So, it turns out it really can cost peanuts to buy a jar of peanut butter here. Provided, that is, that you don’t have any ethical qualms about the ingredients in said peanut butter. Sadly (for me – I love peanut butter!) I just can’t bring myself to put the jar in the trolley once I’ve looked at the ingredient list.
Peanut butter can contain a surprising number of things that aren’t peanuts. But the one that really bothers me is palm oil. Sometimes listed as palm oil, sometimes listed as ‘vegetable oil’ or even ‘tropical oil’ if they are being really sneaky.
The palm oil industry is big business around the globe, with the two biggest producers being Indonesia and Malaysia. Good news for business, employment, and standards of living…sometimes. Even those are not unmitigated success stories.
But even if you put your hands over your ears and try really, really hard to only see the economic and social silver linings, you still can’t help but see the truth poking through. The palm oil industry is really, truly, entirely terrible news environmentally. In terms of deforestation, loss of habitat for a huge range of vulnerable species environmental protection, unsustainable development and land management. It is a scourge on ecosystems around the globe, and the fall-out from this environmental disaster in the making is one that is very close to my heart, both literally and metaphorically. It is happening right in my backyard.
Borneo has lost more than its fair share of rainforest to make way for acre after acre of uniformly arranged palm plantations. Devoid of all the life and sound that would have filled the indigenous tropical trees and undergrowth, cleared to make way for the palms. It breaks my heart when I look out of a plane window over the neighbouring Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, with palm plantations as far as the eye can see. Well, except of course, for the vast scars of freshly desecrated ground, with the uprooted tropical trees still scattered across the bare soil like match sticks on the ground.
If you haven’t read anything about this before and want to know more, then you might find these links interesting:
Orangutans are the poster-child of the tragedy. Seeing their plight is so upsetting. Especially as it is entirely in human hands. But there is so much more at stake. Environmental experts routinely speak of the untold numbers of species still being discovered in tropical environments around the world. Only this week there was a report in The Guardian about three newly discovered mammals in the rainforest and mountain wildernesses of Papua New Guinea. And scientific and health breakthroughs are regularly announced, on the back of plant or animal toxins, venoms, or biochemical discoveries from tropical and rainforest environments. If we allow the growth of the palm oil industry to continue unabated, what then? It genuinely makes me shudder to think.
Palm oil is in a truly staggering number of food, beauty and household products. Once you start to look it is quite depressingly mind-boggling actually. I try to keep it in perspective, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. I avoid the products I can, and buy the most ethically and environmentally choices I can find and afford.
Which (to end on a lighter, feel-good note for a Friday!) brings me back to peanut butter. At long last, after three years living here I can indulge my peanut butter passion with a guilt-free conscience….
Sanitarium peanut butter has arrived on the shelves! Being from the UK, I’d never heard of Sanitarium before, but it is an Australian brand which uses no palm oil in its peanut butters. It costs a bit more, but for me, it is a price worth paying. I bought three jars on the spot (you never know when the one decent supermarket here might run out…and it can take months before a product line reappears. I was not risking it this time!)
So, in the spirit of a truly international foodie post, happy Foodie Friday to me, with a vintage American peanut butter classic…Ants on a log! Celery sticks, peanut butter, sultanas. There is no recipe; the description is pretty much it. The holy grail of sweet, salty, crunchy, peanuty heaven. My husband thinks it is the most awful thing he has ever heard of, but if you are a peanut butter fan, it is a thing of beauty. If you haven’t tried it, you should! But if you didn’t before, hopefully now you’ll think twice about the peanut butter you use to make it.