It’s game time. What do these following products have in common? And no, the snarky answers like “you can buy them at a store” or “they are made of atoms” don’t count. I’m on to your tricks.
- Chocolate bars
- Pizza dough
- Instant noodles
- Prepackaged bread
- Ice cream
You figure it out yet? What’s that? Ugh………no, the answer isn’t “they can be found on planet Earth.” I mean, yes, they can be. But that’s not the point….look, I said I was on to your tricks! Why do you insist on making this no fun!
Fine, fine, I’ll just tell you. It’s palm oil, okay? They all have palm oil in them. ARE YOU HAPPY!?!?!
Okay, I’m calm now. Yeah, yeah, I’m good. Sorry about that. I guess I get riled up over palm oil. Who knew?
Have you ever heard of it? Whether you have or not, I’d bet my last nickel that you’ve consumed it in the past week. It’s one of the most common ingredients in processed foods and many consumer goods, and that list above isn’t exhaustive – lots more things have palm oil in them (credit to the World Wildlife Fund as my source
for the list).
Many products list it as the benign-sounding ingredient “vegetable oil” (there are other vegetable oils, but it’s one of the most common along with soybean oil). It has extremely versatile physical properties with a very low cost. And from a human health standpoint, it is benign-ish (it’s a replacement for trans fats, though it does contain plenty of saturated fats, so you’ve been warned).
I’m out of my depth talking too much about dietary health, so I’ll punt on the rest of that discussion. From an environmental standpoint though, I know a thing or two, and in that respect palm oil is a massive problem.
Oil palm trees grow in tropical regions such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which contain some of the most carbon-dense and biodiversity-rich forests in the world. To grow oil palm trees for commercial purposes, many companies are clear cutting virgin forests to create palm plantations. That is…um…not good.
WWF once again has good information
on the impacts. As oil palm plantations increase, they threaten the existence of megafauna species like tigers and orangutans. Want a statistic to back it up? Malaysia’s primary forests are home to nearly 80 different mammals, while Malaysian oil palm plantations can be home to just 12 different species. And that’s just the biodiversity concern – deforestation for oil palm also causes soil erosion and contributes to global warming. Unfortunately, demand for palm oil is only increasing.
So what should you do? First, be an informed consumer. Second, keep an eye out for products that are certified by a standard like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
. Third, exercise your voting power with your dollars. It matters more than you know!