Years ago I was at a trade show talking to a representative from a hydroponic produce enterprise about his tomatoes. When I inquired whether or not his tomatoes were farmed organically, he became a little defensive and said, “You know, ‘organic’ doesn’t mean it tastes any better.” At the time I told him it wasn’t as much of an issue about taste as it was about best practices and shielding our bodies from unwanted pesticide residue that made the organic label important. Now, after taking a look at the information below, I would probably be more nervy and cocky and say something like, “Yeah, not unless you look at the label first.”
Let me explain. A fairly informal survey by Cornell researchers in (of all places) a shopping mall food court revealed that, while maybe organic food does not taste any better than its conventional counterpart, the label (and thus the suggestion of organic) makes people perceive that it tastes better, as well as healthier. Researchers recruited 115 passersby to sample what were labeled as the organic and non-organic versions of cookies, potato chips, and yogurt. Little did the participants know that the two types were exactly the same (both organic). They were then asked to rate the foods on taste, and perceived nutritional content. As you may be able to guess, the label had a marked influence on how the participants evaluated the products. According to a report in Food Quality and Preference, participants guessed that the “organic” cookies, chips, and yogurt were 20 to 24 percent lower in calories than “regular” versions. They thought the organic foods “tasted lower in fat and calories” and higher in fiber as well, and perceived the cookies and chips, though not the yogurt, as tasting more nutritious. They were willing to pay up around 16 to 23 percent more for all three.
So what does this say about consumers slavishly dedicated to the organic label? Would it be telling if this somewhat informal survey were done without organic samples? Do you think you could discern what is, and what isn’t, organic? Do you feel you have an organic bias?