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Waste of the Day: Throwback Thursday: In 1982, Agriculture Dept. Studied Connection Between Food And Personality

In 1982, the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually studied the link between food preferences and personality and social identity.

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Food and personality - corn in a plastic tray

The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $40,000 in January 1982 —$127,580 in 2023 dollars — for studying food preferences and social identity.

For this wasteful spending, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the Department of Agriculture a Golden Fleece Award. He gave awards to wasteful and nonsensical spending, eventually handing out 168 Golden Fleece Awards between 1975 and 1988.

Waste of the Day: Throwback Thursday: In 1982, Agriculture Dept. Studied Connection Between Food And Personality
Waste of the Day 11.16.23 by Open the Books

The study tried to demonstrate that “you are what you eat,” claiming that people with certain personalities eat certain kinds of food.

“My answer to this study is ‘so what?’” Proxmire said then. “Who cares what it means when you eat carrots instead of caviar? Here’s a $40,000 study calculated to make the American taxpayer eat his heart out.”

Participants were asked their preferences about five categories of food: synthetic, vegetarian, fast food, health and gourmet food. The results that tax dollars paid for included that vegetarians like intellectual tasks, crafts and want a good education. Gourmet food lovers are supposedly interested in “life in the fast lane” – they want spouses but few children and enjoy playing tennis.

The study found that fast-food eaters are antidrug, patriotic, conservative and do hard work on the job, while health food nuts are laid back.


“To gain these marvelous bits of wisdom, people were asked to do such things as take the food preferences of a hypothetical person and make inferences about the person’s personality and lifestyle,” Proxmire said. “Or the participants’ own personalities were used to predict the kind of food they would like.”

The Department of Agriculture had been criticized in the past, Proxmire noted, for funding other esoteric studies with little or no practical value.

“In fact, as a result of studies like this, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has now put language in bills that prohibited the grants office from using money to pay for social science and psychological studies,” Proxmire said.

While $40,000 may not be much in the federal budget, it could buy a lot of food for a family, no matter what personalities they have.

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This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.

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Adam Andrzejewski (say: Angie-eff-ski) is the CEO/founder of Before dedicating his life to public service, Adam co-founded HomePages Directories, a $20 million publishing company (1997-2007). His works have been featured on the BBC, Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, C-SPAN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, FOX News, CNN, National Public Radio (NPR), Forbes, Newsweek, and many other national media.

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