You know how the cure is often worse than the disease? That's the case with palm oil, which has become a common substitute for artery clogging, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. But palm oil turns out to have its own dangers, both for people and for animals. The wild creatures of Indonesia, Borneo and Sumatra -- elephants, tigers, orangutans and rhinos -- are being driven from the forests by the race to cash in on the palm oil boom.
At the beginning of March, in a remote part of Indonesia, five wild elephants were found poisoned to death, probably by local farmers trying to drive them off so they could slash jungle to grow palm. Massive palm oil plantations already spread across vast tracts of land that used to be rainforest.
What is palm oil used in? One of its most common uses are cookies. It has also found its way into crackers, cereals and microwave popcorn. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has launched a campaign asking consumers to boycott products made with palm oil and to let food manufacturers know that, hell no, it ain't ok to destroy our great wild mammals for chocolate cream sandwich cookies, good as they are. The food industry can make its products with other easily available oils.
Even though CSPI says palm oil is nearly as bad for you as the stuff it's replacing, it's predicted to overtake soybean oil in the next decade as the world's most-used oil. And you know what that means: no more orangutans. The pensive reddish-orange apes (who share 97% of our DNA) are already hanging by a thread. When their forests disappear, so will they.
What to do? First of all, read labels and buy only products that use nonhydrogenated oils: soybean, canola, corn and peanut are all better choices for humans and for apes. CSPI is asking Wal-Mart -- the country's biggest grocery retailer -- to reformulate its house brands that use palm oil. Sign the petition here. Says Michael Jacobson, CSPI's director, "Palm oil should be used as a last resort, by consumers and corporations alike."
We will never run out of Oreos. I wish we could say the same for orangutans.