Does organic food turn people into jerks?

Today Health at MSNBC reports:

Renate Raymond has encountered her fair share of snobs, but a recent trip to a Seattle market left her feeling like she’d stumbled onto the set of “Portlandia.

“I stopped at a market to get a fruit platter for a movie night with friends but I couldn’t find one so I asked the produce guy,” says the 40-year-old arts administrator from Seattle. “And he was like, ‘If you want fruit platters, go to Safeway. We’re organic.’ I finally bought a small cake and some strawberries and then at the check stand, the guy was like ‘You didn’t bring your own bag? I need to charge you if you didn’t bring your own bag.’ It was like a ‘Portlandia skit.’ They were so snotty and arrogant.”

Is there a reason for this?

As it turns out, new research has determined that a judgmental attitude may just go hand in hand with exposure to organic foods. In fact, a new study published this week in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, has found that organic food may just make people act a bit like jerks.

“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,” says author Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of  the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans. “I’ve noticed a lot of organic foods are marketed with moral terminology, like Honest Tea, and 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.”

Sounds a reasonable theory.

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.

“One vignette was about second cousins having sex,” says Eskine. “Another was about a lawyer on the prowl in an ER trying to get people to sue for their injuries. Then the groups made moral judgments 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.

The results did not bode well for the organic folks.

“We found that the organic people judged much harder compared to the control or comfort food groups,” says Eskine. “On a scale of 1 to 7, the organic people were like 5.5 while the controls were about a 5 and the comfort food people were like a 4.89.”

When it came to helping out a needy stranger, the organic people also proved to be more selfish, volunteering only 13 minutes as compared to 19 minutes (for controls) and 24 minutes (for comfort food folks).

“There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves,” says Eskine. “And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess.”

So scientifically proven – eating organic food makes you more of a jerk 🙂

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