Notes from West London

Palm Oil

Last month, as part of her homework, my 9-year-old daughter had to research palm oil. Among other things she had to check foodstuffs at home to see which of them included it as an ingredient. I have been checking ingredient lists for decades but the prevalence of palm oil had passed me by. When did it become a major ingredient in virtually every type of biscuit, cracker and savoury snack?

I am wary of writing anything too critical about it. Some corporations are so sensitive and litigious these days that if I write something uncomplimentary about it, and its effect on the environment, I might find myself at the mercy of Global Palm Oil Inc. or some multinational trade body which clamps down on anyone who makes even the vaguest critical comment about their practices. (Currently the phrase “Global Palm Oil Inc.” yields no results on the world’s most popular search engine.) Leading hamburger restaurants did the same thing in decades past, or should I say, “Leading hamburger restaurants allegedly did the same thing in decades past”? Any accusations of deforestation, or other environmental damage, or dodgy employment and trading practices could be met with threatening letters. Also, I haven’t done much more research into this than a 9 year old, but one of the quotes I found last month compared the concept of ethically sourced palm oil with that of a “healthy cigarette”.

Instead I’ll stay local and report on my attempt to find a sweet or savoury snack to accompany my free Waitrose coffee earlier this evening. Every major brand of cracker, biscuit and cake contained palm oil or (more subtly) “vegetable oil (palm)”, so I bought a banana (sourced from the Caribbean rather than the Americas). It is not what I usually have with a cup of coffee but it is, mercifully, free of other ingredients.


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