It's OK to let cage-free, Fair Trade, and other healthy food labels persuade you to eat better, but you're kidding yourself if you think it tastes differently
Maintaining a healthy, ethical diet can be tough, especially since there are new food labels all the time. There's organic food, and 100 percent USDA certified organic food, but also cage-free, Fair Trade, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, local, and so on.
It can be hard enough to parse what the terms actually mean, nevermind their effect on your body. But most people opt for organic simply because it tastes fresher, juicier, more real. Or at least, you think it does. (Check out these Seriously Disturbing Facts About Organic Food.)
A recent article published in the journal Appetite found that people enjoyed foods more if they thought they were ethically sourced—even when the labels were fake. Researchers wanted to look at whether a product's origin—or supposed origin—and ethicality had an influence on the subjective taste of that product. They suspected that the "moral satisfaction" of organic food heightened expectations of how good it would taste, which in turn actually influenced the taste for the better.
These results might suggest that a person's dedication to organic food labels is silly and naive. Why pay more for cage-free eggs if they all taste the same? But most consumers aren't choosing ethical foods because they taste better; they choose them because they believe it's the right thing to do.
The health benefits of organic food are still highly debated—recent research shows that Organic Food Has More Antioxidants, but is lower in amino acids—so it might be worthwhile for you to figure out which aspects of your food are important to you. Do genetically modified foods freak you out? Or pesticides? Can you afford organic?
When it comes to taste, flavor, and satisfaction, the research shows that you have to believe ethically sourced foods are important in order to enjoy them. If you think Fair Trade is a bunch of hooey, well, then you should read The Story Behind Fair Trade. But more importantly, you won't suddenly appreciate the subtleties in your Colombian coffee beans. That moral superiority complex, though, might actually lead you to make decisions that help the environment and support your local farms. Our taste buds are evolving!