Vegetarian food blog featuring nourishing home cooked recipes, creative baking and luscious chocolate.

Palm Oil – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be suspicious of any product that lists palm oil in the ingredients. Production of this crop has been responsible for ravaging tropical rainforests in our never-ending pursuit of cheap food. However, not all palm oil is bad and in one of my occasional series on ingredients, I give you sustainable palm oil. 

Sustainable palm oil sounds like a contradiction in terms. Palm oil production can not only wreck vital tropical rain forests, but also the lives of the indigenous peoples who live in those forests. Workers rights can be disregarded in an outrageous way. The burning of forests and the destruction of vital ecosystems is contributing to climate change and air pollution. Many know of the plight of the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger and quite rightly people are concerned about it and are boycotting products made of bad palm oil.

Good or Bad Palm OilSo why is this particular oil so popular? The tree itself is easy to grow, efficient and very high yielding, so it sort of makes sense. It’s also a really useful ingredient and is great for frying, baking and extending the shelf life of products. It’s found in about 50% of the goods we buy from supermarkets. It can be found in chocolate *covers face and weeps*, margarine, spreads and baked goods as well as makeup and household cleaners. But is it all bad?

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a not-for-profit organisation that has been working to transform the palm oil industry since 2004. Simply stopping the production of palm oil would not actually help the planet and the peoples and animals that live on it. The crop would simply be replaced by another one that would require even more space to produce the same amount of oil. So the RSPO has come up with a set of standards which it’s encouraging the industry to adopt. The most critical one of these is to refrain from using any lands that are virgin forest, support fragile ecosystems or are particularly important for wildlife. The reduction of pesticides and fires is also seen as important as is respecting workers rights and consulting with local peoples regarding new plantations. It’s worth bearing in mind that 4.5 million peoples in Indonesia and Malaysia currently earn their living from this crop.

Sustainable Palm Oil

The RSPO has made considerable progress, but still needs the help of consumers to be aware and either buy products that carry the RSPO label, or call for products that contain sustainable palm oil. Whole Earth peanut butter, for instance is RSPO certified. At the moment only 21% of the palm oil consumed is sustainably sourced, but the aim is to make that 100% by 2020. No pressure there then.

Artist Jess Dance has created three fun knitted food videos to liven the campaign’s message up a bit. As a once keen knitter, I am still in awe of her creations. Here’s one of them.

What are your thoughts on palm oil and are you happy to buy products that include it? If you’re happy to say yes to good palm oil, why not join in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter or share one of the knitted videos? Noodles, Ice Cream or Cookies. Use the hashtag #GoodBadPalmOil.

If you want to read more on the palm oil debate these Guardian articles might prove useful.

This is a sponsored post. It’s an issue I feel strongly about. I was not expected to write a positive review and all opinions are, as always, my own.

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Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Sammie
    29th May 2016

    As always a brilliantly written, balanced view about such an important subject. I really hope the target to produce 100% of the world’s palm oil by 2020 is achieved. I worry that it won’t but at least progress is being made in the right direction. Hopefully palm oil will become like Fairtrade chocolate. With consumers demanding sustainably sourced Palm oil, therefore pushing producers and manufacturers to meet the standards set. Great post. Sammie xx

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th May 2016

      Thank you so much Sammie, what a very lovely thing to say. I think progress going in the right direction is all we can realistically expect. It took Fairtrade chocolate a long time to go mainstream though, so there is hope.

  2. Leave a Reply

    Maureen
    29th May 2016

    Check out Traidcraft who have led the way on Fairtrade palm oil and use it in cleaning products as well as foods

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      30th May 2016

      I agree Maureen, Traidcraft is a really good organisation and has led the way on all sorts of things.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      30th May 2016

      It really is Becca, but I hadn’t realised until writing this post that palm oil is so much more efficient that other oils in terms of production.

  3. Leave a Reply

    Emma @ Supper in the Suburbs
    30th May 2016

    I must admit, the idea of sustainable palm oil really does make my head hurt. It’s ingrained in me that it’s something bad and I struggle to trust producers when they say something is sustainable as often we find out too late it isn’t. Still, this sounds much better than regular palm oil so we should do our best to support it! Great post Chocolette!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      30th May 2016

      I know how you feel Emma, it’s all a bit of a minefield. But I found out so much more about it when reading this post, I feel a bit more confident about the subject.

  4. Leave a Reply

    Jenn
    30th May 2016

    I definitely do try to avoid it as much as possible. I’m glad time’s are a changing and I hope a full change actually happens. Great post!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      30th May 2016

      Thanks Jenn. It’s a hard one to get your head around for sure, but we can only hope things will improve.

  5. Leave a Reply

    Aimee
    30th May 2016

    I do struggle with the ethics of palm oil. Being vegan, a lot of products I use contain palm oil and although I make the effort to ensure it’s sustainably sourced or try and avoid it all together, it’s not easy šŸ™ But then I picture the animal’s homes it’s destroying and it breaks my heart. I’m so glad that more and more companies are making an effort to use more sustainably sourced oil. Great post!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      30th May 2016

      Thanks Aimee. It’s a real conundrum for sure. an ever grown human population doesn’t help. At least, good ethical companies will be using sustainable palm oil now and hopefully the rest will soon follow suit.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      30th May 2016

      I’ve tried to avoid it Cathy, but I’m now thinking that maybe I should support sustainable palm oil.

  6. Leave a Reply

    Kevin Chambers-Paston
    31st May 2016

    As a soapmaker in a previous life, I always tried to avoid palm oil if I could. Even now, it just fills my brain with images of those poor orangutans with no remaining habitat etc. but having read your post, I think I would support the idea of sustainable palm oil now. Thanks for sharing and providing food for thought.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      1st June 2016

      Oh, I didn’t know you made soap Kevin – the things you learn. Like you, my immediate reaction to palm oil is to boycott, but it seems it’s more complicated than that and maybe sustainable palm oil is the answer.

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