Iceland’s Christmas advert for 2018 has truly gone viral. It appears twice daily on my Facebook feed. Having supposedly been banned for being ‘too political’, it aims to raise awareness of deforestation carried out for the cultivation of palm oil. In the video, an amazingly adorable orangutan, Rang-Tan, is taken in by a young girl, after explaining to her that he can’t go back to his home because his habitat has been destroyed. The young girl quite admirably decides to not only take him in, but to save his home by telling everyone about the awful thing that’s happening. It’s pretty awesome, and thus, quite rightly so, people have been sharing the fuck out of it, alongside comments such as “Banned? How can this be banned?”.
But, you see, here lies the downfall; people are mindlessly sharing this video, convinced that this is a great effort to save the environment, without Iceland actually telling us their full plan for substituting the palm oil in their products, or what effect this will have on both the industry and the environment. Sounds like greenwashing if you ask me…
So, what exactly are they planning to substitute the palm oil in their products with? From replies to comments on social media it seems products will be substituted with a mixture of vegetable oils, butter and lard. But does that mean more sustainable? Potentially not.
As it stands, palm oil is in fact more sustainable than alternative oils such as rapeseed and soya. In regards to land use, palm oil has a yield 4.5 times greater per hectare. This means if you swap from palm oil to rapeseed oil, you may be increasing the amount of deforestation needed to grow the crop by four times! In fact, palm oil currently makes up 35% of all vegetable oils produced, but only 10% of the land!
And then there is the matter of butter or lard. To begin with, substituting palm oil for an animal fat alternative will alienate the main group in society trying to alter their lifestyles for the good of the planet. Yes, that’s right, I am talking about vegans. Currently products such as Oreos can only be eaten by vegans because they use palm oil instead of animal products. Granted the stick that vegans already get, it would be cruel to deny them yummy snacks. And then there’s the even more pressing matter - sustainability. Livestock for both meat and dairy products takes up 5 times more land than palm oil, and this will only increase if we boycott palm oil in favour of butter and lard. On top of this, why would we make one species, cows, suffer greater in order to save another, the orangutan. Is this not some sick favouritism, based on subjective cuteness? Or perhaps likeness to ourselves?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you truly want to reduce your negative impacts on the environment and help animals such as the orangutan, the greatest lifestyle change you can make is to radically cut down on your meat consumption. Currently 30% of the whole planet’s land is used for farming livestock, the industry creates 18% of the world’s CO2 emissions and causes 55% of total soil erosion, which is what prevents habitats restoring after cultivation.
So, where do we go from here?
I don’t want this to be a force of negativity. Regardless, it is still brilliant that a major supermarket has decided to make the environment the topic of their Christmas advert, and I have mad respect for it. However, as a huge superfan of Planet Earth and all it provides for me, I would be lying if I said I was satisfied. Saving the planet is not a one trick wonder; we cannot boycott palm oil and hey presto! The world - it’s cured! It is much more complex than that.
The best thing you can do, instead of boycotting palm oil as a whole, is to buy products that use sustainable palm oil, while simultaneously reducing your meat and dairy consumption. Every product that is produced using sustainably-sourced palm oil should say so on the ingredients list. The standard protocol if it doesn’t? Put it back on the shelf, give it the finger, and shimmy away like the boss bitch you are.
Here are a few of my sources for information, check them out: