Pictures from the organic, comfort, and control groups.

Finally, scientific confirmation for that suspicion you’ve nurtured while being shoved around by yoga-pantsed moms in the Whole Foods produce aisle: Organic food makes you rude and selfish. According to a study by a Loyola University professor, people who eat organic are more judgmental and less inclined to engage in altruistic behavior. In short: Maybe you’ll live longer if you eat organic, but everyone will wish you hadn’t.

Are you now firing off an angry comment about how much standards have slipped at Grist? Well, slow your roll there, Andy Rooney — I’m pretty sure this study is an elaborate troll. After all, the more pissed-off you get about the implications, the more you make the researchers look like they’re on to something here. It’s kind of diabolically genius! Especially once you hear more details about the design of the experiment, which was frankly demented, so buckle up.

First of all, we’re talking about 62 participants, all of them undergraduates (i.e., not exactly known for the tensile strength of their moral fiber). They weren’t selected on the basis of being regular organic food consumers, and they weren’t even fed organic food — a third of them just looked at pictures of vegetables that were labeled organic. Another group looked at pictures of comfort food like ice cream, and a control group looked at pictures of neutral food like oatmeal.

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Then they looked at a “packet” describing, and this is for real:

  • A politician accepting bribes
  • An ambulance-chasing lawyer looking for clients in a hospital
  • A shoplifter
  • A student stealing library books
  • “Second cousins engaging in consensual incest”
  • “A man eating his already-dead dog”

The students rated all these behaviors on how morally wrong they were, on a scale of 1-7 [Ed. note: I originally said 1-10, sorry] and the researchers averaged their ratings into a single score — because if there’s anything that it makes sense to average, it’s my judgment of someone taking a Bic lighter from a 7-11 and my judgment of some guy chowing down on his pet.

Anyway, after averaging out those moral judgments and assessing participants’ willingness to volunteer for another study, the researchers found that the 20 people who looked at pictures of organic food made harsher moral judgments — a whopping .5 points higher on the 1-7 morality scale — and volunteered less time. Importantly, this had nothing to do with whether they liked organic food — just whether they saw it. (The participants rated food’s desirability separately.) Voila: organic food equals dick behavior. Science!

Of course, you could also interpret these results to mean that people are crabbier after looking at pictures of vegetables. (All the organic foods were vegetables; none of the comfort foods or control foods were.) Or that people are more morally lax after they look at a brownie for a while. Or that students who look at oatmeal are fans of incest. Or that NOTHING, because there were only 62 participants and they didn’t eat anything and this experiment is weird.

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But then you miss the best part, which is watching sanctimonious organic food fans — and come on, guys, you know there are lots of them, otherwise would this study resonate enough that people would write about it? — getting all self-righteous in online comments sections, thus making this tiny ridiculous study look downright incisive. Hence my theory that the entire thing is a troll. Don’t rise to it! Look at a picture of a brownie! I hear it makes you nicer.

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