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

Via elephant journal
on Mar 19, 2012
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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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20 Responses to “If it Contains Palm Oil, is it Vegan? ~ Kate Bartolotta”

  1. Suri says:

    Definitely not vegan and like you said ,its everywhere….are there any sustainable alternatives?

  2. Tammy says:

    "When we know better, we need to do better." Simply and perfectly put.

  3. I've been using coconut oil in baking, much more sustainable than palm. And I guess the biggest thing is using fewer packaged foods over-all, which is a good move for many reasons!

  4. Peter says:

    Please do some more research and don't just believe everything you read by American backed NGO's who are simply protecting their Soya industry. What do you think would happen if we all switch from palm oil to coconut oil, news flash they are grown in the same producing nations as palm oil but without the benefits of high yield and variety of usages meaning we would huge amounts of land above and beyond what we currently use. Palm oil is natural product which we have used for thousand of years. Of course coconut oil isn't linked to orangutan habitat lose, the reason why is its not a sustainable crop in terms of waht you put in to what you get out. Yes, some sections of the palm industry need to make changes but the debate must not be polarised.

  5. Lorin says:

    Posted to Elephant Food on Facebook and Twitter.

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at The VeganAsana
    Team leader for Elephant Food and Elephant Family

  6. Good to know & will investigate further. Thanks!

  7. emma says:

    The palm oil used in natural products is usually sustainable

  8. Hmm…all the info I have found would dispute that. Can you point me in the direction of something that supports that idea?

  9. @NashVeg says:

    Kate, you can find out information about sustainable palm oil used in Earth Balance on their own website: http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/responsibility

    While I appreciate the intent behind it, I strongly disagree with vegans slinging around this language that palm oil is not vegan. I wrote an extensive blog post in response to some controversy surrounding Daiya's new cheese wedges. I hope that people will read my POV before saying this again and considering the damage it does to the definition of veganism by making it unclear and muddying the waters. http://www.nashvilleveg.com/vegan-one-definition/

  10. Claire says:

    There is no ethical alternative because ''sustainable' palm oil has low standards. Palm oil is vegan as an ingredient but ethically it is not. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/ar

  11. Claire says:

    There is a list of vegan palm oil free products in this guide — http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/guide-veg

  12. JamesF says:

    Good luck on being totally vegan , its not possible . You are trashing Earth Balance for trying to do the right thing . If you start using any other product like coconut oil , then you will have to have land and factory’s to do that , guess what , then Vegans will cry about those folks too . If you want to be totally Vegan , then eat nothing except stuff you grow in your own backyard , don’t drive a car , ride a bicycle everywhere . Everything has consequences when you are making something for the entire country or world for that matter . I try to be as Vegan as I can and that’s all I can do . Closing down factory’s already carved out for making Palm Oil to open factory’s for making Coconut oil doesn’t make any ecological sense . If we are all that worried about the Orangutangs down there , then there should be some forest/jungle set aside as a park/reserve etc… anyways there it is .

  13. elephantjournal says:

    nn Quirk What the Palm Oil industry is doing to Orangutans is *horrific*…..so happy this issue is finally getting the press it deserves.

    Heather Janesky This is So important!!! Thank you for writing and please keep 'sharing'
    about an hour ago · Like
    Jenny Mac I refuse to buy anything that has it. It's actually toxic. It first made it into our food supply as a byproduct of the bar soap industry alongside cottonseed oil as Crisco shortening. These oils were cheaper to produce for making soap than was lard which I guess is a marginal improvement over lard until you factor in the deforestation and the damage from that.

  14. Heather says:

    True. And why eating marshmallows is not very un-vegan. I used to think fish was vegetarian, but that was 20 plus years ago. I also used to eat gummy bears…then discovered they are made from animal fat!

  15. […] oil monoculture is “palming” off orangutans in giant numbers, pushing the once abundant species closer than ever to […]

  16. […] we’re vegan or vegetarian, and you eat palm oil or palm fruit or soy bean oil or vegetable oil, we aren’t […]

  17. Jessica says:

    Great topic and one that needs to be discussed! The question of boycotting palm oil isn't just for the animals but to protect the rainforest too.

  18. Ian says:

    It's a big and complicated issue. To try to disentangle it on The Vegan Option, co-host Catherine Laurence and I talked to a range of experts and campaigners – from an Indonesian vegan palm oil activist (who sings punk and rescues orangutans) to the boss of the "sustainable" palm oil label.

    The show, called simply Palm Oil, is available to download and listen on http://theVeganOption.org/ as well as iTunes and Stitcher. If of interest, you could give it a listen while you are commuting or doing the washing up :).