By jen | April 21, 2010
I came across a post from Veganbaking.net, a fantastic site and resource on vegan baking (duh), on a new butter alternative called Vegan By Nature. Like many other vegan butters, such as the super popular Earth Balance, this product contains palm (in this case “palm fruit glycerin” instead of oil). Unlike the other brands, however, Vegan By Nature actually lists where it sources its palm (Indonesia). While some vegan sites are touting this brand as a good alternative to Earth Balance because it contains more “natural” ingredients, I take issue with the continued promotion by vegans (on websites, blogs, cookbooks, etc.) of “vegan” products containing palm despite growing awareness of the detrimental effects its production has on the environment and animals.
Here was my response to the post:
Don’t think I’ll be trying this product
According to the Center for Science in the Public interest (http://www.cspinet.org/palm/), palm oil production is responsible for the widespread destruction of rainforests and wildlife populations. Specifically, according to their site:
“Of the more than 400 land mammal species of Indonesia, 15 are critically endangered and another 125 threatened. Of Malaysia’s nearly 300 land mammal species, 6 are critically endangered and 41 threatened. The numbers of threatened species climb higher when terrestrial reptiles, amphibians, and birds are included. Moreover, certain animals, such as the orangutan, are only found in these countries; when their rainforest habitat vanishes, so will they.”
I think the ecological implications of supporting products that use palm oil (especially palm oil harvested from Indonesia or Malaysia, which account for the vast majority of the world’s production), are far too great to be ignored by vegans. Yes, it’s true that the ingredient lists for these dairy alternatives are free of animal products, but animals (and the environment) are suffering as a direct result of our desire for “healthier” baked goods (containing non-hydrogenated fats). I, like you, try as much as possible consume products that contain more natural ingredients. However, I find the notion that somehow cookies, cakes, pastries and other baked goods are supposed to be “good” for us is absurd. I do not believe pastries–vegan or otherwise–should be included as a regular part of anyone’s diet.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any solutions in the way of recommending a more ecologically/vegan-friendly butter alternative (yet!). I will, however, gladly eliminate my use of any palm oil as much as possible, the same way I eliminated meat, eggs, dairy, honey and other animal products (to the best of my ability) because my consumption harmed animals, my health and the environment.
There are a lot of news and research articles (as well as blog posts) on this topic online. Simply do a search on “palm oil” with “Earth Balance,” “Indonesia,” “Malaysia,” “Orangutans,” or “Rainforest destruction” to learn more about this issue. (Note: the above photo was borrowed from a post by the International Land Coalition.)