Saving Tree Shopping- Say NO to Palm Oil

by - Thursday, April 28, 2016

For our last post for Tree month this year, I want to address Palm Oil. Our first instinct when we think of tree products are wood and paper, but some of these oils remind us that the other resources trees can offer are both dangerous and precious. This is one of those issues where environmentalism deeply intertwines with animal activism and general critiques of globalization.

Palm oil can stand as the posterboy for all globalization- the ingredient has snuck into so much of what we use and eat everyday without us ever noticing or questioning it. But it is also epically destructive, razing precious rainforest ecosystems and trees at a ridiculous rate so we can get these products for cheap.

The acquisition of palm oil epitomizes the argument of this blog- we have been told again and again that we should have everything that we want for as little cost to us (in time or money) as possible. We want a deal with instant prime shipping. But this "cheap and easy" promise costs us everyday. In the case of Palm Oil it costs humans yet another ecosystem that keeps our earth in balance. It costs the environment thousands of palm trees that help keep the air clean and the planet cool. And it is costing thousands of orangutans, the majority of their population, their lives. If you had to watch someone chop down a tree or murder a beautiful animal so you could keep using that shampoo you like, would it be worth it? It's not baiting, it's a real question that we have been conditioned to ignore. But it's the reality everyday. Our choices have real and sometimes horrible consequences, and our willingness to overlook this carnage is costing us as a Church and as stewards of this world.

Palm oil can roll under the radar and you find it in all sorts of cheap food and beauty products, but it causes some really tragic and horrible problems. This is just a quick overview, because I want to focus on how to make more positive choices here, but you can find lots of information on Palm Oil here.

Rain forests are being slashed because palm oil is not being farmed sustainably. This not only cuts into biodiversity and destroys plants, it also is the cause of thousands of orangutan deaths even in the past few years. The destruction here is dramatic. Look at a deforestation map of Borneo. Check the traumatic statistics about the animal populations, especially orangutans. If we don't stop using palm oil, these gorgeous animals will very quickly be extinct, and we won't get adorable photos like these:

she was playing hide and seek with us for goodness sake! 

So many products we buy all the time have palm oil in them, but it doesn't mean it's inevitable. First, you have to educate yourself; Palm Oil can hide on labels under a number of names, so first you have to know what you are looking for. Look out for these words. 

Sodium Laureth Sulphate
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate
Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylae
Palm Oil Kernal
Cetyl Palmitate
Octyl Palmitate
Anything with Palmitate
Elaeis Guineensis
Glyceryl Stearate
Stearic Acid

Most websites estimate that about 50% of your pantry uses Palm Oil, and you can usually find it in cosmetics as well. Oy. This is just the kind of thing that can leave a well-meaning person feeling helpless, but don't let it get you down! Just think, if everyone who read this blog cut their palm oil consumption in half, it would already take a chip out of this market. This is a movement worth growing, a species worth saving, and an eco system absolutely pivotal to all of our survival.

from World Orangutan Day

You can find long lists of brands that use Palm Oil- yes, go look at this site. It's worth it to know what you are getting and it might motivate you to make a couple of pivotal switches.

Ethical Consumer (one of my favorite sites) has a really comprehensive list of products that you can get palm oil-free or that only use sustainable palm oil. The problem is that they mostly list companies I have never heard of, and I bet you haven't either. Because Palm Oil is so wide reaching, we hav eto

They also rated companies making chocolate, food products, and beauty products for how they treat the rainforests and their use of palm oil. This one is wide-reaching enough that it may take you a while to do all your switches (and jstop buying Nestle, everyone, they are like cartoon villains they are so shisty!), but trust me, you can do it. Here are a bunch of companies that only use responsibly farmed Palm Oil (as a side note, some environmentalists are still skeptical of RSPO, so palm oil free is always the best option)-


I never need another reason to love Hagen Daaz, but the most interesting names on here have overlapped onto both. This list may be my favorite, because it focuses on companies doing things right (just like this blog!) so you can start with what's good instead of having to obsess about what's not.

Other ways to avoid Palm Oil?

1. Know Thy Stuff- Go check the labels on your foods and cosmetics with the list I gave. Make a list of the items you have purchased that could be switched over to more earth-friendly, rainforest-friendly, and cute animal-friendly options. It's not about self-shaming, it's about actually seeing the problem so you can be a part of the solution.

2. Check the Label- start reading the labels, especially on your beauty products.Need a reminder of the words? Just look it up on your phone- they are listed all over the place. Most vegan products won't have palm oil, but it's still good to check.

3. Shop Fresh- Notice how everything on this list is super processed food? Not a coincidence. If you shop the outside of the store, you will miss a ton of this without even having to think about it!

4. Shop Local- Candy comes up on these lists a lot, because palm oil is in most mainstream candybars. So fall in love with not so mainstream chocolate and candy. It will nip some of this in the bud.

I could say so much more, because this is a huge topic, but I will keep updating what works as I go. This one is hugely ignored, and it feels like someone else's problem, but its ours. I will keep updating you on our own efforts to stop using Palm Oil, and I would love it if you tell me how it is going for you too! The lists on this already exist, and they can be complex and long, but I promise you, future shopping lists will include Palm Oil- Free options so you can do this research with me. We can make the world so much better by rejecting this dangerous ingredient. Down with Palm Oil!

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