The Kind Life is a community around Alicia Silverstone and The Kind Diet where friends, doctors, experts in green living, and members share vegan tips.

Green Life

What’s the Deal with Palm Oil?

Hey kind lifers,

I wanted to touch base with you all on palm oil since this ingredient deserves serious attention! Palm oil is a kind of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Today, palm oil is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. Conventional palm oil is an ingredient so commonly used in food and body care that you probably have it all over your kitchen and bathroom without even realizing it!

The conventional palm oil industry has immense impacts on deforestation, clearing of peatlands (carbon rich swamps), habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses. It’s large scale deforestation (300 football fields per hour!) is pushing many species to extinction. There are fewer than 400 Sumatra Tigers left on the island of Sumatra and only 1,500 Bornean Pygmy Elephants left in Borneo. On top of this, the clearing of the land’s carbon rich peatlands has been especially damaging to the world’s climate. These peatlands can hold 18-23 times as much carbon than the forests above them, with the peatlands in Southeast Asia storing roughly the same amount of carbon as the Amazon forest.. Once these peatlands are drained and burned, tons of carbon is released into the atmosphere, leading Indonesia to be the fifth largest contributor of carbon to the world’s atmosphere after large nations such as China and the United States.

Despite how horrendous conventional palm oil is – you maybe using it every day without realizing it. Half the packaged food (and other) products found on supermarket shelves contain it –  in everything from cookies, potato chips, chocolate to cosmetics, toothpastes, shampoos and more. What’s tricky about palm oil is it can be disguised under the name “vegetable oil” or other words associated with the word “palm.” For a list of the sneaky ingredient labels palm oil can be listed as, check out this list. If you’re still unsure whether a product contains it, do a search on your phone or call the company!

UCS

Conventional palm oil is devastating and there are a ton of companies with very weak commitments (or none at all) to source it responsibly. Check out this scorecard created by Union of Concerned Scientists to see how companies you support rank and sign this petition to urge big brands away from conventional palm oil. If you’re feeling energized, give these companies a call! Additionally, go through your products to make yourself aware of which is/isn’t using palm oil and if it is, notice if it’s certified organic, RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified, and/or Palm Oil Done Right. If it’s not, make your voice heard! Contact these companies and support products that are committed to sustainable and ethical sourcing. We need to end the production of unsustainable conventional palm oil!

 

Top photo credit: Igor Ovsyannykov

 

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  • Rhonda Dunlap

    Alicia, thank you for shining a light on this devastating, processed product. A few years ago I saw a palm oil in production inland in Costa Rica. The camp for the workers looked very meager and the smell from the refinery was horrendous. I could not imagine the people working there as the pollution that was in that area was very evident. I was concerned for the orangutans and other monkeys, birds, sloths and other species trying to live their little lives in their natural environment that is being raped by humans.

    Palm oil is not a health food and people should wake up and stop the production of this damaging product.