Does buying organic food make you an asshole? Science says: Yes


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Before you pelt City Pages' offices with perfectly ripe tomatoes, or fill our gas tanks with in-the-raw cane sugar, let's get this out of the way: We’re not the ones saying that buying organic food makes you an asshole. 

Is any shopping experience more Highlander-esque than Trader Joe’s before a snowstorm? Nope! Have we maybe noted a greater prevalence of supermarket shitheadedness in the aisles of Whole Foods than other grocers? Sure have! (Is that such a documented phenomenon that there was once a viral rap song dedicated to it? It is!)

And our reluctance to join the ranks of the all-organic-everything faithful isn't just supported by anecdotal unease around people who actively buy twice-as-pricey produce anymore. It’s been proven that buying organic food makes you more of an asshole. By science.

The Chicago Tribune has the scoop: “In the kind of life-affirming scientific breakthrough that makes sense of one of life’s frustrating mysteries, Brown University and Boston College neuroscientist Rachel Herz has documented a weird link between buying organic stuff and behaving like, um, a selfish jerk,” Cindy Dampier recently wrote.

(It should be noted that this bit follows an excellent but also horrifying lede about a North Carolina couple who love Whole Foods so much they got married in one earlier this month, a specific kind of sociopathy we’re not even going to touch here.)

Herz is the author of a new book called Why You Eat What You Eat, which addresses a number of modern food topics, just one of which is justifying your decision to purchase bottom-shelf produce.

So how did researchers determine that buying organic is correlated with dickish behavior? Well:

In one study, people who were given pictures of apples labeled “organic” to look at proved much more judgmental and condemning of others when asked to make moral judgments about behavior, versus people who had been shown pictures of comfort foods. When those same groups of people were asked to volunteer a few minutes of their time, Herz says, the organic apples group “volunteered half as much time as people who had looked at desserts.”

“The bottom line” Herz tells the Chi Trib, “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.’”

Herz adds that there's nothing inherently virtuous about buying organic produce. In fact, the "organic" label has nothing to do with health or content. What's more, she says mass-produced organic fare suffers from a lot of the same problems any "big brand" does. 

To which we would like to say: Thank you, Rachel Herz. From us and from our wallets.