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Does Organic Food Make People Insufferable?

A Loyola University psychological scientist is hung up on the moods people get into because  of what they eat.

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The researcher is now saying that people with a taste for organics are more likely to be insufferable. He earlier found that bitter food left people with more than a bitter taste in their mouths.

The new study by Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological science at Loyola University, says participants who ate organic goods judged people more harshly than did a control group or the research subjects who ate comfort foods.

The study, which depicts people with organic-food diets as being more judgmental and/or judgmental, is getting lots of media coverage around the country. Eskine, who says he routinely kicks participants out of his research projects, organized his latest subjects into three groups.

He exposed a “needy stranger” to each of the groups: a control group, a comfort-food group and an organic-food group. The comfort group helped out the needy stranger for 24 minutes, the control group for 19 minutes, and the organic group for just 13 minutes.

Eskine said the organic group felt they’d done what they could and did not need to help any more. He called this “moral licensing,” meaning these people put their judgmental thoughts above the needs of others.

The idea that organic food could negatively influence the moods of people consuming it is new. KEZT-TV took the idea to its Eugene, OR viewers, most of whom found the idea preposterous.  

Still, the study seems to suggest that the self-righteous are more likely to be stressed out about food. Low-fat cheese or free-trade coffee are foods with a “health halo,” meaning people tend to think of them as healthier or even safer, whether they are or not.

But such foods also leave their adherents with the notion that organic food and people who eat them are more superior, Eskine figures. One report on the study said people develop a “holier-than-than-thou” sense of superiority.

Eskine is a popular classroom professor at the New Orleans university. It is not clear from his research whether people who eat organic foods might be bad-tempered before they choose to eat organic food or if their foul moods are the result of it. 

“Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals” Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshens Moral Judgments” is freely available in abstract form, but the full version is kept behind a pay wall.

Thanks to Barfblog for bringing this article to our attention.

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    Insufferable? Unquestionably, inexcusably yes.

  • The entire study is flawed.
    He took 60 self-selecting volunteers, split into groups of 20, and then showed them photos of different food groups: comfort food, organic, and no food.
    From what I remember of my college days, the 60 volunteers were likely college sophomores. Hard to say since he carefully keeps most test parameters behind the pay wall.
    From this, the “researcher” extrapolate that people who eat organic food aren’t as caring, don’t volunteer as much, etc. I have never seen such a sweeping generalization made over so little data.
    Why any community would take such a limited, flawed, superficial study at face value boggles me. Have we lost the ability to differentiate between sound studies and pop psych?
    Well why not: we deny the very climate science that impacts on us daily.

  • Jos

    The only thing this study DEFINITIVELY proves that people (or Editors) who come across a “study” that supports their existing belief systems then promulgate it…

  • Eliavaa

    I don’t think any scientist is taking that study too seriously. Not only were his methods flawed, so was his hypothesis and conclusions.
    That being said, psychological studies are notoriously difficult to control for and bias is abundant. My take on it was that he had his conclusion in his mind before the data were tabulated. It was a tongue-in-cheek study to get him some press and to try to put some logic to extremely illogical behavior.
    So look at it as a pilot study. The conclusion that was drawn may be worth further study for reals;-) And hopefully, it isn’t the organic food itself that makes people act like jerks.

  • Amanda

    Well, this is another study only confirming what other researchers have documented previously:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/15/green-consumers-more-likely-steal
    Don’t you just hate it when researchers merely confirm the obvious? It isn’t like we weren’t painfully aware of haughty food police all up in our faces everywhere we go.
    The majority of us have suffered unsolicited sermons and unwarranted attacks from green organic zealots for what seems like forever. We had hoped it was only a childish phase they were going through but it’s beginning to look like a serious permanent social impairment on their part. The way foodies charge about scolding and snuffing, I wonder if the mental malfunction isn’t in the same region of the brain as Tourette syndrome? Or is it the case green organic theology naturally attracts narcissistic bigots?

  • Now if we could somehow harness the energy from the smugness that many organic food eaters suffer from we would be energy independent (which would no doubt contribute to the national smugness index or NSI as the smug industry leaders like to call it).
    Okay, I keed, sort of. Take with a grain of salt…or not, since smug people preach against it.
    Okay, take with a grain of substitute salt.
    PS- Anyone know where I can find substitute sea salt with substitute, all natural iodine? 🙂

  • I’m sure this is simply an unhappy coincidence. I mean, what are the odds of organic food eaters ALSO being jerks?
    And what’s this about a pay wall? Why should we have to pay for someone elses work? Everything should be free, man.
    Then everyone could afford to be jerks…I mean, eat organic food.

  • Carlo Silvestri

    I think it’s fairly obvious from just reading the comments on this article that the opposite is true. Look in the mirror and read the words that you’ve left.

  • Michael Bulger

    I’m reading the full study. (I have access through my university.) A few points that make the conclusion and subsequent press flurry erroneous.
    First, and perhaps most importantly, the subjects were shown photos of different food items. For instance: an apple with an Organic seal vs. mustard; or an Organic carrot vs. a brownie. All the Organic foods were vegetables, but none of the comfort or control foods were vegetables. There was no Organic carrot vs. conventional carrot comparison. You could just as easily attribute the results of this study to vegetables as you could attribute the results to the Organic label.
    The “helping a needy stranger” was volunteering to participate in another study for another professor. The researcher did not mention any controls for work schedules or how busy the subjects might be. In such a small population (62 undergraduates), its hard to judge whether the more limited time volunteered by the group exposed to Organic/vegetable images was a result of the exposure or confounding factors.
    For me, the first part is what renders the conclusion that Organic images affect behaviors unsupported. If they showed the undergrads pictures of two types of apples and compared the results, then maybe we could start a conversation about how Organic labels influence behavior. But Eskine didn’t do this. Try again?
    It might make for provocative headlines, but this study is very weak. I don’t think the data can be used to make the conclusions that media and a lot of commenters seem to want to make.

  • Alex

    Well, I can definitely say the same of the “Bible Thumpers”! They are not only in your face, but if you don’t believe in what they stand for they become pushy, rude and insufferable! Wonder if any of the above scientists work for the large Ag-business? They are afraid of losing their market share. All the people I know who eat organic food are the most helpful and nice people I know.

  • Jos

    The study that Really should be paid attention to is out of UCLA that found diets high in fructose have major impacts on learning and memory:
    http://earthsky.org/science-wire/this-is-your-brain-on-sugar-ucla-study-shows-high-fructose-diet-sabotages-learning-memory
    Obviously regular quantities of junk food is Really at the root of the blind acceptance of industrial, processed foods along with the disparagement of the proven healthy alternatives…

  • Amanda, as with this study, the Mazar/Zhong study was roundly criticized for extrapolating from lab conditions to the real world, and making sweeping over-generalizations with little data.
    http://silentloudmouth.wordpress.com/tag/mazar-zhong/
    The only unwarranted attack I see in this comment thread seems to be yours, against those who do prefer organic foods.
    All these studies confirm is that there are professors without tenure in universities, desperate to get something into print so they can keep their jobs.
    People who buy organics generally do so because we’re against the overuse of pesticides and herbicides, as well as farming practices that have demonstrated harm to the environment. Many believe the food is better and less contaminated, and they’re more likely to be getting food without a lot of hidden factors.
    But purchasing organic food is a by-product of a larger, more complex belief system, which is why studies like these are completely and hopelessly flawed.
    But they generate good press, don’t they?

  • Allison M.

    Moral licensing isn’t a new concept. It certainly isn’t an invention of Dr. Eskine.
    It just happens some people are unnaturally prone to feel superior and entitled. Those prideful pretenders have always walked among us. Uh, well strode or swaggered, actually, levitating conspicuously above and apart from the common rabble, noses held high, fingers wagging.
    Lately these morally superior types have a convenient medium of expression in organic foods and lofty air-headed foodie nonsense in general. It is a very real psychological affliction suffered by a few who obsessively and unfairly project their phobic agendas upon all of us. These foodie preachers are blissfully irrational — they must be; what on earth could possibly convince any sane person to believe we need to suffer the smarmy proselytizing of even one more organic vegan, of even one more aspiring weekend dung farmer?
    Foodie delusions of grandeur aside, a very real mental health issue lurks in the form of orthorexia. This may be as serious as anorexia nervosa was a couple of decades ago. The two disorders may not be entirely unrelated. Taken together, there still is plenty of suffering attributable to these eating disorders.
    It is not uncommon these days to overhear little kids lecturing and scolding us about foods out of an unnatural fear of salt, sugar, fat, etc. Little kids worried sick with their parents’ goofy food-related hypochondria. Little different from earlier spawn of overprotective moms who obsessed over bowel movements and quack remedies.

  • Catherine J Frompovich

    Does this ‘study’ prove the authenticity of deceit in scholastic research protocols?

  • Daniel

    I think the studies confirm what we all experience, that organic eaters are a pretty smug lot. What I don’t understand is what they have to be so damned smug about. Organic foods are, at best only nutritionally equivalent to comparable conventional foods. All the hoopla over avoiding tiny traces of pesticide residues and cutting unspecified greenhouse gas is only so much hot air blown in desperate defense of mythical frivolity. The only certain difference is in price. Organics are splendidly pricey, that’s their principal differentiating feature. How can anyone be smug when they are over-paying? Is it simply that they have no sense of value and can only rely upon retail price as a proxy for quality? Organic eaters should be embarrassed by their poor judgement and extravagant lifestyle. I am always dumbfounded whenever they insist upon telling me how to shop, just awed by their naive audacity.

  • Mark

    Ha! –“Amanda” protests so superiorly and SMUGLY — that she must be secretly eating Good Food on the sly — if this study has any credibility to it at all…

  • Jon

    Smugness IS as Smugness Does — eh “Daniel”, “Allison” and “USS Ben”…

  • Ruby

    I wonder if “Jon” could tell us how many of the commenters who are supporting organic schlock also happen to be paid shills of the organic small farm lobby, paid by industry organizations like NOFA to jerk us around? At least one we know of, right Jon? Why no disclosure, Mr. Policy Director? Not too proud of it, eh?

  • Ruby, let’s not go there. It’s just as easy to ask if those who are so vehemently against organic produce are employed by some large, conventional agribusiness corporation.
    We should be able to agree or not based on what we say. No one here is offering anything factual, without at least providing links so that people can judge the merit of the fact for themselves.
    Most people are offering opinion–and it shouldn’t matter who each of us are when it comes to opinions.
    That is the best thing about comments: we’re all equal.
    So let’s just agree, or not, but let’s not play the “I know who you are…” card.
    OK?

  • Marty

    Right Shelly, we should never turn the paid shill card face up, we should simply never “go there”. Unless they work for Monsanto or something. Then we go there, don’t we Shelly? Or if they actually earn a living for their family from commercial agriculture down on the farm, then we call them a CAFO and rip ’em a new one, right Shelly? But if one is an opinionated armchair quarterback paid by NOFA or HSUS or CSPI or USC or…well, there is no benefit to disclosure then, right Shelly? I mean, a good righteous double standard is just another of the entitlements enjoyed by organic eaters, isn’t that right? Geez, moral license, that’s precisely what Eskine, Mazar, Zhong and other researchers have documented! Point taken, Shelly.

  • capty

    The food certainly doesn’t cause the “holier-than-thou” attitude, but it is true that most “environmentally conscious”, organic eating, recycling types have a snooty superior attitude. It’s unfortunate, because these are all good causes, ruined by the cult-like religiosity of the “environmental Nobility”. Displaced sense of morals really. Self-righteousness abounds in every “cause” and religion. I live in Boulder Colorado, I can attest to it’s Angry, uptight, snooty atmosphere.

  • Marty, when you can form coherent thoughts, do return.