(January 23, 2012)
On our seven hour drive from Quito to the beach, there were plenty of interesting scenes to capture.
We passed cascades,
and drying laundry,
and African Palm groves.
What? African Palm? I’m in the Andes. What is an African palm doing here? And why are there so many palm trees? Who buys African palm oil?
Answer: African palm oil is in many consumer products, yet we as a consumer body rarely know this. I had never even heard of the plant before, and yet here it is staring me in the face. The trees themselves are not a problem, but the effect of thousands upon thousands of acres of the tropical mountainside being wiped out and replaced with groves of trees is the problem.
The largest issue here is that African palm oil is not a widely known international controversy like oil. “Everybody” knows that oil is destroying the environment; that oil spills kill thousands of marine critters; that oil companies pay beans for land with oil reserves then charge extravagant prices per barrel; that workers have horrible benefits and that oil is a finite resource. “Everyone” also knows that they are consuming oil in a daily basis. We purchase oil to run our cars, to heat our water, to process food and to essentially continue with our existence. Whereas what on earth even is African palm oil? I had no clue.
It is an oil that is semi-solid at room temperature, and therefore does not need to be hydrogenated. Hydrogenated oils (like animal fat) raise the “bad” cholesterol and can even lower the “good” cholesterol. Essentially that means that African palm oil is healthier than most oils. The oil’s cheap prices encourage companies to use large amounts of African palm oil instead of animal fat or other vegetable oils. Thus it is an major ingredient in many foods. Poorer countries cannot afford to loose the money that oil brings in, and therefore have very loose regulations. The African palm companies traipse in, destroy the country’s resources, make boatloads of profit and swagger on out.
Point being, this ridiculous plant is beating the tar out of the Ecuadorian coastal forest, not to mention entire swaths of land in Asia and Africa, while those with the power to turn things around know next to nothing about the situation. In the oil controversy, we as consumers of enormous amounts of oil are in the position to put pressure on oil companies to take responsibility for the harm they cause, whereas the African palm tree companies get off scott-free because the effects are not common knowledge yet.
Yet, being the operative word.
We really do consume a lot of African palm oil. It is in common foods, makeup, and so far only a small percentage of people even know about it. The time to step up and take responsibility is here. I am not asking for a miracle, just an honest effort to be more conscious of where the money we spend is actually going.
Tengan la bondad y protegen la naturaleza, la que se ha dado a nosotros.
Have the goodness to preserve what has been given to us: nature.