If you’re about to tuck into an freshly grown, locally-produced organic lunch, then here’s something that may interest you. According to a study conducted at Loyola University in New Orleans, those who eat organic good are more likely to be “smug,” exhibit judgemental attitudes and “be a jerk.” But before heaving your lunch into the compost bin and reaching for a pesticide-covered peach, read on for the nitty-gritty details on this ‘groundbreaking’ study.
The study, “Wholesome Foods, Whole Morals,” was published in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science and saw 60 people split into three groups. The first group was shown pictures of organic foods, the second was shown pictures of comfort foods like brownies and cookies, while the third, the control group, was shown pictures of non-organic, non-comfort foods, like rice, mustard and oatmeal. Each group’s moral judgement was then tested by asking them how many minutes they would be willing to give up to help a stranger and how harshly they judged fictional situations. What does that have to do with food? We aren’t really sure.
To help enlighten us, let’s turn to lead researcher and study author Kendall Eskine, who explained the study on NBC’s Today show: “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,” he said. “We found that the organic people judged much harder, compared to the control or comfort-food groups.”
On average, the comfort-food group volunteered 24 minutes to help a needy stranger, while the control group volunteered 19 minutes and the organic group offered just 13 minutes. “There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves,” Eskine said. “And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess. You’d think eating organic would make you feel elevated and want to pay it forward.” Eskine said he was surprised by the results, but he believes an explanation might lie in what he calls “moral licensing.”
“The results could have turned out either way, but I was honestly hedging my bets on the moral licensing approach, according to which people feel licensed to act less ethically when their moral identities are made salient,” Eskine said. “Organic foods, like other green products, seem to help people affirm their moral identities, thus generating counter-intuitive behaviours.”
“People may feel like they’ve done their good deed,” he added. “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.” It seems like a tenuous link, to say the least.