It’s fair to say that the Indonesian Archipelago is dotted with slices of utopian paradise. Those heavenly places blessed with white sandy beaches on the edge of virgin rainforest, rimming a turquoise sea and dotted with palm trees waving lazily in the sun.
It just so happens that one such Nirvana, the island of Sumba, is my home for the next month. And yes, I am in heaven.
But while basking in this tropical paradise I can’t help but ponder the fact that not all places in this vast country are unsullied.
In Indonesia, cash crops, particularly palm oil plantations, are displacing natural habitat at an annual rate of 498,000 hectares from 2000-2010 or the equivalent of over 55 rugby fields per hour.
Aside from the catastrophe of deforestation in itself, another major disaster resulting from the relentless and largely unregulated production of palm oil is its impact on one of nature’s great primates, the Orang utan. The single biggest threat to this magnificent and gentle rainforest dweller’s continuing survival is the production of palm oil.
Palm oil now accounts for 35% of the world’s edible vegetable oil production. 85% of all palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.
It is now an ingredient in 50% of household products, in foods such as biscuits, ice-cream, cereal, frozen foods, margarine and baked processed goods, and in many personal care products such as shampoos, moisturisers, soap, cosmetics and toothpaste.
Identifying whether palm oil is an ingredient in a product can be difficult. It may be plainly listed as an ingredient or simply called ‘vegetable oil’ or as an invisible element of another listed ingredient.
There is a growing awareness worldwide of the devastating impacts of palm oil production. In Australia I had the privilege of meeting an incredible young guy, Thomas, whose website www.saynotopalmoil.com is championing the cause and educating consumers how their product choices can positively change behaviour.
People power can force companies to switch ingredients or use only sustainably produced palm oil in their products. This awareness is already putting pressure on Australian food industry regulators to force companies to be more transparent with ingredients listings so we know exactly whether palm oil, or any other undesirable ingredients are present in the products we buy.
Say No to Palm Oil has been a five year mission for 18 year old Thomas. He initially became involved after seeing heartbreaking footage of a malnourished Orangutan dragging itself through a barren deforested landscape. A habitat, and life, utterly destroyed.
Flash forward to 2015 and Thomas’s solo undertaking has become a cooperative effort involving a number of animal rights, environmental and humanitarian organisations including the Jane Goodall Institute and the youth United Nations.
The goal is not to eliminate the palm oil industry altogether, rather to focus our efforts on producing ethical and sustainable palm oil and reducing our overall consumption. In the first world we tend to buy a lot of unnecessary products and we have an epidemic of food wastage. Thomas aims to shine a light on this, encouraging more frugality in our purchasing habits and a focus on making our own food and even personal care products.
So in keeping with Thomas’s call to arms here is a way we can all say no to palm oil with this simple recipe for home-made soap which will leave your body feeling as fresh and clean as your conscience.