Palm Oil: Vegan or Not?

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We’ve all heard or seen this before – vegan products advertising that they are palm oil free; or vegans on forums stating that products aren’t vegan friendly due to the inclusion of palm oil in their ingredients list.  But wait a sec, why palm oil? Isn’t palm oil derived from plants? If palm oil isn’t from an animal or derived from animals, why are some vegans so adamant that it is not vegan friendly?  By definition, a vegan lifestyle is one which excludes animals or animal derived products so where does palm oil fit into all of this?

What is Palm Oil?

vegan palm oil

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil which is extracted from the pulp of the fruit grown on the oil palm tree. Each fruit can contain up to 50% of the oil, which makes it a cheaper alternative compared to some other vegetable oils.

Where is Palm Oil Used?

Palm oil has a number of unique characteristics, such as high saturation and zero cholesterol, which attracts people to use it in a number of varying applications and makes it the most popular vegetable oil in the world.  While we may not be aware, palm oil is actually used in a variety of everyday products ranging from cosmetics, to food, to cleaning products and even items such as soap.

Next time you’re cooking up a storm or having a shower, have a quick look at the label on some of the products you have lying around the house.

Do you see any of these ingredients?

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

Don’t be fooled by the sneakiness of corporations. While not true for every instance, these ingredients can include palm oil or its derivatives.

So What’s the Issue with Palm Oil?

So far it sounds great – its versatile, it’s from a plant, it’s cheap. But palm oil has a dark side and it’s reach stretches from deforestation to animal cruelty and even human cruelty.

palm oil deforestation

Palm oil is currently one of the world’s leading causes of the destruction of rainforests. The oil palm tree only grows in tropical areas and requires certain conditions to thrive. Due to increasing demands for palm oil, large areas of rainforests in tropical countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared to make space for the plantation of palm oil trees, destroying the natural habitat for many native animals and destroying the land itself.

Animal Cruelty

The destruction of rainforests has lead to the destruction of the natural habitat for many native animals. In fact, it has forced some species, such as the Sumatran orangutan almost to extinction.

vegan deforestation orangutan

Human Cruelty

In addition to the massive destruction it has on our environment and to the animals on this planet, the un-monitored surge in demand for the trees has resulted in reports of aboriginal people being forced to move as their homes are destroyed for the palm oil trees.  There have also been reports of related child labour and slavery.

What Can I Do?

Change always starts with education and just by being aware you are already helping the situation. As the world becomes more aware of the palm oil situation, some businesses have started moving away from the use of palm oil in their products so look out for these as an alternative to your usual grocery shopping list.  We also stock a range of palm oil free, vegan friendly products at our marketplace.

So to answer our original question: is palm oil vegan or not?  Well, that depends on what your definition of veganism is.  If veganism to you is only related to animal products then technically palm oil is vegan friendly.  But if you’re a strong believer against animal cruelty and the general wellbeing of our planet, then palm oil is not vegan.

What are some of your favourite palm oil free alternatives?

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