Organic—and Ornery

A recent study conducted by researchers at Loyola University New Orleans looked at how food related to morality: how and whether what we eat influences how we think and act. The results, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, revealed that eating organic foods can most definitely impact morality, kindness, and attitudes toward others—but not necessarily in a good way. Participants who were exposed to organic foods, the study reported, volunteered significantly less time to help a stranger in need. They were also far more judgmental about others’ actions as they related to food and non-food subjects. In short, people who ate organic food were more likely to be jerks.

While most of the organics-loving people we know are kind, generous, lovely non-jerks, the results of the Loyola study could perhaps be explained by what Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a senior Kripalu faculty member, calls “the curse of consciousness.” That is, the more we know, the more we want to impose that knowledge onto others. As we make changes for ourselves it becomes easier to notice those who have not made those changes for themselves, or who otherwise live differently. We may then judge them, even unconsciously.

“With major life shifts, there is an inherent tendency to think, Wow, life is different now. Let me tell you about it,” says Aruni. According to the Loyola study, people who ate organic were more likely to form a moral identity, or the belief that their moral character is based on membership in a group. Those who are not of this group, meanwhile, are immoral. “But as it is with politics,” Aruni continues, “our job is not to change other people. Maybe the best thing for you to do for yourself and the planet is to eat organic vegetables. For someone else, there may be a different truth.”

The answer is not, of course, for everyone to stop eating organic foods. But it is worth considering how we share our interests and beliefs with those around us, and how we might learn to accept those who do not share those beliefs. “When we talk about passionate nonattachment, ‘passion’ is not the hard part of that formula,” says Aruni. “Speaking our truth doesn’t mean enrolling people in the Prius club, or the organics-only club. It means living as it works for you. And if you live in a way that works for you, it may very well inspire others to want to know what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. That’s how real change happens.”

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