Parenting Blog

The Problem With Palm Oil and Other Life Lessons From An 8-Year-Old

Sumatran orangutan and the palm oil problem lessons from an 8 year old

Sumatran orangutans. And tigers. Also, elephants.

All of those majestic creatures, and more I imagine (I dunno, I’m still figuring all of this shit out), are losing acreage of their habitats daily thanks to deforestation, thanks largely to the pounding drumbeat of demand for palm oil. The forests are being burned to make way for oil palm plantations. That’s the smokey embodiment of sustainability’s antonym.

What’s palm oil, you may ask? Good question, but before I even bother to answer it, go take a look at the ingredient list of 10 random things in your pantry. Good chance at least 70% of them will have palm oil inside. This is a bit of a problem, according to many concerned humans including my newly minted 8-year-old daughter. She’s going to change the world someday soon. She continues to change mine for the better.

Read this story on the palm oil crisis and then come back here. Although here’s one startling passage worth chewing on alone:

“In 2013 the world consumed 55 million metric tons of palm oil, nearly four times what it used 20 years earlier. Indonesia and Malaysia satisfy 85 percent of the demand for the world’s most popular food oil. In 1985, Indonesia had less than 2,500 square miles of palm oil plantations. Twenty years later, they covered 21,621 square miles, and by 2025 the Indonesian government projects plantations will cover at least 100,000 square miles.”

Where there’s now palm oil plantations, there was once Sumatran rainforest. And orangutans, tigers, and elephants.

Mouse learned about the shrinking numbers of rainforest acres and very real threat to endangered native animals, and root problem with palm oil, in her 2nd grade classroom. Meanwhile, I hadn’t a clue. The combination of bright & curious kids and impassioned & knowledgeable teachers is a glorious one.

Our recent discovery of the palm oil quandary is akin to hearing a word for the first time and then hearing it non-freaking-stop and wondering to yourself, was the word swirling around me all the while and I never took notice of it? How is that even possible?

Palm oil is everywhere, in everything, and escaping it is a sonofabitch. And yet we try. So many favorites, like Nutella — dear god, why Nutella!!?? — are out. And with the Mouse as our leader, we’re scouring product labels to eliminate from our lives the palm oil that is not derived from sustainable sources.

**UPDATE 6/12** Ferrero, the company which makes Nutella, is claiming that 100% of the palm oil used to make their chocolate hazelnut spread “is extracted from controlled plantations in Malaysia.”  While this is terrific news on the surface, I am still a bit dubious and will keep researching to see if the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) of which Ferrero is a member, is legit in protecting the rainforests and the indigenous animals there.

Trying to be a decent person who makes decent choices is also a bitch of a challenge. What’s in that, what does the CEO of the company that made that believe in, what was destroyed so that that could be made? Some of the time it seems futile to even bother caring and all the time it is hella exhausting. But if we don’t give two shits about the animals, people and places being harmed on this fragile planet than why should anyone else? Change has to start somewhere, and I’m proud it is starting with my 8-year-old daughter. I’ll line up behind her any day.

Sometimes though, I long for the bliss inherent in the ignorant, but alas, that way of life has a whole different set of challenges and limitations.

Instead, she and I and we continue to try our best to make choices that help us sleep at night knowing animals, people and the planet are not being harmed any more because of us, just so that we might have more of this or that. And I continue to evolve every day with the knowledge gained by my passionate 8-year-old daughter.

Get more information about the palm oil problem here and Stand for Something.

Stand for Something T-Shirt

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