The Reason Local Fruits and Vegetables Taste So Much Better

When heirloom tomatoes are available at both the grocery store and the farmers market, and the grocery store is selling them for way less money than those sold by your local organic farmer, why would you choose the pricier variety? Plenty of social and political arguments can be made in favor of the farmers market tomatoes—but at the end of the day, they just taste better.


According to a study published in the August issue of the journal Appetite, that might not be an unreasonable claim to make. A series of experiments suggest that “moral satisfaction renders food of ethical origin subjectively tastier.” In addition to more altruistic desires for society as a whole—say, to reduce harm to the environment—the huge rise of the organic market over the past decade may be partly driven by that perception of better taste. Call it the farmers market marketing effect: If a food makes you feel like you’re helping the earth and your community, you’re going to think it tastes better.

The researchers conducted three experiments to prove their case: One involved an examination of data from a 5,000-person survey of consumer purchasing habits in eight European Union countries, and two experiments were conducted on small samples that tested how an individual’s sense of altruism and environmentalism influenced what food and beverage products they enjoyed.

“Only people who endorsed altruistic values derived moral satisfaction from consuming fair trade (vs. conventional) food,” the authors wrote, “and only people who endorsed biospheric values derived moral satisfaction from consuming locally produced (vs. imported) beverage.”

That the relationship between morals and taste is cyclical has been observed in other studies. New research from the University of Iowa found that “there really are a variety of reasons why people go to the farmers market,” according to Ion Vasi, the study’s author. He describes such a retail venue as a “moral market,” where it’s not only a question of flavor but of the social currency that comes from purchasing food that supports a community, a local economy, and a farmer you see every week who keeps shoppers coming back.

That moral satisfaction will, apparently, make everything you buy taste that much more delicious.

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