The Scariest Part of Halloween? Palm Oil in Your Treats

Halloween is JUST around the corner. This holiday is one of my favorite times of the year. It used to be the one time I’d let myself go absolutely hog wild and devour ALL THE TREATS. But that was before ZooFit, and before I fell in love with Asian wildlife. 

What does Asian wildlife have to do with Halloween? I’m so glad you asked.

Every year, on Halloween, at least in the United States (I’ve heard Halloween isn’t as big of a deal in Europe as in America- which is really just a shame), millions of children get dressed up and go door to door trick-or-treating. This day and age, though, let’s be honest, it’s just Treating. There aren’t any Tricks involved anymore. The treats are usually bite-sized, or fun-sized chocolates, candies, and individually wrapped treats like Rice Krispie treats, Hostess or Little Debbie pastries, or other confections. By the end of the night, the children have shopping bags filled with candy to last a lifetime, but it only lasts a couple of weeks.

So, what’s wrong with children partaking in some sugary goodness once in a while? A little sugar once a year won’t hurt them.

It might not be hugely detrimental to our children (I mean I turned out fine…I think), but it does have a significant impact on the planet. And it’s not even just the plastic issue (although that’s a whole other blog post waiting to happen in itself). The biggest issue with Halloween candy and treats is a common ingredient which can wreak havoc on Asian wildlife- palm oil.

The Horror Story of Palm Oil

Since it’s Halloween, and horror stories are pretty common, I’m not going to sugar coat the destructive nature of palm oil. I will start out by saying, yes, not all palm oil is created equal. There ARE some sources of palm oil which aren’t guilty of the crimes against nature that I’m about to describe. However, those products are unfortunately far and few between. At the end of this rant, I will share with you some of the people in the world who are dedicated to killing us with yummy deliciousness, but NOT the planet.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palms. I know, so original with the name, huh? It is one of the most common vegetable oils in the world, due to its low cost. There is some debate on the health benefits of palm oil, because it is highly saturated, but one study showed there doesn’t seem to be a link to cardiovascular disease like other saturated fats. But that’s not the biggest issue with palm oil.

Because of its popularity in everything from cooking to biofuel, palm oil is in high demand. The high demand for oil palm plantations produced as cheaply as possible is literally destroying the rainforest, and many of the animals which call the rainforest home. The most common method for clearing land to create oil palm plantations is through slash and burn. This is exactly what it sounds like- a horror film waiting to happen. First, loggers cut the forest down to the shrubs. Then they set fire to the area, until all that’s left is an open field for the oil palms to be planted.

If Smokey the Bear was watching this unfold, he would be enraged. Many Asian animals call these dense forests their home, and they are being driven not just out of the trees, but right off the planet.

Orangutan populations have drastically declined since land has started clearing at a higher rate for palm oil production, according to research. In the past decade, over half the population of orangutans have disappeared. Without intervention, this species could be extinct very soon. Within my lifetime.

The deforestation practices are not just driving animals to extinction, they are also contributing to climate change in the release of carbon dioxide from the peat-rich soil getting burned through slash-and-burn methods.

While orangutans are definitely the poster child for sustainable palm oil, they are far from the only victims. Tigers, hornbills, rhinos, and elephants are all susceptible to the devastation the palm oil industry is promoting. Because, once the oil palm plantations are operational, the non-sustainable activity doesn’t cease.

Farms and plantations experience wildlife conflicts when herds of elephants devour their crops, or tigers come dangerously close to villages when their natural prey are gone. Having their homes and food sources removed, many animals seek refuge, shelter, and sustenance within the newly erected monoculture forests. However, many of these animals aren’t exactly gentle with their exploration of the plantations’ product, elephants in particular.

In the end, humans come first and animals are sacrificed to keep our way of life protected. To protect their crop and their livelihood, some farmers lethally prevent crop raiding and invasions from local fauna. Electric fences deliver fatal shocks. Poisoned waters provide a slow and agonizing death. Gunshots wound and kill many would-be intruders. It’s sad but true.

The real danger lies in thinking we can even boycott palm oil. Boycotting isn’t the real solution. If we do away with palm oil, in the corrupt and greedy culture of consumer demands, they will just come up with a new ingredient which will be just as devastating. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to boycott unless you truly separate and eliminate not just all processed foods, but most of our household products, including cleaning products, pet food, beauty products, automotive products, health and wellness products. The list goes on and on. Palm oil is in everything. Even if it doesn’t actually SAY palm oil, there is an excellent chance we are still consuming it.

Battling Palm Oil Demons

So how DO you fight such a monstrous industry? Well, from a ZooFit standpoint, I read the hell out of labels, and if I don’t KNOW what each and every ingredient truly is, I don’t buy it. That means I eat a lot more whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and little meat. And I avoid almost all processed foods. My exceptions tend to be Lara Bars, RX Bars, and occasionally Epic Bars. My method is extreme and incredibly difficult to follow. It’s simple, but not easy. But it’s one way you can avoid conflict palm oil, plus you get something out of it. You get to eat significantly healthier, and help with your nutrition and fitness goals.

Eliminating palm oil from our diet helps create conversations where we can bring awareness to the issue with friends and family in a non-confrontational manner, too. Saying “no, thank you” to a sweet is easier when you back it up with “that has palm oil in it, and I just don’t eat food products made with palm oil”. You aren’t saying no to your friends, you are saying no to palm oil. And it opens the door to inform rather than nag family about eating habits.

However, I recognize this is not an easy process. Cutting out ALL processed foods? No candy? No ice cream? No PIE? (I make my own, I’m not a monster). If eliminating anything that COULD potentially have palm oil in it is too hard, or you’re just not quite ready to tackle that mountain yet, my next suggestion may soothe your sweet-tooth monster, and still have a positive impact on the environment.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has created an app for your smart phone to help you at the grocery store when reading labels. Download the app, and when you are at the store, scan the UPC code with the app. It will tell you whether or not the product has palm oil in it, and whether or not the product uses SUSTAINABLE palm oil. This is the key to making sure we have orangutans, and other Asian wildlife for generations to come. Sustainable palm oil is certified through the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm OIl. Companies who buy palm oil only from sustainably certified farmers are allowed to use the RSPO label for sustainable palm oil on their products. It’s not quite a perfect system, but the more we as consumers support the efforts, the better it will be for us, and for the planet.

Companies like Justin’s Nut Butter, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ghirardelli Chocolates, and Seventh Generation cleaning products are among many who are dedicated to preserving the planet. They may not be dedicated to preserving our health, but in small quantities, on special occasions, like Halloween, it won’t hurt to indulge a little. I’ll be indulging on some awesome burpees and maybe some homemade pumpkin pie. Or pumpkin bread. Something pumpkin.

Okay, so a scary story, but one with a hopeful ending (hopefully?). Enjoy your Halloween. Make it exciting, but make it a safe one. For you, your loved ones, and the entire planet.

Eat treats, live green, and train spooky!

4 Comments

  1. What a privilege to hear and read what you are passionate about.
    Love to the two of you. You are an inspiration. And we always thought
    you were worth it.!

  2. Thank you for reinforcing my “thing” about not supporting Halloween “Treats”- be they loaded with palm oil or sugar. I need to look u[p the difference between “coconut oil” and “palm oil”. I read that “palm oil” is not a healthy type of oil…yet “coconut oil” hasn’t been taken off my list as being negative. Yet.
    Thanks again for your writing and efforts to help us all be better stewards of our bodies and the planet!

    • Thanks, Kathy for your support!
      Coconut oil has been baffling experts for years. It is a hydrogenated oil, which is really bad. But many other experts tout the healthy benefits to coconut oil as a substitute for UNHEALTHY hydrogenated fats…huh?
      I do use it periodically, especially for foods which have a sweetened element, but I try not to use too much. Coconut oil is not the same as palm oil in regards to environmental practices. In fact, most research I’ve read shows that coconut oil production is much more sustainable than palm oil. There are still concerns, so it’s important to source organic coconut oil, but the good news is coconut palms don’t require pesticides or herbicides.
      Keep it up, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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