Does organic food make you unbearable?
Gwyneth Paltrow ... champion of the organic food movement. Photo: Goop
There should be a word for the smug feeling you get when a piece of independent research confirms your own long-held prejudices.
I experienced this emotion this week when I read about a research paper that concluded that people who eat organic food are more likely to be judgmental about their fellow (wo)man.
Which meant that, finally, I was free to judge them.
According to the abstract of the paper, published in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science, people exposed to organic foods ‘‘judged moral transgressions significantly harsher’’ than the control group.
They also volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger. From which I think we reasonably can extrapolate: Thank God there is finally a legitimate reason to dislike Gwyneth Paltrow.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Kendall J. Eskine (who has a middle initial, as all American professors are contractually obliged to), told US television that: “There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves. And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess.”
That made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess. What a delicious American under-statement that is. Thank you, Dr Kendall J Eskine.
Okay, so I get the irony of the author of his study essentially judging the organics cohort for being judgemental, but I also think that one of the more insidious trends of the modern era, along with LOLcat videos and pole-dancing tweens, is the moral sanctity people attach to their food choices. Eating is no longer something we do for taste and energy-consumption, it is a political act.
Which makes eating, which is supposed to be both functional and fun, just tiring and tedious. The ability to select and consume biodyanamic, macro-biotic, locally-sourced and fully organic food that, with luck, is also Fair Trade, is surely the greatest middle-class indulgence of our time.
When I lived in the United Kingdom, where food labelling and transparency was far greater than I was used to in Australia, I used to spend anxious hours trawling the supermarket shelves.
Was it better to get the Fair Trade coffee from an exotic locale, or the stuff with low air miles? Were the chemical traces in non-organic food really anything to worry about? Why exactly was organic food so expensive anyway? Wasn’t it a bit unfair to buy organic at the expense of the poor African farmer who couldn’t afford not to use chemicals? That’s before you even got to the obscene amount of packaging the manufacturers used.
This bourgeois angst was famously lampooned in the Portlandia episode about chicken, in which the couple at the restaurant quiz their waitress about the provenance of the poultry on the menu. The waitress produces the chicken’s certification and tells her customers its name was Colin.
Thanks to Eskine’s study, we now know that apparently the more concern you plough into the moral worth of your food, the less you have for your fellow man.
The researchers called it ‘‘moral licensing’’ - whereby because you do good deeds in one area of life, you feel like you’ve paid your dues and can give up on being good in other areas. Which sounds a lot like a sort of reverse-version of the medieval church system of ‘‘indulgences’’, whereby sinners could buy absolution.
It’s just that modern-day absolution comes in the form of a chicken burger named Colin.