Dog Spies

Dog Spies

Explore the science behind the dog in your bed

How to make people eat dog food


I have to assume John Bohannon woke up one morning and thought, “What does dog food taste like?” That, or he might have just been out of food and people were coming over.

Either way, the outcome was the same. Bohannon gathered eighteen people together to voluntarily consume dog food in a study investigating whether people can distinguish pâté from dog food. Using a double blind taste test, the study ultimately investigated dog food’s palatability.

The study was not a frolic and a detour. If dog food were found comparable in taste to pâté, “[dog food] could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst.”

How to eat dog food

And so Bohannon and his colleagues hosted an unusual dinner party that went down in history as the worst buffet of all time. What better time to eat dog food than on New Year’s Eve! On December 31, 2008, 18 subjects, also known as party-goers, gathered in Brooklyn, NY where they dined on 5 different spreads. Four were human-intended, meat-based products and one was the infamous dog food, in this case, Newman's Own.

The five samples — duck liver mousse, pork liver pâté, liverwurst, Spam and dog food — were pulsed in a food processor so each had the same mousse-like consistency. Samples were then placed in serving bowls, chilled to 4 degrees Celsius and garnished with parsley. To make things extra-fancy, subjects sampled the spreads as many times as needed on Carr’s Table Water Crackers (clearly it’s a topnotch party when you can have as many Carr’s crackers as you want).

How to rank dog food

So how does one determine the palatability of dog food? See who vomits first? Maybe in your study. After tasting the samples, subjects in this study provided two critical pieces of information:

1. Sample rankings from best to worst

2. Educated guesses about which of the five spreads was dog food

Who wants dog food?

The ranking findings are not surprising. Humans do not like the taste of dog food. Over half the subjects, 72% (13 people) ranked the dog food dead last. The duck liver mousse was ranked first by 55% (10 people).

But here’s where things get weird. Although most subjects ranked Sample C, the dog food, as the worst tasting spread, when asked to report which sample was in fact dog food, most people did not guess Sample C! In fact, only 3 of the 18 subjects correctly identified Sample C as dog food! Instead, 44% (8 people) incorrectly chose liverwurst as the dog food.

As the authors suggest, the subjects could have been primed to expect the dog food to taste better than it did. After all, the dog food was Newman’s Own, and who doesn’t love Paul Newman? Additionally, since subjects were assured that their “experience would not be disgusting, they might have excluded the worst-tasting sample from their guesses.”

Morals to eating dog food

- If you serve your guests dog food, they won’t like it. But they also won’t necessarily know it’s dog food, so it's worth a try.

- People are weird, better to study dogs.


A version of this post originally appeared on Dog Spies Blogger. It is being re-posted after being reminded of horrible tasting cafeteria food at a college reunion.

Images: Feature image via The Momfessional (Reminder: children around dog bowls, bad idea. See Do You Believe in Dog? posts The Science Surrounding Children & Dogs: Part 3 The Ugly and Dogs and babies: Not always cute); Video: Terrance eating.


Bohannon et al., 2009. Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food? American Association of Wine Economists. Working Paper No. 36

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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