Sautee, mix, drizzle, dip.
There are a number of ways to incorporate cooking oil into your everyday meals. Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, growing substantially since the 1990s. Globally, most people consume about 17 pounds of it every year. So naturally, there has to be something unsustainable and unethical about it.
The unfortunate reality is that palm oil is hidden in food products, detergents, cosmetics and, to a small extent, biofuel. As controversial as its production is, it isn’t easy to avoid altogether. Palm oil isn’t always clearly spelled out in the ingredient listing, and can appear as any of the following names:
- Etyl palmitate
- Hydrogenated palm glycerides
- Octyl palmitate
- Palm fruit oil
- Palm kernel
- Palm kernel oil
- Palm stearine
And many more… This should emphasize just how often the oil is used in your daily ingredients, snacks, meals, cosmetics or general livelihood.
Palm oil is sourced predominantly in Indonesia and Malaysia, but also in Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala, then exported the nations all over including the United States (duh).
It is a productive crop that is growing in demand because of the lower cost of production. As plantations expand across nearly every continent, tropical forests are threatened more than ever. Millions of acres of forests have been destroyed in the process. Deforestation threatens the existence of biodiverse habitats which includes endangered wildlife, some human communities and even national parks. “Forty-three percent of Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra—which was established to provide habitat for the endangered Sumatran Tiger—has now been overrun with illegal palm oil plantings” (Palm Oil).
Most forests are blazed down with fire, which causes air pollution. A few reports have even stated that some of these fires were so large, they could be seen from space. The smoke from the fires release mass amounts of carbon dioxide that contributes to the destruction of the ozone and therefore, climate change. Many people forget that deforestation remains a critical threat to the environment since trees are required to for wood, to make paper and… oil.
Have you ever heard of a peatland?
It’s pretty impressive! They essentially act like carbon-rich sponges that soak up the carbon dioxide in the air and store it. WE LOVE VEGETATION, PEOPLE. Unfortunately, peatland is drained and burned during the deforestation process. The carbon is subsequently released back into the atmosphere. The methane and other greenhouse gases looming the air from the fires already blazing, contextually feeds into our environmental stressors, and “…Unless the water table is restored, peatlands continue to decay and release global warming emissions for decades” (Palm Oil 2018). Oh, and the emissions also release a toxic haze that can cause health issues in nearby communities.
Palm oil causes erosion, which “causes increased flooding and silt deposits in rivers and ports”. When forests are wiped out to establish a plantation, and trees are improperly replanted on steep slopes, it disrupts ……
Several major companies are recognizing the significant impact palm oil is having on the environment, and are choosing to be more proactive with their ingredient sourcing. It’s refreshing and comforting to discover, but to be accredited as sustainable isn’t any easy transition. Another major takeaway is the cost of sustainably sourced palm oil. Every year, certified sustainable companies have to be audited to renew any certifications. Environmental audits can range between $1,500-25,000 depending on the property.
Now more than ever, we are recognized even more alarming signs of climate change. Sometime I feel like we are on the cusp of an utter dystopian meltdown. Realizing that a very common ingredient found in practically every item in my pantry contains palm oil, is unnerving. It initially had me at a point of desperation, debating whether this blog would prove to be futile or not. Not another issue that has gone under the rug for decades! What more are we unaware of? Can we really invoke environmental change and reverse the damage? This kind of devastation and destruction isn’t worth it, especially in 2020. We know better, but not all hope is lost.
Remember, sustainable action does not need to be done perfectly; It just needs to be done imperfectly by the millions.
So, here’s the game plan!
- If possible, try to avoid items made with palm oil (this includes skincare, haircare, etc.).
- Keep an eye out for items that declare their palm oil is sustainably sourced. The logo is posted below!
- Do your research before your next shopping trip to be more prepared. Just a reminder– it’s okay to start small!
- Support the missions of groups such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is a large, international group of palm oil producers, palm oil buyers, and environmental and social groups.
Palm Oil. 2020, www.worldwildlife.org/industries/palm-oil.
“Palm Oil.” Union of Concerned Scientists, 18 Jan. 2018, www.ucsusa.org/resources/palm-oil.