Palm Oil: 5 Easy Steps for Compassionate Consumers
Many of us are on a constant quest to become better consumers. We buy organic plant-based foods, choose natural products that are cruelty-free, and opt for fair-trade whenever we can. But what if our favorite vegan, cruelty-free, fair-trade product is made with palm oil—the production of which destroys the tropical habitats of world’s orangutan population? The great news is that there are simple solutions each of us can take that are not just good for us, but better for the animals and the environment, too.
Extracted from the fruit of the oil-palm tree that grows in tropical climates, palm oil has become so ubiquitous that it’s often hard to avoid. Just scour the ingredients list of your favorite energy bar, peanut butter, or soy milk, and there it is, often masquerading behind pseudonyms like “Vitamin A palmitate” or “stearic acid.” You’ll even find it in unexpected places like lipstick, hair conditioner, and dryer softening sheets!
Each year, throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and other parts of Southeast Asia, the habitats of countless native plant and animal species are slashed and burned to grow the profitable oil-palm, which produces the walnut-sized orange fruit that contain the oil. Orangutans, in particular, are being displaced from their forest homes by the thousands, and scientists prognosticate that they’ll be extinct by 2025 if steps aren’t taken to preserve their habitats.
Thankfully, when it comes to this sensitive issue, there is some good news, according to Thomas King, the 17-year-old vegan founder of Food Frontier. “If the way palm is produced can be made more sustainable,” says King, “the demand can still be met without the severe environmental and social impacts.”
Many companies have started listening to consumer concerns and are taking steps to move away from unethical palm oil. One way they do this by sourcing the oil from small-scale producers who build environmental sustainability into their business models. Other brands are eliminating palm oil altogether and replacing it with olive, sunflower, and other oils that carry a lighter ecological footprint. And dozens of environmental organizations have adopted the cause and are working to educate the public and help consumers make smarter, more compassionate choices when they shop.
You Can Help!
If this issue matters to you, you can make a difference. To help animals and the environment, try implementing these five easy action steps to make more compassionate purchasing decisions and support alternatives to palm oil.
1. Eat More Whole Foods
This one is easy! The fewer processed foods you consume, the less likely you are to purchase and consume palm oil. Eat fresh vegetables, grains, and fruits whenever possible. They’re good for you, and good for the planet!
2. Do Your Research
“Either do online research or call companies to find out if the products you buy contain palm oil, and if so, whether they are certified sustainable,” suggests Thomas King of Food Frontier. “Before you know it, you will have compiled a permanent shopping list of more sustainable and ethical products!”
3. Become a Label-Reading Whiz
Becoming a more informed consumer begins with knowing exactly what you’re putting into your shopping cart—and into your body. Palm oil is sneaky, and masquerades under many names, including palmate, palm-kernel oil, and Elaeis Guineensis.
4. Start Small
“I encourage people to focus on a different group of products each week rather than attempt to review their entire household all at once,” says King. Begin by eliminating hair-care products that contain palm oil, then move on to household goods. Attempting to implement changes all at once can lead to overwhelm.
Sharing what you learn about palm oil and empowering friends and family with your knowledge allows them to join you in making kinder consumer decision. This is a win-win-win for you, the animals, and the environment!
Photo credits: Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay.com
The recipe for a happy life, according to Aurelia d’Andrea, calls for one part great food, one part travel adventure, and two parts companionship (human and animal, in equal measure). She’s living out her kitchen-inspired credo in San Francisco and Paris, France.
Aurelia is the author of Vegetarian Paris.