What image does that word conjure up? Is it your uncle Joe, who lives in a McMansion, complete a large staff to serve his every whim while never saying, "thank you"?
Perhaps your sister’s boyfriend who drives the Bugatti Veyron and talks about it to anyone who will listen?
Maybe a friend of a friend who dons thousands of dollars of exclusive designer clothing to go to the grocery store?
Or, perhaps, it's your next-door-neighbor who buys and eats organic food.
A new and very provocative study, "Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments," by Dr. Kendall J. Eskine from Loyola University New Orleans, indicates that buying and consuming organic foods can actually induce self righteousness and selfish behavior.
In other words, it can make you a jerk.
What influences someone to go organic? Organic foods in general cost more than conventionally grown foods, so why pay more for already expensive food?
Some controversial explanations are provided by the author of the study:
1. It's smart to buy organic food
While it may cost more initially to purchase organic, free range and natural foods, everyone knows it’s the “in thing.” -- So smart people who keep up with the times want to be part of it.
2. Organically grown food is healthy
Toxins that are in pesticides must affect your health -- right? So, it stands to reason that if you don't eat chemically-treated produce, if you don't eat the pesticides, you'll theoretically improve your health.
3. Organic food is "green"
Organic farmers do not use conventional farming methods. Chemical fertilizers dumped in the soil is are a short term treatment that hurts the earth in the long run. So, when you buy organic, you're doing your part to “save the planet.”
Given this list above eating organic food should be all good, right?
Actually, that's not at all the case. And here's why. When folks start shopping and eating organic, a self-righteous change begins. In other words, they become snobs. They look down on those folks in the grocery store check-out line sticking with processed food, frozen dinners and even those shoppers who do not bring their own reusable bag. And they become downright judgmental. (Check out this 6 minute satirical clip from Portlandia).
Even more importantly, the authors of the study found, their sense of self importance and harsh judgement didn't stop with food -- it carried over to other areas of their life, as well.
Here's how the author did the research. The study divided 60 people into three groups: Group 1 was shown organic produce; Group 2 was shown comfort foods like cakes and cookies, and Group 3 was shown non-organic, non-comfort foods, like rice and oatmeal.
Then the study participants were given scenarios consisting of minor moral transgressions and asked to comment on them.
The results: Those in Group 1 ( the organic food group) judged others much more harshly than the participants in the other two groups. Group 1 folks were also less likely to help a stranger in need and they were more selfish with their time.
Organic shoppers say they feel good about themselves. Yet, while their bodies may be benefiting from a healthy lifestyle, their brains are not faring as well.
They may be purchasing goods with beautiful, morally uplifting names like "Honest Tea," "Purity Life," "Back to Nature," "Born Free," "Earth Balance" and "Prince of Peace," but at the same time they seem to succumb to a sense of moral superiority, one that makes them pass judgment on others while maintaining a narcissistic self-focus.
Is this what happens when you feel better because you're contributing to your health and the good of Mother Earth?
Yes, I call it the “moral superiority syndrome” and you see it in fashion statements, too (just say no to fur), cars (hybrid, of course), and religious cults. (Wow, who would have thought the behavior of an organic shopper was comparable to that of a cult member?!)
Bottom line: Next time you consider buying organic, do so if you think it’s good for you. But keep your attitude in check -- you’re not better, smarter, greener or necessarily making more of a difference in the world than your McDonald's chomping neighbor.