For the first time in maybe ever, I will now deliver a post I have promised to write. Oh goodness gracious, it's the Apocalypse.
So about palm oil. This post involves NGOs, corporate interests, and something vaguely resembling science (or anyway, what of science that my pitiful art-historical brain can wrap around). Whoa! Heavy. For me.
My problem with palm oil really has to start with trans fat, because if it weren't for trans fat I wouldn't be having this problem. Seeing as how I was raised by my mom, I sort of know what trans fat is from the in-house reading available. This is what I've gotten of it: so trans fat is sort of like saturated fat, except worse. It lowers the level of good cholesterol, ups the bad cholesterol, hardens your arteries, and basically kills you. Fast. Trans fat occurs, fairly rarely and in pretty low levels, in normal, natural food - but the levels found in fruits and vegetables and beef and all that aren't really enough to kill you. The problem with trans fat stems from the demon-child of all food groups:
PARTIALLY-HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL. *cue sinister music*
Partially-hydrogenated oils are just chock-full of trans fat. And, seeing as how almost every processed food (read: anything made by Kraft, most national-market peanut butters, sandwich cookies, butter-flavored crackers, and on and on) contains partially-hydrogenated oils, a lot of trans fat gets into a lot of people.
So many public advocacy groups, especially CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) have been lobbying the FDA for years to show trans fat on Nutrition Information labels the same way they show saturated fats. They have, ultimately, been successful. By the beginning of next year, food companies will have to list amounts of trans fat on their product labels.
The long wait on displaying trans fat amounts has been in part due, in my opinion and the opinions of many others, to silly powerful corporations (like Kraft) that make their bread and butter on foods containing trans fat. And you can hardly blame them, if you look at it from their point of view - the reason partially-hydrogenated soybean oil is so popular is in part because alternatives to trans fat are either more expensive or less effective (I read a particularly funny article a couple of weeks ago on trans fat-free donuts - I will try to find it and get it to you). Partially-hydrogenated oils are good for the national-market food industry.
So why am I complaining?, you are asking. Allison, you are saying, you are all about health and fitness, so shouldn't you be happy that trans fats will now be labeled? Shouldn't you be jumping up and down and all yippee-hurray?
You're right, I should. The thing that makes me mad, though, is not trans fat or those who sell it. It's CSPI. Because, you see, my mom has a subscription to Nutrition Action, CSPI's public newsletter, and I use it as bathroom reading. So the last time I picked up the good ol' Nutrition Action, I found, on the editorial page, this article (or part of it, anyway).
If you are not feeling the reading of the article, let me summarize the editorial for you: because of the trans fat legislation, many major companies are switching to palm oil for their processed-food needs. This is radically increasing the demand for palm oil. Because of the increased demand, palm farms are increasing in size and quantity. The corresponding destruction of previously-untouched rainforest land is threatening the environment and many endangered species.
To which I say: DAMN IT, CSPI.
You have been lobbying for this stuff since 1994. Do you know how many years that is? That's 10 years. I know people who were not born in 1994. And you're telling me that, now that you've finally accomplished what you've set out to do, NOW YOU START WORRYING ABOUT THE RAINFOREST? IS IT THAT HARD TO FIGURE OUT THE SIMPLE LAWS OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND? You know what? Maybe it is. So let me spell it out for you: trans fat labels go on food. People know trans fat is bad. People stop buying food with trans fat. PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO CHANGE THEIR BASIC EATING HABITS. Major food companies struggle to adjust without nosediving profits. MAJOR FOOD COMPANIES KNOW PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO CHANGE THEIR BASIC EATING HABITS. Palm oil is the best available trans-free substitute for partially-hydrogenated oils. MAJOR FOOD COMPANIES BUY MORE PALM OIL. PALM FARMS GO UP. OTHER TREES GO DOWN.
IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO FIGURE OUT.
This is where liberals get the reputation of being whiny. No sooner do we strike a major blow to multi-national corporations that conspire to keep Americans fat than we start complaining about the effects of that same blow. And for those of you who are saying "so you suggest we let the animals die?" I reply "No. I am more sympathetic towards the animals than towards the stupid people who can't figure out that Oreos are bad for you. So my suggestions to CSPI (for the next time they pull something like this) are: 1. acknowledge beforehand that your lobbying movement will probably have the effect of wiping the orangutan from the face of the earth and deal with it, possibly even publicizing it so that Americans will see for once part of the tiniest iota that their choices have on the rest of the natural world; 2. stop lobbying in the first place; or 3. shut up now that you've won."
And that is my post on palm oil. Now I am going to a sleepover and not thinking about this before I have an aneurysm.