You and I may be jerks, but it's not likely because we eat organic food, which a recent study out of Loyola University suggests. The controversial study has been criticized for not actually observing the behaviors of people who regularly eat organic food, but rather, what they deemed morally wrong after looking at pictures of organic food. (Mind you, the study participants were all undergraduates, who've been known to consume virtually anything, especially pizza and beer.) So while the study has little merit on the actual dispositions of the various types of people who eat organic food, the discussion itself is still rather interesting. If you've ever asked someone "is that organic?"; "can I read the label?"; or "where's the nearest Whole Foods?", you've probably also heard murmurings a la "food snob" or even "jerk" at some point or another. But are we jerks, really?
Despite Loyola's study, more concrete research actually shows that the average organic food shopper is especially drawn to products and brands that have blatant altruistic values and ethics—and they're willing to pay more to support those time and again. Mainstream brands are following the lead of the booming organic industry—even if somewhat deceptively—not the other way around. And while there's certainly a bevy of organic junk food to choose from, embracing a diet that’s purer and cleaner than most of what's out there can have a profound effect on one's psyche. For one, the toxins clear out allowing you to think and behave more holistically, and, you also begin to realize that those multinational corporate conglomerates making "food products" probably aren't taking your best interest to heart; that there's an inherent deception behind any advertising campaign trying to convince you, for example, that a late-night Taco Bell run qualifies as a "4th meal" as if it 1) actually does you any good to eat that late (it does not) and 2) qualifies as food in the first place (technically). So, if disdain and intolerance for being treated like a subhuman obligated to guzzle down gummy bears, gallons of Mountain Dew and Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites makes me or anyone else appear like a dogmatic jerk… so be it. But besides organic food developing the hair trigger on my moral compass, there are several other, more profoundly-rewarding effects I've come to identify over the years of eating organic: Gratitude and Acceptance. And I know I'm not alone in experiencing those effects.
Having spent the last two decades working in the natural and organic food industry, I've certainly met more than my share of jerks, hypocrites, flat-out liars and genuinely vindictive people, but I'm also assuming we all have, regardless of what we do for a living. Fortunately, I've met far more incredibly generous, humble and sincere people committed to go the extra mile to manufacture, distribute or promote access to clean and healthy food. Farmers struggle for years to convert their soil to meet certified organic status so that they not only make a decent living, but also do so without harming their families, the air, water or ecosystems all interconnected to their farms.
With the rising number of organic vendors making farmers markets their outlet of choice, it's not uncommon to overhear shoppers profusely thanking the farmers for providing clean, unadulterated food for their families, or asking how they can help support the farm. In fact, support and community are intrinsic to the organic food world with deep roots in cooperative markets and CSA programs. Organic foodies often get together for potlucks, cooking or gardening classes, tree plantings and other social community events. Even in Beverly Hills. And while it may be intensely difficult to sit quietly while 1 in 3 adult Americans suffers from obesity (I'm writing this on National Donut Day!), most of us do just that. Diet and lifestyle really are personal choices, after all, even if they bring harm to the individual.
Besides, who wants to say something that might be considered mean or jerk-like to someone else? There are nice ways of discussing virtually any subject. Mean behavior is most often the result of unresolved emotional issues not related to the current situation anyway. And sometimes our emotional states are somewhat out of our control from other factors. Pesticides—common on non-organic foods—cause the endocrine system to go haywire leading to imbalances (so can too much sugar, caffeine and alcohol) that can trigger ill behavior. Certainly there are many reasons we do mean-spirited things, but when your body is healthy, typically so are your mental and emotional states.
The irony here of course is that organic foods aren't really hurting anyone (save the conventional brands losing market share)—it's quite the opposite. The industry has helped thousands of farmers and created stores like Whole Foods Market, repeatedly named as one of the best places to work in the country. And so what if the study found organic food eaters were quicker to make harsh character judgments? The study participants were shown images of people doing terribly immoral (and seemingly jerk-like in their own right) things like eating their pets, taking bribes and stealing—why should we be slow to call those types of behavior out? If we want to make the world a nicer, healthier place, it's going to take more brazen dialogues about what specifically no longer serves us, and if that requires a little harshness in the process, well, doesn't that seem like a fair price for a better world?
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger