Grumpy Granola Heads – How Organic Food Puts You in a Bad Mood

If you really are what you eat, you may want to think twice before hitting the local organic farmers market this weekend. New research shows that organic food makes people more judgmental and less likely to help others.

The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal comes from an author working hard to uncover the link between food and mood. In this case, he exposed participants to one of three types of food: branded organic foods, comfort foods, and so-called neutral foods. The organic food group was shown pictures of products from Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance. The comfort food group was shown pictures of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. The control group was shown “neutral” foods such as oatmeal and condiments.

After viewing pictures of food, participants completed a questionnaire in which they were asked to rank moral transgressions, including consensual sex between cousins and lawyers trawling emergency rooms for new clients. The organic food group judged the transgressions most harshly of the three experimental groups. The participants were also asked to quantify the amount of time they would be willing to spend to help a needy stranger. The comfort group reported an average of 24 minutes, while the organic group reported they would give up only 11 minutes to help. The control group offered 19 minutes.

The organic group reported that they felt that they had already done enough and did not need to help anymore. As if buying better-for-you-and-the-environment (supposedly) food is their good deed for the day.

Evidence for oral-moral connections is not new. Other flavorful research has shown that sweet tastes can prompt favorable judgments of others, and bitter tastes produce a feeling of moral disgust. Though not food-related, other outside influences also affect moral attitudes, including physical cleanliness, which makes people less judgmental of the moral transgressions of others.

Intuition and conscious reasoning, along with social, religious, and cultural influences, guide moral judgment. Is buying fair trade coffee or free-range chicken the most influential piece of your ethical puzzle? Organic foods are put on a pedestal, and the current study suggests that organic foodies are more self-righteous. Maybe they’re just unhappy because their grocery bill is so high.

The study does not evaluate whether people who eat organic foods are bad-tempered or judgmental before they choose organic foods. And, showing people pictures of food does not define their lifestyle habits or food choices. Still, the author concluded that organic food exposure attenuated a person’s desire to be altruistic. That sure leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Chapman, H., Kim, D., Susskind, J., & Anderson, A. (2009). In Bad Taste: Evidence for the Oral Origins of Moral Disgust Science, 323 (5918), 1222-1226 DOI: 10.1126/science.1165565

Cushman, F., Young, L., & Hauser, M. (2006). The Role of Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgment: Testing Three Principles of Harm Psychological Science, 17 (12), 1082-1089 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01834.x

Eskine, K. (2012). Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550612447114

Eskine KJ, Kacinik NA, & Prinz JJ (2011). A bad taste in the mouth: gustatory disgust influences moral judgment. Psychological science, 22 (3), 295-9 PMID: 21307274

Schnall S, Benton J, & Harvey S (2008). With a clean conscience: cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments. Psychological science, 19 (12), 1219-22 PMID: 19121126

Image via Joe Hamilton Photography / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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