March 20, 2012

If it Contains Palm Oil, is it Vegan? ~ Kate Bartolotta

Photo: Daniel Kleeman

{The Imperfect Intimidated Newbie Vegans are faced with a dilemma}

Love orangutans? Step away from the palm oil!

Kate says:

Uh-oh, newbie vegans have been slacking on the updates! It’s become pretty much second nature, so it was easy to let it slide a little. I’ve gotten into a good rhythm with what I make at home. My favorite Saturday lunch spot with my girlfriends has some great vegan and gluten free Mexican food.

It’s simple. No big deal.

When we started talking about what our next topic should be, Waylon kept mentioning palm oil. “Palm oil…it’s vegan…but it kills animals, it’s not vegan!” To which my response was basically, “yeah, yeah palm oil…” …thinking… “…do I really need one more ingredient I have to look for and try to avoid? Really?”

In many ways, I already lived a vegan lifestyle before I went that last step of cutting out dairy and eggs. I can’t imagine ever wearing fur. The idea of it horrifies me. I don’t buy leather products. I have a few things that I’ve had for years, and will replace with something vegan when they wear out. I only buy skin and hair care products that are cruelty-free. A stint working for The Body Shop in college guaranteed that!

But when it comes down to the actual foods, how far should we go? Unless you are able to grow and prepare every bit of your food yourself, how can you really know that its production isn’t causing harm? How inspired are we going to get here? I don’t think it’s healthy to spend every waking moment examining where my food came from.

And so I set it aside for a bit. And a little bit more. But then I started reading a little more about how palm oil is obtained. If the point (for me) of being vegan is to do less harm, palm oil has to go. Even though it isn’t an “animal product,” if I consider myself a compassionate vegan, I need to consider the fact that 20 square miles of rainforest are cleared every day to build palm oil plantations. If the production of the food causes deforestation and endangers the lives of the animals who lived there—how can that fit with a vegan lifestyle?

Even though I don’t use a ton of prepackaged vegan foods, I checked a few things I do use. Sure enough, palm oil. Earth Balance, probably the most popular vegan butter substitute lists “Palm Fruit oil” as one of its first ingredients. I don’t do many baked goods I don’t make myself, but checking out vegan products at Whole Foods the other day, palm oil was a recurring theme.

So, I think this is where I go back to my earlier question:

“Do I really need one more ingredient I have to look for and try to avoid?

And the answer is “yes.” The choice to be vegan isn’t a flavor of the month fad diet, it’s an ethical choice. I can’t know what I know and still keep throwing Justin’s Nut Butter in my grocery cart. When we know better, we need to do better.



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