Are you having a palm oil free Easter? Chances are you're not. At time of writing, I was munching away on some Easter eggs my Mum kindly sent me and it suddenly hit me. Here I am taking a stance on the negative impact palm oil production has on the environment with a hypocritical mouthful of chocolatey treat that is probably a product of the exact same industry. Remaining holier than thou is not easy.
It would be lovely to say the chocolate turned to chalk in my mouth and I couldn't take another bite, but this is reality and naturally I finished the packet. I did glance at the ingredient list which did not mention palm oil, but label reading might not necessarily tell the whole story?
And that's the thing, if you want to protest the destructive palm oil industry by boycotting products, you have to be prepared to do without a lot of stuff. Because it is one of the world's leading agricultural commodities – palm oil is widely used as an ingredient in processed food, as cooking oil as well as in cosmetics and soaps. So off the top of my head some processed foods to be avoided or thoroughly investigated before purchase, might include, margarine, confectionery, icing, baked goods, peanut butter, crackers, sauces, soups, soaps, shampoos (anything containing SLS sodium laureth sulphate), lotions – well, that is just a list of everyday things normal people buy.
Unfortunately, our consumption of everyday items containing palm oil have made it big business at the expense of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia, with the trickledown effect of displacing indigenous people and wild animals, many of which are either already extinct or on the endangered list. No-one likes to hear of tigers and orangutans dying out but in our ignorance we are contributing to the whole thing.
It is easy to point the finger at dairy farmers using millions of tonnes of Palm Kernel Expeller Meal (PKE) as cheap stock feed, but they in turn will say we are not driving the palm oil industry, merely cleaning up the byproduct. There is a saying that when you point your finger there are three more fingers pointing back at you.
I have bravely questioned the sustainability of using PKE as a supplementary feed at various discussion groups with dairy farmers in Waikato and Taranaki, resulting in mixed reactions. Most are happy to listen to another point of view, some eye-rolling has been noticed and usually uncomfortable silence and a bit of gumboot shuffling.
Of course, there are other sides to this argument but I think it is difficult to argue with mass deforestation and the obvious huge, huge problems resulting. If the New Zealand Government or private industry tried to rip up our native forests and plant a cash crop people would be up in arms. If New Zealand native bush was burned in such a way that children had to go to school wearing smoke masks the public outcry would be monumental. But they are not our forests and they are not our kids and we like cheap supplementary feed and cheap consumable products and so on it goes.
Over the past three years I have proven how beneficial and easy it actually is to get out of the processed food link (think veggie garden and home baking). Also how you can avoid expensive, environmentally destructive cosmetic products (think baking soda and making your own soap etc). And down on the farm thinking outside the square in regards to supplementary feeds – there are heaps of good options that do not include PKE.
New Zealand could wash its hands of the whole palm oil industry easily if anyone actually cared.