Colleen Scherer
Colleen Scherer

People who buy organics faithfully believe in eating food produced without pesticides in an environmentally friendly manner. However, a new study claims that people who tend to buy organics often act like jerks. The study was published May 15 in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“There is a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” said the study’s lead author, Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans.

“I’ve noticed a lot of organic foods are marketed with moral terminology, like Honest Tea, and wondered if you exposed people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices. I wondered if they would be more altruistic or not.”

The study showed three groups of people different photos of foods. One group was shown organic food, the second was shown comfort foods such as cookies and brownies, and the third group was shown neutral foods such as oatmeal and mustard.

“We found that the organic people judged much harder compared to the control or comfort food groups. On a scale of 1 to 7, the organic people were like 5.5, while the controls were about a 5 and the comfort food people were like a 4.89,” Eskine explained in an article published on

Although the study was small, about 60 people, the results showed that when people buy organics, they tend to feel morally superior. As a result, it is inferred that these people feel less inclined to behave ethically in other areas of their life.

“People may feel like they’ve done their good deed. That they have permission, or license, to act unethically later on. It’s like when you go to the gym and run a few miles and you feel good about yourself, so you eat a candy bar,” said the study author.

This is an interesting theory being evaluated. It implies we have a finite amount of ethical behavior. If people use up the majority of their ethical behavior in buying organics, does that mean society will become meaner, less ethical? That sets up an interesting paradox, considering that a tenant of the organic philosophy is to live a life that is wholesome and doesn’t harm the earth. That tenant must not apply to treating other humans well.

I have noticed this behavior in action at my local Whole Foods store. In my experience, the people who shop there are often rude, inconsiderate and tend to either have an uppity attitude or a condescending one. There’s almost an entitlement mentality about them. Let me explain.

When I have gone to Whole Foods during peak hours—I highly recommend that you don’t—I frequently find people engaging in rude behavior like standing around in the middle of the aisles, and blocking the small passageways with their carts. I find people have a general unwillingness to move or even acknowledge that someone other than themselves is there. I’ve noticed these shoppers have an air about them that I don’t see in shoppers of mainstream grocery stores, even in high end stores. 

I’ve never been able to figure why these people act this way. But this study’s author seems to have pegged organic shoppers well. They do seem to have a sense of moral superiority. Unfortunately, their behavior doesn’t seem to extend to their fellow humans. A philosophy that has such rigid tenants won’t ever be adopted by mainstream America.