Eat Organic? You Might Be A Jerk


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!


Related Reading:

Is Organic Agriculture Bad For The Planet?

So All May Eat: Organic Pay-As-You-Go Dining

What Does The USDA Organic Label Really Mean?


Image via Thinkstock


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago


William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen6 years ago

Thank you :)

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

Josh M is my boyfriend and his posts are actually mine that I posted with his fb by accident o.O

Josh M.
Past Member 6 years ago

interesting. I know a few like this, only bc they look down their noses at those of us who eat mainstream most of the time. But I know plenty who are awesome and down to earth too. Like any group, there are good and bad people

Dale Overall

Fascinating, since I have never heard of the expression “organic elite,” or even a store(s) called Whole Foods.

My favourite organic place is my balcony garden which is pesticide and toxin free unless a passing pigeon decides to drop a bomb flying by...

A study with some 60 people isn't extensive and studies have to be repeated over and over again with far larger numbers to have validity.

Stirring the pot is fun in some cases to see what kind of a reaction one can get out of people. There are many diverse forms of entertainment after all such as Jane and her trigger finger of 11 comments in a row. Always wonder if Jane knows what she is doing and shoots a volley of 11 hits on the orange Add Comment button or if she gets frustrated at not seeing her comment appear and slams that button. If so, a comment magically will appear even if it is not visible at first - just hit the blue "view fewer comments" (or more if you did not go for view more comment) and presto one's unseen comment actually appears. If not, come back in a hour and it does show up...eventually. Sometimes Care2 has a few glitches but comments do appear. Jane does this in many articles elsewhere so who knows but is as entertaining as a study on organic purchasers and whether it has any validity or not.

Dale Overall

Went off to read other articles and on one of them (see my previous comment) my golden orbs of wisdom did not appear and had to follow my own advice - Lol and hit the blue view all comments but alas, my delightful alphabet soup of words did not appear...yes there are times one can be tempted to hit that orange Add Comment button more than once!

Not wanting to give into slamming the orange add comment button more than once quickly had to actually go to another article elsewhere, come back in here again... and yes, there it was, my words of wisdom (stop laughing!) were magically there. Oh Care2! you do know how to send us on a merry chase for our invisible comments at times don't you! Such fun and entertainment had by all!

Irene DelBono
Irene DelBono6 years ago

"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!"

Just by asking people to contribute only bad comments about organic, you invite skewing of any information you get. The study itself was flawed - why use different products? The study could just as well have concluded that brownie lovers are more likely to volunteer! A true study would have used the same products - and changed only the designation as organic and non-organic. In fact, by buying organic HUMANE products, which takes extra time and research, as well as money, it is a form of "doing good". These pseudo-studies designed to "prove" pre-conceived ideas are not worth reading or commenting on. Taxpayer funds are too often used for such flawed studies - I don't know who paid for this one (the factory farming lobby, perhaps?).

loretta f.
loretta f6 years ago

What the study showed is there's a correlation between the two, not which was the cause and which was the effect. Maybe people more prone to being judgmental are also more likely to buy organic food.