Featured image from National Geographic -(http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141009-orangutans-palm-oil-malaysia-indonesia-tigers-rhinos/)
Let’s take a trip to the grocery store. An average shopper looks for the typical vegetables and fruits, main course ingredients, dessert, and snack food. Let’s fill up our cart: bean burgers, lettuce, orange juice, maybe some Halo Top ice cream that has a high protein content, certain snack food products like Oreos and Cheez-Its…all of these easily make their way into our carts. Maybe we browse the ingredient content, maybe we do not. There are ingredients people actively look to avoid, like high fructose corn syrup or a really high sugar content, because of personal health concerns and what it does to our bodies. What we do not always take into consideration is how that specific product impacts the environment or other animals on this planet. That Halo Top we put in our cart earlier, those Oreos and those Cheez-Its, they all contain one ingredient that hurts not only the environment, but our relatives the orangutans as well: Palm oil.
Also known as Palm Kernel oil, this ingredient is not only used in the food industry, but also personal care and beauty products. All of the ones I use are handmade and produce their sources, so there are not any I have a specific list of at the moment. In food, it is used as a vegetable oil for cooking, and sometimes for flavor benefits. Big commercial companies often exploit poorer countries (i.e. Indonesia), where people are willing to burn down the rainforests and destroy habitats in order to plant African oil palm trees, which are the parent plant of the palm fruit. The technique most commonly used to approach clearing the land is called slash and burn agriculture, where forests are set on fire and then the debris is cleared and the desired crop is planted. These smoke emissions also contribute to air pollution and climate change, especially when it is hundred of acres burning for days.
The word “orangutan” means “person of the forest,” so naturally this forest clearing is a huge issue for these species. These animals can live anywhere from 30 to 40 years in the wild, and are native to Sumatra and Borneo, both of which are being cleared for palm oil plantations. There are two species of orangutan, both named for their native regions, and both considered “endangered” or “critically endangered.” A critically endangered species is one that scientists declare at risk of extinction in the near future, while endangered species are slightly better off. So to summarize, these magnificent creatures are at risk of survival because we as humans are not using ethical sources for our ingredients, nor are we taking the time to educate ourselves about the world around us.
Humans tend to think that because we are at the top of the food chain that our actions are condoned, even when it is killing off other species. This is false. Even though not all of us share an environment directly with orangutans, we are responsible for supporting the industries and companies that are fueling their loss of homes and their deaths.
So what do we do? We STOP supporting companies who refuse to investigate where their palm oil is coming from and ones that refuse to switch to more ethical sources. We petition and write to companies whose products we love to make these concerns heard. We do support companies who take the time to source their palm oil ethically, and in some cases, we look for other products. Personally, I prefer Ben & Jerry’s to Halo Top anyway. Many corporations are taking note of customer concerns involving the environment lately, and that means now is the time to make your voice heard and take a stand for those who do not have a voice in our economy, and who are at risk to lose their voice in our environment.
The following links are ones that discuss what companies are using palm oil, which are using ethically sourced, and what consumers should be looking for to ensure that their palm oil products are not responsible for any deaths.
- WWF’s Palm Oil Scorecard & Sustainability Labels:
- Label article/explanation of palm oil: https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/palm-oil-scorecard-2016
- Scorecard: https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/945/files/original/po_scorecard_2016_final.pdf?1474419226
- GreenPeace Scorecard & Company Usage
- Union of Concerned Scientists (USA) Company Ratings Based on Responsible Use