It feels as though there is always something to worry about when you go to the grocery store to stock up your fridge. You have to constantly read labels to make sure that things aren’t going to kill you or make you sick. Well, there is another one to add to your “do not buy” list alongside GM, artificial preservatives and MSG: palm oil.
We live in an age where our food is genetically modified, sprayed with chemicals, and overly processed. As a result, being an educated consumer is very important to doing your part to preserving our planet. I have taken it upon myself to read my packaged food labels to ensure that I am not purchasing products that contain palm oil because it is in a surprising amount of the foods on our grocery store’s shelves.
Palm oil is the number one used vegetable oil and it is contributing to the emissions of greenhouse gases and the destruction of wildlife habitat. It is what many peanut butter brands use to make their products silky and spreadable, and what some cookie brands use to create a creamier taste. Palm oil is harvested from tropical rainforests in areas such as Indonesia, the Brazilian Amazon and Malaysia and contributes to the devastating amounts of deforestation occurring each day.
Due to the high demand of palm oil, large areas of rainforests are being cleared in order to build palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area equal to 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour for palm oil production. This is detrimental to our planet’s health because the areas being cleared has carbon-rich soil, up to 99 million kilograms of carbon per square mile. As these lands are cleared, it releases carbon into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. This affects all of us on planet Earth, not just those that live in the areas that directly see the impact of palm oil production. The long term effects that deforestation has on our atmosphere will prevail much longer than the satisfaction of that creamy, buttery cookie that was made with palm oil.
The clearcutting of forests depletes the habitat of a number of wildlife, most of which are already considered endangered. The most impacted species is the orangutan. The World Wildlife Fund anticipates that the orangutan will become extinct within the next five to ten years. In the past 20 years, 90 percent of orangutan habitat has been destroyed as a result of clear cutting to establish more palm plantations.
Related Post: Don’t Palm Us Off
Once I started on the path of avoiding palm oil in my food, I came to realize that it is in many different things besides just food. It is in a large number of household items, from toothpaste to laundry detergent. It is the highest traded vegetable oil in the world and accounts for 65 percent of oils in international trade. It is literally everywhere. But you can avoid it by being a little proactive with your shopping habits.
According to the WWF, some of the most common items that contain palm oil are:
- pizza dough
- laundry detergent
- ice cream
- packaged bread
- instant noodles
Not only do these items have adverse affects on the wildlife in the areas, often times the workers at these plantations are forced labor and are victim to many different human rights violations. Some of the land that has been used for plantations has been seized from the country’s natives and have left them homeless and displaced. It is hard for me to pretend that these people are not harmed in the production of the items that I love but the issue is real and deserves to be addressed.
There are many sustainably minded companies that have made the commitment to not use palm oil in their products as a result of consumer persuasion. My favorite switch in my attempt to avoid palm oil was switching to Pacifica mascara. It is vegan, cruelty-free and void of palm oil and the best mascara I have ever used. I have sadly had to commit to reading every label on anything that I buy from Trader Joe’s because nearly every frozen and jarred item contains palm oil.
I found that it is nearly impossible to completely avoid palm oil in all areas of my life and I began to seek out alternatives. It turns out that replacing palm oil with another type of oil such as olive, grape seed or otherwise would require more land and lead to further land degradation. This ingredient also cannot be easily replaced because it is flavorless and odorless and more versatile than other oils. People in the areas where palm oil is produced recognize the need for sustainable palm oil production and have made great strides in creating sustainable palm oil plantations. It empowers impoverished people by giving them employment in healthy working conditions and the sustainable farming practices protect their farmland and our atmosphere.
It is common knowledge that most things are best in moderation, but in this case it is ethically wrong to purchase food or household items that have unsustainable palm oil in them. Where and how you spend your hard earned money influences the market and your food providers. You cast your vote every time you make the choice to reject a product that was made with non-sustainable palm oil – voting for the rights of the land, air, rainforest, wildlife and future generations of people.
By only purchasing sustainably produced palm oil or palm oil-free products sends a message that we want the market to change to help protect the things that matter most – global environmental health and the people of our planet.