Study: Organic Eaters Think They’re Better Than You

Are people who eat organic really judgmental jerks? A new study says yes.

Confession time: I don’t shop organic. At least, not specifically. I just sort of grab whatever looks good and get the heck out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. I know, I know—our own health coach says I should go organic, at least for some foods. It’s just not a huge priority for me right now.

What? You’re judging me? That’s fine, I totally expected it, you Elitist Organic Eater. The Atlantic warned me about people like you.

Atlantic contributor Brian Fung recently posted a story about a study which found that people who eat organic tend to be more judgmental than those who don’t. The study used a group of students who were shown images of either organic foods (labeled as such); comfort foods, such as cookies and ice cream; and “neutral” foods like beans and grains. After seeing the pictures, the participants were polled about the acceptability of some bizarre, morally questionable scenarios (like … eating a dead pet. Seriously.), ranking them on a scale of 1 (perfectly acceptable) to 7 (totally unacceptable). Then they were asked if they’d be willing to help someone else with another study.

The people who’d seen the organic images were more likely to rank the activities as unacceptable, and they were less likely to give their time to the other study. In Fung’s words: “The images of organic food reinforced feelings of moral certitude, making those participants more judgmental than those in the processed-food and control groups”—or so concludes the study author. Some people disagree (they probably eat organic, ha!), saying that sugar makes you feel more altruistic, and the people who saw the nonorganic foods saw pictures of a heck of a lot of sweets.

Another possibility is that feelings of guilt associated with eating junk food could be making people more empathetic. Then there’s the fact that only a handful of people participated in the study, and all of them were undergraduate students — not exactly a wide-ranging sample.

Still, it raises some interesting points: Does eating organic make some people feel morally superior? Could it stem from the fact that you give yourself a subconscious pat on the back—”Look how awesome you are, you”—for choosing to eat organic over nonorganic, and that attitude translates to judgmental behavior otherwise?

Some (organic) food for thought.