You are what you eat - and not what you earn: An Experimental Study on the Influence of Income and Self-perception on Food-based Moral Judgments

University essay from Lunds universitet/Företagsekonomiska institutionen

Abstract: One response to mitigate climate change is the replacement of conventional products with more environmentally friendly ones. The increased popularity of organic food can be said to be an effect of this development. This popularity has in combination with the prosocial characteristic of organic food and its associated price premium made sustainable consumption a political question, as it raises questions regarding how wealth in society should be distributed. This thesis relates to the discussion concerning what is deemed as morally right or wrong when it comes to unemployed consumers on welfare purchasing organic food. Drawing on inspiration from Olson et al. (2016) and responding to calls for research related to this observed phenomenon, the purpose of this study is to find out how people make moral judgments based on other people's food consumption, and to see how income moderates this relationship. To further extend theory, the self-perception of the perceiver will be examined. Our objective is to fulfill this purpose by responding to its associated research questions. We also wish to control for the perceived healthiness of the mentioned food choice and a social desirability response bias. To achieve this, we conducted a cross-sectional experimental study, with a 2x2 between-subjects design. The results were obtained through hypothesis testing and the application of a three-way analysis of covariance. The collection of primary data was realized through convenience sampling method using an online survey. In total 350 valid responses were obtained from participants of Swedish, German, and French nationality. Our results revealed that income does not significantly alter the relationship between food choice and moral judgment. Moreover, people’s self-perception regarding their organic food consumption does not influence this relationship. The choice of food does, however, account for a main effect on moral judgment, leading consumers of organic food to be perceived as more moral than consumers of non-organic food. Furthermore, perceived healthiness of food choice and social desirability response bias correlate with moral judgments of other consumers purchasing food - making it essential to control for these factors in the context of our study. The findings endorse the you are what you eat idiom, meaning that characteristics associated with the food one consumes get transferred to the consumer. The prosocial nature of organic food is likely to be one source behind the positive moral judgments of organic consumers. A potential reason behind why moral judgments of food choice are not moderated by income might furthermore be related to the strength of the prosocial effects of organic food in Europe.

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