We’ve all heard the term “organic elite,” or encountered holier-than-thou behavior from those privileged enough to shop at Whole Foods on a regular basis. But can eating organic food actually turn you into a jerk? Results from a recent study reveal that your preference for pricey produce might actually unleash your snobby side.
Published this week in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, the study found that organic food, while kinder to the planet, could reduce pro-social behaviors and make us quick to harsh moral judgement of others. This is troubling, especially when you think about the fact that most organic foods are marketed through altruistic messages or brand names (i.e. Honest Tea, Eden Foods, Back To Nature) that evoke a sense of kindness or wholesomeness.
You would think that those moved to pay extra for eco-friendly, fair trade, healthier organics would have this altruism permeate throughout their entire life. But as the study showed, this assumption may be incorrect
“There’s a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” said author Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans. “I’ve …wondered if you exposed people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices. I wondered if they would be more altruistic or not.”
To find out, Eskine and his team divided 60 people into three groups. One group was shown pictures of clearly labeled organic food, like apples and spinach. Another group was shown comfort foods such as brownies and cookies. And a third group — the controls — were shown non-organic, non-comfort foods like rice, mustard and oatmeal. After viewing the pictures, each person was then asked to read a series of vignettes describing moral transgressions…Then the groups made moral judgments [of the scenarios] on a scale from one to seven.
In another phase of the study, the three groups were asked to volunteer for a (fictitious) study, with each person writing down the amount of time — from zero to 30 minutes — that they would be willing to volunteer.
Results showed that the participants who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may allow people to become a little too smug about their own morality, which in turn may decrease their desire to be altruistic.
Now, before you post that fiery comment about how all your organic-eating friends are saints, take a closer look at the study. As some readers have pointed out, 60 participants does not a nationally-representative study make. Also the study’s methodology has the power to influence results, simply by giving participants a limited number of choices. So despite what the study implies, organic snobbery remains an unproven mystery. For now.
Have you ever met someone who spends so much time searching for the organic label that they became snobby or insensitive to others? Tell us about it in a comment!