By Tracy R. Walsh
Jeffrey Kluger considers the connection:
In a series of experiments and surveys, a team led by research psychologist Steve Loughnan of the University of Melbourne confirmed that while people across a broad range of cultures agree that the more mindful an animal is, the less defensible it is to eat it, we have a convenient way of deciding which critters think and which don’t. If you like beef, you’re more inclined to believe cows can’t think; if you eat only fish, you’re likelier to see cattle as conscious, while the salmon on your plate was probably a non-conscious nincompoop.
That handy reasoning even works in an ex post facto way. Loughnan found that a subject who had just eaten beef and was then asked about cow consciousness tended to rate it low, while someone who had just eaten nuts gave cows more credit. We justify food even after we’ve already consumed it. We do something similar with any animal that either through charisma or companionability has achieved a sort of most favored fauna status. So a hamburger is fine, but a horseburger? We’re not barbarians. Ditto shark fin versus dolphin fin soup, and turkey versus, say, eagle for Thanksgiving.