Whilst you might expect this post to discuss the high sugar content or use of highly processed ingredients found in conventional Easter eggs, this year I decided to take a different approach. As we kick back and chow down on a whole lot of chocolate in the coming weeks, I wondered how many of us had ever stopped and considered the effects these said Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns were having on the environment? It seems like a stretch doesn’t it? I mean how can my humble Easter egg affect the entire world? Well, if you’re gearing up to make some Cadbury, Lindt or Darrell Lea chocolate varieties this Easter, this is something you might want to read first (and for those that are wondering, I’m not talking about the packaging, although that doesn’t help the situation either).
What am I talking about exactly? I’m talking about Palm Oil…
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit, grown traditionally on the African oil palm tree. Today it is used in a WIDE range of processed foods and household products (because of it’s low cost) such as chocolate, margarine, biscuits, breads, breakfast cereals, household cleaning products, shampoos, lipsticks, candles… the list goes on.
Where does it come from?
Because Palm Oil is used across a wide range of industries and products, Palm Oil itself is in high demand. As a result, many other cultures outside of the traditional environment of Western Africa, have jumped on the Palm Oil production bandwagon and as such, palm oil is being produced throughout Africa, Asia, North America, Indonesia and Malaysia. Today 85% of palm oil is produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Oil Palm can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant and as such, many of these cultures are clearing natural rainforests to make way for profitable palm oil plantations. As a result, palm oil plantations are the main driver behind destructive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, with an area of natural forest equal to approximately 300 soccer fields being destroyed every hour.
Yes, you read that correctly, 300 soccer fields are being destroyed EVERY HOUR. (Information sourced from ‘The Orangutan Project’)
What’s at risk?
The palm oil industry favours lowland forest for the stripping and replanting of palm oil plantations. Unfortunately, this lowland forest is the ONLY remaining natural habitat of the Orangutan. According to ‘The Orangutan Project’, at present, 80% of Orangutan habitat has been altered or lost. As a result, during the past decade the orangutan population has decreased by approximately 50% in the wild. Other animals that inhabit these areas that are also at risk of extinction include the Sumatran Tiger and Elephant. A quick google search will reveal some pretty disturbing images.
Whilst animal extinction is an incredibly important issue to address, local indigenous inhabiters of the land are also suffering. Plantations are often forcibly established on the land traditionally owned by indigenous people. To make matters worse, plantation development has repeatedly been associated with violent conflict between the two parties.
If that’s not enough to convince you that Palm Oil production is something we should be putting a stop to, the burning of forests to clear land for palm oil plantations is a major cause of air pollution in Southeast Asia. Research shows that 20% of all GLOBAL carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels come from rainforest destruction alone.
As a result, unsustainable palm oil use is threatening the world’s rainforest’s, their indigenous wildlife, and the people whose livelihoods depend on the forests.
What can you do?
Now before you sign off and say “whilst that’s very sad, there is nothing I can do about it from all the way over *insert your location*”, I want to tell you that there is. Whilst you can’t chain yourself to a tree in the middle of the rainforest and protest, you can use one of the single, most effective and incredibly powerful tools to voice your opinion: VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR.
Easter isn’t the only time we consume palm-oil in processed foods, but it is a great place to start. With the increase in processed chocolate consumption, as well as the increase in hot-cross bun sales (yes many brands also contain palm-oil), palm oil products are sneaking their way into our lives, much before we have even realised.
So how do we know if our products contain Palm Oil?
According to the WWF approximately 50% of all packaged food contains palm oil, so chances are if you’re buying packaged food, you’ll find Palm Oil hidden in the mix.
There are currently no laws in Australia that force manufacturers to label Palm Oil as an ingredient in their products. As such, Palm Oil and it’s derivatives can be listed under 170 different names, the most common is that of Vegetable oil.
Vegetable oil (no matter what the source) are damaging to our health and as such, these are something we should avoid at all cost.
But what about my Easter Eggs?
To help make Easter shopping easier, the team at the Orangutan Project has put together a list of palm-oil free easter chocolates. This list alone has had a number of ‘big’ companies justifying their ingredients to the general public and in some cases, making changes.
For a list of other processed foods that are palm oil free click here.
Other chocolate brands that I recommend include:
Alter Eco, Loving Earth and my personal favourite, Australian made (and oh so delicious) Pana Chocolate. These varieties are much lower in sugar and contain NO heavily processed ingredients meaning the health benefits of chocolate are abundantly available and you start to feel satisfied, way before you over indulge. If these brands don’t work for you, don’t forget, you can always make your own.