While you may have answered “No way!” to the snob question, some recent articles say otherwise about organic shoppers. Check this out. The May 15, 2012 online issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science published a study by Kendall J. Eskine, Ph.D., psychology professor at Loyola University New Orleans, suggesting that choosing organic foods actually affects people’s moral behavior (1). And, it’s not for the better.

Three groups of 20 undergrads were shown separate sets of images depicturing either produce with an organic label, comfort foods (like cookies) and “neutral” foods like rice and oatmeal. Then, everyone was shown scenes with an immoral element—like an unscrupulous lawyer or even incest (!)—and rated them on a scale of one to seven, with seven be ultra-immoral. Those shown the organic foods ended up judging these scenes more harshly (5.5) than the control (5) or the comfort foods (4.89) groups.

Then, when put in a situation to help a stranger in need, the organic group didn’t fare much better. They volunteered 13 minutes of their time, but the controls gave 19 minutes and the comfort foods gave 24.

This study led the author to say on Msnbc.com, “There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves. And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess.”

Irresponsible Generalizations
Maybe I’m being too judgmental (…you’ll have to excuse me, since I’m an organic shopper after all), but I really hate the logic that doing something good for your body and Mother Earth transforms you into a self-righteous, mean individual. The study doesn’t support this ridiculous conclusion, and nor does reality.

First off, the study didn’t have a cross-over element in which students were shown all types of foods (organic, comfort and neutral). So, how can anyone in fairness say that specifically organic foods caused negative behavior? With a sample of 20, it could be that a few already judgmental people swayed the average.

Second, these students weren’t even necessarily buyers of organic foods, so judging true organic buyers based on them is a stretch. Third, can you really say there’s a huge difference between the “neutral” rice and oatmeal and the organic apples? Both seem pretty healthy to me.

The whole study, and all the reactions to it, are especially infuriating because they completely ignore the fact that so many organic industry companies are doing amazing acts of goodness in their communities. Our Retailer of the Year, Jimbo’s…Naturally!, for one, does spectacular work with children and makes generous donations to community groups (see page 18). This retailer isn’t alone in its charity work, something many stores prioritize.

What about Vitamin Angels, Nourish America and all the companies and shoppers that support them? It’s not exaggerating to say millions of needy people around the world can attest to their good work.

And then there are the countless organic products companies that give time and financial support to a host of projects that help farmers, the environment, the needy…the list goes on.

It would be short-sighted and simply unfair to generalize that organic supporters don’t think beyond themselves. I challenge this study’s author, and those that agree with the findings, to learn a little about organic businesses. Take a long look at their missions and the good deeds they carry out (most humbly, I might add). Following a more responsible analysis, I have a feeling any appearance of conceit on the part of organic supporters would crumble into dust. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

1. K.J. Eskine, “Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments,” Soc. Pyschologic. Person. Sci. online May 15, 2012.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2012