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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Parting with Palm

Recently Food Empowerment Project completed our website with our final section on Ethical Food Choices. Included in that section was a description of the palm oil industry.

With many of the sections on our website I am very familiar with why we are discussing the issues, and I had already made changes to what I eat based on what I knew or was learning.

With palm I was less familiar. In fact, much of what I had been reading (through the work of my paid job) was the use of palm for biodiesel and the negative impacts this was having on the animals and environment.

However, when our volunteer writer, Rick Kelley, sent the first draft, I knew immediately I was going to have to make changes.

And that is why I decided to write this blog, because many of you, like me, are learning about this issue and do not want to contribute to what is happening in places like Malaysia, Sumatra, and Cameroon, where deforestation has been devastating to animals such as tigers, rhinos, elephants, and of course, the orangutans, who have actually been killed in order to clear land for palm plantations.

Meanwhile, workers are exploited by the working conditions and chemical use, and indigenous people are forced off their land to make room for palm plantations.

Now, I know shopping or eating by our ethics can’t solve all of the problems impacting the animals and people, but for those of us at Food Empowerment Project, it is an important first step. When we started learning more about slavery in the chocolate industry, we did our research and did a lot of outreach on the issue. And now we have started an effort to get Clif Bar to disclose where they source their chocolate from in order to make companies accountable to consumers who do not want chocolate from the slave trade.
So for those of you who have asked us to start a campaign on the palm issue, please know we just might, but we aren’t ready yet.

We know that some vegans have been a bit slow to come around to see how these social justice issues are connected (whether it be human or non-human animals), but we are hopeful that these are all issues we can work on together.

Getting off margarine has been easier than I thought, but admittedly, I am not there yet. I have been holding on to our last stick of Earth Balance so as to not waste it. But my pancakes taste fine without margarine as does my corn on the cob. But it is something I think about now, and just like with other cruelty-free vegan choices I have made in my life, I am sure I will have dreams that I am accidentally eating food with palm oil, and I know it will eventually become routine to look for it when I am reading ingredients.

To make it easier, Food Empowerment Project has revised our vegan food list. The list still includes vegan products, but now those with palm ingredients have a line going through them. We decided to keep them listed so that people would not be confused as to whether we knew of a product’s existence or not. We have done this to make it convenient for people who do care about this issue to quickly see what products are vegan and which ones do or do not contain palm.

We ask you to please help us to populate our list of palm-free vegan products, and don’t be scared to look at the list – I imagine many of your favorites will still be listed!

A HUGE thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to double check our list so we knew which products did and did not contain palm oil: Lisa Goetz, Molly Jordan, Jessica Spain, Melissa Tappis, Joseph Valdez, Michelle Waters, Heather Veleanu, and Nikki Woelk.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Schaeffer/RAN. Thank you!


  1. Hi lauren. Thx for this important post on how palm oil effects not just orangutans but workers and the environment. i'm using as little palm oil as possible and i read ingredients list to avoid it in other foods. thx.

  2. What do you think of the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil), which claims to maintain standards? I'm skeptical they're as effective as they claim.

  3. Great question. On our website where we discuss this issue, we pretty much give our opinion - we do not think it is possible. You can read the section here:

    See reference #55.


  4. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this important issue, to the interconnection of all injustice, and to the critical first step of taking personal responsibility for consumption habits.

    I'd like to suggest that perhaps rather than starting a new campaign, it would be better to support one of the many existing campaigns against palm oil, like Rainforest Action Network's

  5. Hi,Katie,

    THanks for your message. We are in touch with RAN and they are in support of our efforts. Thanks!