One of my favourite Christmas traditions is to ensure that our flat is stocked with at least one, ok, maybe two Terry’s chocolate oranges and a tray of Ferrero Roche, and then on Christmas Eve, I park myself on the sofa with said chocolate and enjoy. Good times. This year, however, that’s not going to happen because I’m banning them, as they use palm oil.
It’s something I’ve been aware of for a while, but to be honest, I’ve been avoiding taking action because my beloved Nutella (chocolate fiend? Me?) also contains palm oil and it’s taken me awhile to accept that I’m going to have to blacklist that from the shopping list too. But, it was Iceland’s ‘banned from TV’ Christmas advert - where a little girl’s friend, a baby orangutan describes why he isn’t living in the rainforest anymore, which made me realise that I needed to accept responsibility for the fact that by buying these products, no matter how delicious they are, means that I’m supporting an industry that is ruining our planet.
What’s the big deal?
Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world and with that demand the industry is huge, and we all know what happens when greed gets in the way of nature.
So, you’ve got massive deforestation of virgin tropical rainforest (where the palm grows the best) - according to the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), an area equivalent to the size of 300 football pitches are cleared every hour to make way for these plantations. This in turn has destroyed numerous plant life, and thousands of animals including endangered species like the orangutans and Sumatran tigers, Pygmy elephants and rhinos. They lose their homes and are often left starving, orphaned and killed in the most brutal ways because they are seen as agricultural pests. But, it’s not just the nature thing, the plantations have created conflict between local communities over traditional land rights - local people have been evicted and communities impoverished.
Why do companies use it?
It’s thought that about half of all packaged products sold in supermarkets contains palm oil. As well as chocolate (it’s used to keep it from melting and to give it a smooth and shiny appearance), palm oil is found in pizza dough (enhances the texture), instant noodles (used to pre-cook the noodles), ice cream (consistency), biscuits (creamy taste and texture) and packaged bread (inexpensive oil and easy to bake with). It’s also used widely in our cosmetics - lipstick (smoothness and doesn’t melt), shampoo (helps to restore natural oils) and soap (removes oil and dirt from skin and hair).
Other terms for palm oil
Now that the public are more aware of the palm oil problem, producers are being more savvy at hiding it from the ingredients list. Here are some other terms to look out for:
Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol.
Products that have palm oil in them
Young’s frozen fish
Kellogg’s Special K
What can I do?
While this all sounds like the plot of a Disney film - cute animals being killed and orphaned (it’s estimated that 100,000 orangutans have died and over 90% of their natural habitat has been destroyed) by fat, greedy humans, but unfortunately this is real life, and the hero of the story is yet to be cast.
There are companies like RSPO (Roundtable on sustainable palm oil) that ensures producers are buying it from certified sustainable palm oil suppliers, but it’s still early days and for the consumer there are no labels that indicate that you’re buying something from them. Pushing producers to do the right thing is key, which is why Iceland’s stance was so important and a game changer. Hopefully other big supermarkets will hear us.
On a personal level, I will try to not buy products with palm oil in them, I stress ‘try’ because I’m not a saint, I have a two-year old daughter, so spending hours in the supermarket reading ingredients lists isn’t an option, plus it’s ridiculous how many products it’s actually in, but I will be more conscientious about it, checking when I can.
Yes, I am sad that I won’t have Terry and Ferrero in my life this Christmas, but it’s a tiny sacrifice in the scheme of things, and I’ll be even more upset if this destruction continues.