Just say no — really loudly — to palm oil 

No triumph in this palm story

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A while back Mieke Prummel suggested I investigate the best oil to use. Mieke would say "a while back" is stretching it, but the more I research, the more complexities arise, from health to enviro issues, so I haven't come up with any definitive answers. Then it was Palm Sunday. The Saturday night before — call it Palm Sunday Eve — was Earth Hour. You know, when we're all supposed to turn off our electricity for an hour in an effort cynics charge is too earnest for words. (Vancouver Island, BTW, outshot Metro Vancouver, once named Earth Hour Capital by World Wildlife Fund. Courtenay and Comox were B.C.'s leaders, using 10 per cent less power. But Whistler was no slouch, at seven per cent less; Pemberton came in at 5.9 per cent. The Big Smoke? It embarrassingly came in at 2.4 per cent less.)

To mark Earth Hour, Oasis HD ran Green the Film, an award-winning doc with no voice-over so it can be shown in any culture. Green uses the tragic fate of a female orangutan serendipitously named Green to talk about the deforestation that's been ripping through Indonesia for years, mainly on Sumatra and Borneo.

The destruction is, in large part, due to — you guessed it — palm oil plantations, although that cheap teak patio furniture or that tropical hardwood flooring you might have been eyeballing plays no small role. (And, yes, we were sitting on our raw log sofa and powering our TV with a bicycle generator as we watched.)

But it's the palm oil angle that's been obsessing me since I saw Green, maybe because the symbolism behind palm fronds, and Palm Sunday itself, is all about triumph. There's little triumphant about the palm oil story, unless maybe you're a shareholder of Cargill Palm Oil.

Oil palms are native to Western Africa. They were introduced to the island of Java by Dutch colonizers in the mid-1800s, and later to Malaysia by their British counterparts. Today, the two countries are the Big Boys of palm oil production. According to Index Mundi, Indonesia is No. 1, coming in over 2.8 billion tonnes of palm oil a year; Malaysia is No. 2, at about 1.9 billion tonnes.

That's a lot of cheap grease. And a lot of downed rainforests. It's not that the plants themselves are bad, although they do need an outrageous amount of fresh water in the early stages; it's the way the forests are mowed down and the plantations planted that's rotten.

The 2008 Guinness Book of World Records gave Indonesia the ignominious distinction of being the No. 1 fastest destroyer of rainforests on the planet. You want a cheap, fast, easy source of oil for your little box of store-bought biscuits, your deep-fried snackies, your so-called spreads and margarines, your make-up, your face cream and your cream cheese? Bulldoze and burn the rainforest, displace a bunch of indigenous creatures like Green and plant a bunch of oil palms.

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