Buying organic food has its upsides: there are less pesticides and chemicals in your food, you may be supporting a smaller business, and you’re helping out the environment. But it has its downsides, too, like the steeper price…and, uh, the fact that it might be making you a terrible person. Yes, it’s true: A scientific study has found that buying organic food could make you more of a selfish jerk. So, all of those jokes about organic eaters being insufferable? They might actually be rooted in some truth.
If you have ever felt like shopping organic is associated with a certain type of person or lifestyle, your hunch may not be too far off. Rachel Herz, a Brown University and Boston College neuroscientist, has done some research and found that buying organic food can be associated with some ugly behaviors. In her new book, Why You Eat What You Eat, Herz looks at the connections between choices we make and neuroscience, and it’s there that she reveals her research about organic items and human behavior.
Not surprisingly, her research on buying organic food is pretty interesting.
In one study that Herz examined, a group of people were given pictures of apples that were labeled “organic” to look at. When asked to make moral judgments about behavior, these people proved to be more judgmental and condemning of others compared to a group of people who looked at photos of comfort food. And when both groups were asked to volunteer a few minutes of their time, Herz says that the organic apples group “volunteered half as much time as people who had looked at desserts.”
In other words? The organic apples group was more likely to judge others harshly and behave selfishly. Herz says that she believes that buying organic food makes people feel morally superior to others, which causes that negative behavior.
Herz told the Chicago Tribune, “The bottom line is that sort of as a function of the moral superiority associated with organic branding, people feel somehow, ‘I’m above reproach and, paradoxically, therefore I can be less ethical and more selfish.'”
Basically, some people who buy organic food feel like they’re doing such a good thing that they don’t need to act like a good person, too. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every single person purchasing organic produce is an absolutely terrible human. It’s completely possible to do so without coming across as judgmental and smug.
Herz says, “My whole point is that you may never have realized these things are impacting you, so beware. I double-check myself, ‘Is this making me actually feel differently?'”
Another point Herz makes is that some of these people may not even have the right to feel morally superior about what they’re buying — a lot of organic items aren’t even actually organic. It’s easy enough for big brands to slap an “organic” label on just about anything, so it’s worth doing the research to make sure these brands are actually producing organic products.
The bottom line is that purchasing something with an organic label doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else — so don’t allow it to rule your behavior that way.