Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Oil Change

Image result for palm oil forestMove over hydrogenated oils. There's another bad guy on the block, and his name is palm oil. But unlike hydrogenated oil, which really has no redeeming qualities, palm oil is a mixed bag. Semi-solid at room temperature, it resists oxidation and extends shelf life. It is a very efficient crop, producing more oil per acre than any other equivalent. In fact, palm oil accounts for 35% of the world's vegetable oil while using only 10% of the land.

The trouble is, that land is already home to lovely tropical forests. The worldwide demand for palm oil drives deforestation and threatens many species which are already hanging on by their toenails. What with all the slashing and burning, the palm oil industry also contributes to an increase in greenhouse gases. And apparently the jury is still out as far as the health benefits or implications of consuming palm oil.

All things considered, I figured it wouldn't hurt to go without palm oil for a week. In fact, I thought it would be really easy, because I tend to not eat a lot of packaged cookies and frozen pizzas and the like. I did not realize that palm oil is in everything from lipstick to ice cream to biofuel. Sneaky palm oil is also known by many aliases, including vegetable oil, Palmitate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, etc. etc. A person could go cross-eyed from reading all those ingredient labels. (That person is me, and yes, I did.)

Image result for orangutan Despite my concerted efforts, I failed at completely removing palm oil and its cousins from my life. But I did manage to swear off my favorite palm oil product: vegan butter. I love butter, but I don't really eat much dairy anymore. I thought Smart Balance was the perfect solution. The orangutans think otherwise. Darn you, palm oil.

Since I'm not a fan of dry toast, I turned to the internet and was rewarded with many recipes for vegan butter. The one I tried called for coconut oil, avocado oil, nondairy milk, salt, vinegar, and sunflower lecithin (which cost nearly $10 a bottle, and I only needed a teaspoon). Honestly, the result was not wonderful. It looked weirdly curdled and tasted like a combination of butter and feta cheese.

Now I'm in a tricky spot: settle for my unappetizing homemade "butter" or kill an endangered gecko every time I have breakfast? I don't want to do either. So I will try for a middle-ground approach and choose sustainable palm oil products whenever possible. And avocado toast...which probably has its own set of issues. 

Because I am going to continue to reduce my reliance on conventional palm oil, I guess this week's Take It or Leave It is a Take It. But it's going to be a challenge.


  1. Wow, I didn't realise palm oil was those other names in disguise. I avoid "palm oil" whenever possible, but hadn't thought about how it's hidden. Poop.

  2. I think it's nearly impossible to avoid! :-(