Palm oil plantations are responsible for the widespread decimation of rainforests and the rapid extinction of orangutans. Here’s why editorial assistant Harri Murrison chose to live without it this month…
Last year, thanks to social media, Iceland’s banned TV advert went viral and put palm oil on the political agenda. The advert highlighted how our continual use of palm oil in everyday products causes mass deforestation, while focusing on the impact it is having on the life of a young orangutan called Rang-tan. This environmental devastation inspired our editorial assistant Harri, to live without palm oil for a week – here’s what happened:
I began the week asking myself: ‘which consumer products contain palm oil?’ And boy was I in for a shock – it is everywhere – 50 percent of the cosmetics, toiletries, washing detergent and pre-packed food – including my absolute favourite, pizza, on our supermarket’s shelves contain palm oil. With panic, I suddenly envisioned myself living on the bare minimum. As you can probably tell, my initial reaction was, as always, slightly dramatic. My mind had been blown and I couldn’t help but ask: why do so many products contain this particular ingredient? After scrolling through the internet my question had been answered: palm oil is cheap to grow as less than half the land required by other crops is needed to produce the same amount of oil, it doesn’t melt at high temperatures, or smell, and has very little taste, and the natural preservative extends product shelf life. To me, it’s obvious why palm oil is used but sadly, like plastic, we did not realise the destructive implications it would have on our beautiful planet further down the line – this relentless ruin has pushed the Sumatran orangutans to the edge of extinction, with only 14,600 remaining in the wild. When are we going to learn our lesson?
While palm oil isn’t a harmful ingredient – it’s completely natural – I wondered, for the sake of the environment, would it actually be possible to totally avoid it for a week? The beauty industry uses a lot of palm oil, and if there’s one thing I constantly struggle with, it’s the idea of wearing absolutely no make-up. This vain ideology stems from people asking me “are you feeling a little under weather?” When in fact, I actually (or did) feel fantastic, I just decided not to wear make-up, so eventually I had been made to believe I looked better with product all over my face. With all these thoughts swimming around my head while I reluctantly packed away my ever growing collection of make-up (nervous sigh) it made me wonder: are there any palm oil-free make-up brands? It didn’t take long for me to come across some gorgeous products – Nude by Nature (nudebynature.co.uk), Neek Skin Organics (neekskinorganics.com) and BareFaced Beauty (barefacedbeauty.co.uk). Like every beauty addict, I could not resist the temptation of adding items to my basket.
The next morning, I had an extra 20 minutes – the perfect opportunity for some ‘me-time’. I reached for Bloomtown’s Charcoal and Tea Tree Mask (£12, bloomtown.co.uk), sat back and relaxed with a cup of tea. With my rejuvenated and glowing complexion, thanks to Viridian Organic Repair 5 Serum (£17, viridiannutrition. com), I was feeling confident on my drive to work, but unfortunately it didn’t take long for that feeling to slowly diminish. I was regretting my decision. A sudden rush of self-doubt entered my mind – all I could see were my skin’s imperfections. With my blemishes and flushed cheeks on full display I assumed someone would unknowingly ask, “have you been crying?” Or “you look tired.” To my complete surprise and utter amazement, not one person noticed or said anything at all. This lack of judgement was reassuring and left me feeling optimistic towards the week ahead.
Demand for palm oil has undergone a phenomenal growth; it has become a key ingredient and can be found in many packaged products sold across various supermarket giants. While ditching my make-up routine was hard enough, I now faced another bump in the road – lunch. My usual would often consist of pre-packed sandwiches, pitta bread as well as the occasional doughnut (that’s my sweet tooth talking), but all this had to go. When it comes to food, I will always opt for the easy option – cooking isn’t, and never will be, a strong attribute of mine. Sadly, I never picked up my Mum’s incredible, yet natural, finesse in the kitchen. To my frustration, I couldn’t just buy food which simply did not state ‘palm oil’ as an ingredient. I also had to spot and recognise palm oil derivatives (palmitate, STEAR, glyceryl, LAUR) – for a full list, visit, worldwildlife.org.
While talking to my older sister about my lunch dilemma (cue drama queen) she suggested I make courgette, spring onion and cheese muffins. My mind immediately shut this idea down as it involved me being in the kitchen – picture Rachel Green’s Thanksgiving trifle disaster in Friends – that’s me. Once I had decided against my sister’s suggestion, a surge of guilt took over my conscious. I couldn’t let my own incompetence sabotage my challenge, so I begrudgingly asked for the recipe. By the end of week I was calling myself Nigella! The main difference being I wasn’t looking up mischievously at the camera with a sultry eye during a mid-week cooking programme – though I’m sure I’ll be approached by a TV production team soon.
Going into the week, I was set on living completely palm oil-free. While I thought this was possible, it was also naïve of me to think this could be achieved in a single week. You need to be truly dedicated if you are to boycott palm oil altogether, but this is a tricky task which hasn’t been made any easier by manufacturers. Greenpeace have made a conscious effort to name and shame leading industry brands – thanks to this outcry, many have committed to only using sustainable or completely eradicate palm oil from production by 2020 – time is running out. Personally, I have become more mindful towards my purchases and by doing so, I have discovered new exciting brands.
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