? If not, I feel sorry if there were vegetarians present who were tricked into at least trying the real sausages.

  9. #9 OftenWrongTed
    July 28, 2008

    After reading IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, (Michael Pollan, isbn: 1594201455), the number of added ingredients, ( more than five), signals the need to more closely examine both vegan and animal based products available for purchase locally. In general the vegan foods have less added stuff than the parallel animal product, but not always.

  10. #10 rg
    July 28, 2008

    My wife tried to slip me a vegetarian sausage the other day claiming it was beef and I literally spit it out. I’m very particular about my sausages though…

  11. #11 Rachael
    July 28, 2008

    >Actually, soy ice cream can be fantastic, and seemed quite deceptive to me.

    Sorry, Dave, I gotta agree with Jonah here. Perhaps there’s a good brand I haven’t tried yet?

    I think most meat-substitutes give vegetarian fare a bad name (if I have to hear one more tofurkey joke…). Most of what Americans eat is a perversion of “food” anyway, so I’ve never understood what meat eaters get so fired up about. Shall I start judging sweetbreads? Have fun with those prions. Besides, not all veg-centric diets include over-salted meat substitutes, just like not all meat-centric diets include Ho-Hos (which do in fact contain lard). It is astounding to me that this society (fairly universally) considers a vegetable-centric diet to be inferior.

    I could write a book about my opinion on this topic, so I’d better stop :o)

    P.S. Interesting study, anyway

  12. #12 Dan
    July 28, 2008

    Come to Wisconsin, the land of the sausage “aisle” in your local grocery store! Bratwursts, cheese-stuffed Bratwursts, Polish sausage, Italian sausage, Knockwurst, even the Chorizo. And cheer/bet on your favorite racing sausage at the Brewers games! (they haven’t added the “Veggie Brat” to the race line-up, just yet…)

  13. #13 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 28, 2008

    I’ve been very suspicious about Soy Ice cream, because of a very bad experience trying chocolate soy milk for the first time. I think I might try a tofu dog now.

    Still, Alton Brown’s Moo-less chocolate silk pie is an excellent use of silken tofu:

    Melt 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips along with 1/3 cup Coffee Liquor. Blend with a 500g (roughly) block of cubed silken tofu, a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

    Pour into a chocolate wafer or graham cracker crust, then chill for at least 1 hour to set.

    Serves 1 repeatedly.

  14. #14 Siamang
    July 28, 2008

    I know of a veggie sausage that I prefer to the meat sausages. Sausage is one of those foods that I guess is easier to fake.

    And I can taste the differences in colas blindfolded. Once I had a taste test between American and Mexican Coca-cola. (The mexican one is made with sugar instead of corn syrup.) I took off my blindfold after my first sip. I knew immediately that it was not American Coke without having to compare it.

    However, I don’t think I could necessarily tell the difference between generic cola and pepsi. It would have to depend on how close the generic was. If I liked it, I’d be pretty certain it’s not pepsi.

  15. #15 The FR Girl
    July 28, 2008

    Full disclosure, I work for a vegan sausage manufacturer, so don’t read on if you think I am biased (which I am!)

    BUT, not only are Field Roast sausages VEGAN they are not soy! And, um, they are meat!;)They are called ‘Grain Meat Sausages’ because meat is about texture not animal-ness (in the traditional sense of the word). It’s funny when we try and tell people – vegans and meat-eaters alike that we consider our product meat, just not from animals. It shows there is more going here than simple definitions (Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines meat as ‘solid food’). Soy Milk is milk, not fake cow’s milk, so why can’t we make grain meat instead of fake animal meat?

    So much of food joy is about texture, mouth feel, smell and taste. I think a lot of people joke about vegetarian food being tastless, but that’s because a lot of those products try to mimic hotdogs, or try to be a “fake” meat and use a bunch of gums and starches in the process, making some sort of weird non-food. But, not all brands try to do that (try and guess which one I think doesn’t!)

    If people focused more on taste and texture, rather than their bias, then they would see that they can eat yummy sausages without having to harm any animals in the process!

  16. #16 CCW
    July 28, 2008

    I’ve fed unsuspecting dinner guests home made soy ice cream before and they hadn’t a clue. It’s not that hard to pull off with fruity flavours. Tofutti ice cream is downright awful by comparison, seeing as they don’t use real fruit. Swedish Glace, which is sold in the UK, is better but the person who told me the chocolate flavour tasted like the real thing must have had underdeveloped taste buds. It doesn’t.

  17. #17 Samia
    July 28, 2008

    I think the reason a lot of Americans can’t stomach the idea of going vegetarian is because they haven’t really sampled other cuisines. Many think of a veggie diet in terms of strange meat substitutes instead of considering the wonderful variety of meatless dishes from around the world.

    I am really tired of people getting defensive when I mention I don’t eat meat. “MMMMM STEAK” gets old. And no one ever gets the indignant response they want from me. Disappointing all around. But it’s better than the “Oh, I couldn’t do that, I need my protein” spiel.

    Random: I like Rice Dream ice cream… :)

  18. #18 Blue Number 2
    July 29, 2008

    I’m not a vegan but am allergic to milk. I was as a baby, outgrew it, but it came back when I was in high school. I’ve had good ice cream. I used to love Breyer’s Mint Chip.

    Soy ice cream is good and very much like regular ice cream. I have to give props to Tofutti. It’s the best that I’ve had. I even make milk shakes with it with Silk.

    Seriously…it’s good stuff.

  19. #19 Julie Stahlhut
    July 29, 2008

    “MMMMM STEAK” gets old.

    I have to admit — and again, I do eat meat — I’ve never understood that one. Maybe my mouth is wired strangely, but steak, to me, is one of the blandest, most boring foods on the planet. I can eat it if it’s not overcooked and is completely coated with seasoning, but I don’t find steak, on its own, to be any tastier than oatmeal.

    Unless, of course, it’s a swordfish steak. Now THAT’s something else entirely!

  20. #20 BustersLatestDaddy
    July 29, 2008

    I feel sorry for you, Julie. I loves me some steak! You’re right, though, it does have to be cooked right. An overcooked steak is like eating your shoe.

  21. #21 Muse142
    July 29, 2008

    Tofutti Cuties are soy-based “ice cream” sandwiches that are deliciously deceptive. I fed them to a gaggle of me (very pro-meat-eating) friends and they claimed that magic must’ve been involved. I’d highly recommend trying them, esp. the Wild Berry flavor.

    In my experience, if you don’t like steak but have nothing against the texture/flavor/ethicality of beef itself, then you should try getting a better-quality cut of beef and think about perhaps ordering it less well-done than usual. I didn’t like steak particularly myself until I had a medium prime steak. (Prime > Choice > Select)

  22. #22 Siamang
    July 29, 2008

    “I am really tired of people getting defensive when I mention I don’t eat meat. “MMMMM STEAK” gets old. And no one ever gets the indignant response they want from me.”

    Time for some more mature friends, Samia! I feel for you.

    Julie said:
    “Maybe my mouth is wired strangely, but steak, to me, is one of the blandest, most boring foods on the planet. I can eat it if it’s not overcooked and is completely coated with seasoning, but I don’t find steak, on its own, to be any tastier than oatmeal.”

    I’m reminded of King Lear.

  23. #23 KevDog
    July 29, 2008

    There is no such thing as soy milk, just as there is no such thing as orange milk, apple milk, etc. Milk comes from mammals, not legumes.

    Sorry, just my rant against silly rebranding.

  24. #24 Julia
    July 29, 2008

    Actually, the term “almond milk” goes back to the Middle Ages, but it refers to ground almonds and flavorings in a dairy base.

  25. #25 Bea Elliott
    July 29, 2008

    I am vegan and often eat meals made of tvp (textured vegetable protein) – it’s almost “creepy” how similar to “pork” and “chicken” tvp is when seasoned as such….

  26. #26 Tsila
    July 29, 2008

    By definition, the term “milk” can mean milk itself, as well as anything milk-like in appearance. It’s not rebranding. Julia’s right about references to almond milk going back to the Middle Ages, when it was commonly used instead of dairy milk, because dairy milk would spoil. There are many other instances of the word “milk” being used to describe milk-like substances, as well (e.g. coconut milk).

  27. #27 Veronica
    July 30, 2008

    Im so sick of people pretending to make meat products out of soy and other elements. Let meat be meat and veggies be veggies. If you want to be a vegetarian or vegan, that is fine but do not eat second class imitations of my non-vegetarian/vegan food. No one is trying to make a tomato or a pepper out of meat, so take your vegan chops elsewhere. If you really think about it its borderline ridiculous the stuff they come up with tofurkey and all that.

  28. #28 jaltcoh.blogspot.com
    July 30, 2008

    Will says: “I am a little insulted that the author of this post assumes that the reader is not vegetarian.”

    Huh? I’m a vegetarian, and I didn’t feel that the post wasn’t addressed to me.

    Veronica: I don’t get it — what’s wrong with fake meat?

  29. #29 Mike Krpan
    August 5, 2008

    Vegan or not, the individual should be aware of getting all the amino acids. Much easier when dairy products and meats of all types are consumed. I go to a health-food imaged grocery store infrequently in Orange Co, CA. It has image of vegan, etc, you know, kinda looney. I love it though. Saw a post tacked to a column that said: “Looking for Vegan Roommate”. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

  30. #30 David Baird
    August 10, 2008

    To Veronica
    As someone who was raised to eat meat but couldn’t square killing animals just for the pleasure of eating their flesh, I do find reactions like yours amusing. I like that texture. I have had people try to make out I’m a hypocrite for eating veggie meats.
    My response to them is, would you say to people who like to play shoot ‘em up games that they should just go out and kill people rather than satisfying their blood-lust with a simulation.
    There both just ways to sublimate urges so as to make them more morally acceptable.

  31. #31 peter
    August 11, 2008

    Actually, Veronica makes a good point. I’m not a strict vegetarian, but my partner is, and we never eat meat at home. When dieticians talk about “meat substitutes”, they don’t mean in terms of flavour or texture; the phrase only refers to items that can be substituted for meat nutritionally. We’ve learned a number of really tasty ways to eat a variety of meat substitutes, but we strictly avoid things like veggie burgers that look like ground beef and the dreaded ridiculousness of tofurkey. Of course, we’d both probably score pretty low on the “social authority” scale.

  32. #32 Elaine Vigneault
    August 31, 2008

    FR Girl said, “It’s funny when we try and tell people – vegans and meat-eaters alike that we consider our product meat, just not from animals. It shows there is more going here than simple definitions (Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines meat as ‘solid food’). Soy Milk is milk, not fake cow’s milk, so why can’t we make grain meat instead of fake animal meat?”

    My only issue is truthfulness. I’m vegan and it’s hard enough getting clear answers from nonvegan food servers and makers. They’re just clueless, as in, “but fish isn’t an animal.” I can’t trust the truthfulness of their claims. So that’s my reason against using the word “meat” to describe a vegan product. I can’t go into a restaurant and order “plant meat” regardless of how your company chooses to market their sausages.

    Veronica wrote, “If you want to be a vegetarian or vegan, that is fine but do not eat second class imitations of my non-vegetarian/vegan food.”

    I grew up vegetarian. I’ve been vegetarian or vegan virtually my entire life. I honestly have no real sense what animal flesh tastes like. When I eat faux meat products it’s about experiencing a NEW taste or texture. It’s not about replacing something lost or about trying to imitate another culture. (Yeah, you heard me right, culture. You belong to an animal-eating culture. It’s a culture of dominance and carnism.) Faux meats are fun and different. I like to try new foods so I enjoy faux meats.

    Faux meats are not about vegans trying to be like omnivores. Get over yourself. It’s not all about YOU.

  33. #33 okey oyunu
    February 23, 2009

    To Veronica
    As someone who was raised to eat meat but couldn’t square killing animals just for the pleasure of eating their flesh, I do find reactions like yours amusing. I like that texture. I have had people try to make out I’m a hypocrite for eating veggie meats.
    My response to them is, would you say to people who like to play shoot ‘em up games that they should just go out and kill people rather than satisfying their blood-lust with a simulation.
    There both just ways to sublimate urges so as to make them more morally acceptable.

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