Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on your food and saw the ingredient palm oil? Chances are that you have, since palm oil is estimated to be in 50% of all of the goods in the United States. But what is it? Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. These trees originated in Africa, and are only grown in the tropics. With palm oil recently increasing in popularity, it’s important to look at the effects of palm oil.
Among the following products, which products normally contain palm oil?
- Ice cream
- Instant noodles
- Peanut butter
The answer is all of these products contain palm oil.
Palm oil is in almost everything around us. It is a cheap and very productive crop that has a far higher yield than other alternative oils and is therefore used in more than half of the daily packaged products in the U.S. market. More of its properties and functions making it ubiquitous include resistance to oxidation (longer shelf-life), stability under high temperatures, and that it’s spreadable, odorless and colorless.
However, the mass adoption of palm oil comes with a cost. The expansion of palm plantations results in the removal of tropical forests, which were critical habitats for many endangered animals such as the orangutan, pygmy elephant, and Sumatran rhino and results in severe deforestation. Moreover, exploitation of palm oil brings emissions of greenhouse gas as well. “Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.”
Palm oil itself is said to be good for health, but is the use of palm oil worth it?
To lessen the impact of palm oil, there are many things YOU could do!
Read labels and give feedback
Looking for products that only contain sustainable palm oil or none of it at all is a good start. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has a rating tool for brands using sustainable palm oil. Using this helpful tool can help you make better decisions!
Remember to vote with your dollar. Don’t forget, consumers drive the market, so your choice to abstain from purchasing products containing palm oil reduces the demand for them!
Enjoy home-cooked meals
Ditch the highly processed foods for a meal made of simple foods like fruits and vegetables instead.
Share this post to help others understand the cost of palm oil!
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Guest Post Written by Can Wang, Class of 2020, Dining Team Green Sustainability Coordinator