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Greenpeace says that our consumption of palm oil is skyrocketing. By 2030, the world's use of it will be double what it was in 2000; by 2050 it will triple. Even if efforts like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil keep on, I'm thinking the bottom line for orangutans and their pals isn't going to be pretty.
More and more, biofuels are using palm oil. No coincidence that the Anglo/Dutch-based Royal Dutch Shell Company, for one, is big on palm oil for biofuel. To be fair, the oil companies are looking at other non-food, non-forest sources like algae, but the Indonesian government recently stepped into the fray to take up palm oil oversupply by producing its own biofuel.
Still, about three quarters of world palm oil production goes to food products. So I went to our home shelves to see if I could find palm oil lurking in our processed food (the little bits we eat when we take off our hair shirts).
I couldn't find any — no surprise. We're still clinging to the 1990s studies that said "AVOID" in 72-point caps because of its artery-clogging tendencies. But some studies are now ho-humming, saying maybe it isn't that bad after all. One recent report says if it's refined properly, palm oil is rich in tocotrienol, a form of vitamin E that could be useful in fighting cancer and preventing strokes. (See, it's complicated...)
I also wasn't surprised the last time I was in Superstore's international aisle to see that package after package of biscuits, crackers, pudding mixes and the like have palm oil high on their ingredients lists.
Manufacturers love palm oil, as do locals who make their living working the plantations and palm oil refineries. West Africa, Malaysia, Thailand and especially Indonesia all count on palm oil big-time in their economies.
So what do we lucky consumers do who can afford to make a choice? I still can't say what oil is best to use.
But after thinking about Green and her critically endangered relatives on Sumatra; about the swaths and swaths of scorched earth wreckage I saw on the ground as I flew out of central Borneo; about no definitive studies saying palm oil is really amazingly good for us, I can say do your best to figure out which products you use contain palm oil, and then just say a big fat no to it. The first tip is you just got one more reason to avoid fast foods.