Choosing organic: Releasing the inner jerk? - The Packer

Choosing organic: Releasing the inner jerk?

05/22/2012 08:06:00 AM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstSome organic foodies can be self-righteous jerks, and that's not my opinion.

Actually, the title of the research reads "Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments." Published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the abstract describes the study's results:


Recent research has revealed that specific tastes can influence moral processing, with sweet tastes inducing prosocial behavior and disgusting tastes harshening moral judgments. Do similar effects apply to different food types (comfort foods, organic foods, etc.)? Although organic foods are often marketed with moral terms (e.g., Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance), no research to date has investigated the extent to which exposure to organic foods influences moral judgments or behavior. After viewing a few organic foods, comfort foods, or control foods, 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 lead people to affirm their moral identities, which attenuates their desire to be altruistic.

We don't have access to the full research report, but other coverage of this study found in the NY Daily News said the study divided 60 people into three teams.

One of the subsets was shown pictures of organic foods, the second group was shown images of comfort foods like brownies and the third was shown non-organic, non-comfort foods such as mustard and rice.

The researchers then asked participants of each group how much time they would be give up to help a stranger, and their judgments on fictional scenarios.

The results: The comfort food folks said they would volunteer 24 minutes to help a needy stranger, while the control group offered 19 minutes; the organic participants would surrender just 13 minutes.

True, it is a considerable leap to conclude from this study that eating organic food makes one more judgmental than the common Joe.

But we probably all know people who are "organic snobs," who take pride in their pilgrimage to Whole Foods or the farmers' market. We can imagine some folks who use the "Dirty Dozen" shopping list have a superior attitude about their buying decisions compared to their uninformed cohorts.

The author professed surprise at the findings, thinking that organic consumers would be more enlightened.
According to the NY Daily News report, Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans, told NBC’s “Today” show that people may feel like they have done their good deed already by choosing organic.
From the NY Daily News report:

"That they have permission, or license, to act unethically later on. It’s like when you go to the gym and run a few miles and you feel good about yourself, so you eat a candy bar" she told the "Today" show.

TK: I have a feeling this research may also inform generic promotion efforts for all fruits and vegetables. People who eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables probably  feel like they are performing a good deed to society, much like the organic foodie.

In messaging to those heavy consumers of fresh produce, the industry should give them every reason to pat themselves on the back. The "moral superiority" of consuming fruits and vegetables should not be ignored, even if it does make some consumers a little snooty.



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