Sunday, February 15, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Four

(originally posted at McFarland Designs' blog)

Here it is, the fourth and final post in my 'Making Responsible Food Choices' series. I hope I've been able to shed some light on the ethical problems that go along with some common vegan foods, as well as provide some solutions. In case you missed them, feel free to check out parts one, two, and three.

Today I'm going to discuss palm oil, a substance often found in crackers, pastries, cereals, and microwave popcorn. Keebler, Oreo, Mrs. Fields, Pepperidge Farm and other companies use palm oil in some of their cookies. Of particular interest to vegans, palm oil is a major ingredient in our beloved Earth Balance buttery spread.

According to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), "Though not as unhealthy as partially hydrogenated oil, palm oil still promotes heart disease." Going beyond palm oil's consequences at the individual health level, the cultivation of oil palm is a major factor in the destruction of the rainforests in Southeast Asia. These rapidly shrinking forests are home to the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, Asian elephant, and Sumatran rhinoceros. CSPI reports "Each of those species is endangered, with the three eponymous Sumatran species critically endangered. They once flourished in precisely those areas where rainforests have since been cleared for oil palm."

Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas has been studying orangutans in Indonesia for nearly forty years. According to a recent AP report, "the red apes she studies in Indonesia are on the verge of extinction because forests are being clear-cut and burned to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations." Galdikas has established a non-profit to help protect these threatened animals - Orangutan Foundation International - and has published an autobiography detailing her many years working with these amazing creatures.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any fair-trade, environmentally-friendly versions of palm oil, so the best solutions I can think of are as follows:

1. Contact companies whose products contain palm oil and let them know that you support the elimination of palm oil from their food lineup. (You can start with Earth Balance!)

2. Reduce or eliminate your use of palm oil. Personally, since coming across this disturbing information, I've been able to drastically reduce my consumption of Earth Balance (probably a good thing for my figure too!) - there are a lot of ways I used to use it that were easy to give up... jam instead of butter on toast, always using olive or canola oil for sauteing rather than Earth Balance, and choosing recipes for baked goods that call for non-palm-oil fats, to name a few (be careful though, and be sure to actually check the label - the other day I thought, 'oh, I'll use non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening instead of EB for these cookies,' but when I checked the shortening label, it was 100% palm oil!!! Eek.)

If anyone else has suggestions for ways that we can advocate to end the habitat destruction currently taking place for the sake of our collective palates, please post 'em here!

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