Palm Oil

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MIchelle Phillips

I am a label reader. I cook mostly from scratch, but sometimes I want something prepackaged, particularly snack food. 

I started reading labels because I didn’t want preservatives, dyes and artificial flavors in my food. Then, I also wanted to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and now, palm oil. 

The label reading began because I personally didn’t want to ingest processed and potentially harmful chemicals. The palm oil, however, is strictly about the environment and the destruction of habitat. Orangutans, which were declared the closest relative to humans about a decade ago, are the most hard hit by the harvest of palm oil. 

This is something that came to my attention a few years ago, and prompted me to stop buying most peanut butter, including those proclaiming to be “natural.” I also had to give up Girl Scout cookies much to my great dismay and sadness. No more Thin Mints for me. 

On a recent trip to more the grocery store, I wanted some Oreos and milk, but no, they have palm oil. Certainly Pepperidge Farms is better, I thought. Negative. All of the cookies I looked at, and almost all of the “premium” chocolate bars all had palm oil. 

I moved on to crackers. They were as bad. I settled on the standard organic Triskets that I always buy, but I was really hoping for a change of pace. After more than five minutes studying crackers, I found some flatbread crackers that filled the bill of no artificial preservatives, flavors, etc., no HFCS and no palm oil. 

This made me angry because the use of palm oil came about as a means of making production costs cheaper. Not cheaper for the customers, but to provide a greater profit for the company, thus more money for shareholders as well as overpaid CEOs.

As I drove home, I became more disgusted. For at least two decades I have been appalled by the way we treat this planet and its inhabitants. I am only one person, but I do not have to spend my money on products that source products in an unethical manner. 

Of course I did something that would have made my mother proud, I emailed the two major offenders, Mondelez and Kellogg to express my disdain for their use of palm oil. Then explaining that I could no longer be their customer if that were, indeed, the case. I didn’t expect more than a pat response to my inquiry of whether or not the planned to continue to use palm oil. I got what I expected–two similar emails. 

The first email from Mondelez was woven with justification and claimed they were using sustainably sourced palm oil. It is nearly impossible to know if palm oil is sustainably sourced, and Nestle has been working on a way to trace it, but as of yet it is hard to know the source. It went on to say that they only use 0.5 percent of the global amount of palm oil sourced. Oh, okay. I feel much better now that you have made claims with nothing to back them up. 

At least Mondelez took the time to make something up. 

Kellogg basically said, “sorry you are disappointed.” They added that they are committed to protecting the environment, with no explanation, and ended the single paragraph with: “We are dedicated to the highest standards of ethical behavior and integrity in the way we conduct our business and promote our brands.”

As I said, I got what I expected. I am sure I can find snacks that don’t contain palm oil, and I will continue to exercise my right to avoid those products. Sometimes you just want to dip an Oreo on an ice cold glass of milk, though. 

Not today, I’m afraid, not today.


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