A Plaintiff Against Palm Oil: #BloggersForIndonesia

A traveler and sustainable food blogger friend altered me to this Guardian article last week. It blatantly calls out the world's lack of interest in Indonesia's current environmental catastrophe; one that included at some point 120,000 active fires throughout parts of the most treasured rain forests, and can even be seen from space. While monsoon rains are hitting the area, this doesn't devoid us from paying attention and taking action, especially when we have the consumer power to do so.

But why speak of this on a food blog? What does a chain of islands have to do with us? Simply put -- everything. We are all connected and in this globalized world -- me in Buenos Aires, my friend in Thailand, you reading from your IP location -- we're eating, meal planning, and participating in an enormous web of interconnectivity. Our port cities directly trade and harbor often environmentally and physically nefarious ingredients that have an impact on humankind's and animals' health, quality of life, and posterity. In this particular case, it's PALM OIL.


The silver lining of these world issues in our tech-driven society is that we can easily research, speak out, tell others, and influence our and other's eating habits for a cleaner present and future.

I awoke at 5:19am with an absolute conviction that I had to write this piece. Initially, a poem was running lines through my head; some of the thoughts I drew from my own time in Indonesia this summer -- experiencing first hand the people and culinary scene -- and others were my internal monologue of getting to know Buenos Aires, a large metropolis in the southern hemisphere as Indonesia (partly) is, another example of our connectivity. Today, I am taking a stand which I hope other bloggers will follow suit, #BloggersForIndo. Let's call on the world, let them know we are listening, watching, and interested in being, doing, saying, and eating better together.

I've spoken before on this blog about chocolate companies I admire, such as Marou Chocolate and Dandelion Chocolate; there are many, many others on the scene and entering the bean to bar chocolate industry that focus on methods sans palm oil, emulsifiers, and other additives. They let the chocolate speak for itself much like a cup of specialty coffee beans would. These are indeed the entrepreneurs, artisans, and products that should we have a chocolate itch (and let's be honest, for me this is often!) we intrust in them to see a supply chain through that is devoid of harm.

The food world has made waves before by shaking up multinational companies that are focused on greed and wealth over regenerative farming or the livelihood of the people involved in final products. If it can be accomplished with KitKat in the UK, it can be done again. It's already in motion, we're becoming more deft consumers, aware and requesting traceability and provenance of our food, but we can all do better, and ladies and gentlemen it doesn't only come from a Whole Food's pledge.

Quick facts & #s: Less than 8% of the world's palm oil production is certified sustainable, and palm kernel oil (subsequently higher in saturated fat and expelled with a chemical solvent) can never be listed as sustainable. Furthermore, food companies have upwards of 170 ways of naming palm-sourced ingredients. It's on us to be conscious and aware.

So what can we do? What do we look for on ingredient packaging?

1) Palm oil is often disguised simply as "vegetable oil."

2) Buying prepackaged foods increases the likelihood of palm oil in your food -- as major corporation such as P&G, Unilever, Nabisco (which I just learned is owned by Philip Morris, yes the tobacco company) find it to be a cheap and stable (long shelf-life) ingredient.

3) Double check if you're not sure -- a quick Google search will help decipher where 'sodium laureth sulfate' really comes from; hint - it's palm oil, and by the way I've also seen this ingredient in soaps and shampoo made from these same above listed companies!

Call their hotlines if you need more information disclosed; ask the hard questions "Is this a palm derivative?" "How was it harvested and processed for consumption?" "Is the company making efforts to sustain or support wildlife?"

4) Choose products that contain distinctly labeled oils, avoid 'plant based' blends, and opt for 100% sunflower, olive oil, avocado, coconut, grape seed, or canola oil, etc.

In the end this comes down to processed foods and cosmetics either way you slice it. When we cook at home or prepare with our own hands, when we buy whole, fresh ingredients we can eliminate many of these fears.

Feeling like chips? Thinly slice a potato, taro, or yam and fry in healthy oil of your choice -- maybe for you in Spain olive oil is affordable and plentiful, or in the United States sunflower oil is a mild flavor and harmless choice. Making a cake? There are myriad alternatives to 'vegetable oil' -- such as applesauce, mashed bananas, or plain yogurt. There's no reason for us to blindly purchase anymore, thankfully we have been more and more tiquismiquis that producers have had to offer us more, as well as more transparency...thus allowing you to purchase sans a veil. Together we can purchase and eat without a guilty conscience.

Great Resources on palm oil:
Rainforest Rescue
Hilary Rosner's piece for Ensia
Sneaky names for palm oil -- be in the know

And of course -- some beautiful chocolate photos with cacao butter to encourage you : )


As you can see, the only ingredients in this bean to bar chocolate by Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat are: Cocoa and cocoa butter (75%), and cane sugar (25%).


P.S. if you're a blogger, please consider blogging about #BloggersForIndonesia -- share with the interwebs what you love about the country, how you care for it, or even how you are learning (just like me!) what to avoid, i.e. palm oil. 


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