From Louise Mead on Facebook, a great perspective on the continuing Palm Oil controversy:
There is a lot of discussion about whether palm oil is vegan. The TL:DR is – palm oil is a plant, it is definitely vegan and if we genuinely want animal liberation, campaigning against it is actually counter-productive to our aims.
A lot of people argue that because of the environmental destruction palm oil causes, often with particular mentions of orangutans, that it is not vegan to use or consume palm oil. But aside from being incorrect – because palm oil is vegan – this is a huge oversimplification of an incredibly complex issue. To start with, the sheer size of the human population is such that no matter what we eat, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid some sort of environmental impact. So we have to look at the most effective ways to reduce that impact – and singling out specific plants is not the answer. There are a number of reasons for this:
1. The biggest cause of environmental destruction and species extinction in terms of food production is without a doubt, animal agriculture – by a long shot. So our priority should be on ending animal agriculture. If we focus on palm oil or any other specific useful crops rather than ending animal use then we create an extra pressure for new and potential vegans that might make them think twice about ditching their use of animals. We also give nonvegans yet another excuse (not like they need any more of those!) as to why they should avoid making a change to veganism. Not only that but if animal agriculture was to come to an end, there’d be a vast amount of land freed up for planting palm and other crops because as we know, it takes many times more land to produce a pound of animal protein than it does to produce a pound of plant protein.
2. Out of all the plant oils, palm oil has by far the highest yield out of any of them (more than double most other oils). This means it takes up less land to produce the same amount. Unless humans stop using oils – which is unlikely – then palm oil is actually one of the lesser evils. It also requires less chemicals and pesticides in its production – which is also a positive in terms of environmental impact compared to other oils. This article goes into more detail about this particular topic:
3. A lot of palm oil is planted on land that has already been cleared for another purpose – such as illegal logging, or narcotics. So when the palm oil industry is singled out as the cause, it’s not entirely accurate and is actually a distraction from a number of very serious environmental problems.
4. Palm oil is a single issue campaign. Whilst our initial instinct is that single issue campaigns may raise awareness of the plight of some animals, what they invariably end up doing is promoting speciesism and as we know, speciesism leads to people making distinctions between animals they want to protect and animals who they see no problem in harming. Take for example the narrative of palm oil being associated with orangutans. There are few people who wouldn’t be moved by heart-breaking images of homeless and orphaned orangutans. However, by promoting the cause of orangutans in relation to palm oil, we reinforce the idea – particularly in the eyes of nonvegans – that some animals are more important than others. For starters, not all palm oil is produced in locations where orangutans are a native species but because people are speciesist, orangutans have been adopted as the poster ‘child’ of the campaign to emotionally manipulate people – there are far more species who are affected by habitat destruction caused by animal agriculture than by a single plant product. Further, the nonvegan alternatives to palm oil come from a number of farmed animals – butter, lard, dripping etc. Who are we to say that orangutans are more important than cows, geese, pigs, or ducks? How can we honestly say that an orangutans value their lives any more than other animals? We can’t.
(Editor’s note: I would seriously recommend that you listen to this podcast for an excellent and comprehensive explanation as to why single issue campaigns are actually counter-productive for animal rights:
5. If you’re going to object to palm oil then to be consistent you should probably be objecting to bananas, coconuts, mangoes, sugar, and all other crops that come from tropical plantations. When we put it like that, doesn’t it seem a bit crackers to say things like bananas and coconuts aren’t vegan? More on this here:
So to sum up – palm oil comes from a plant, so it’s definitely vegan. Palm oil has its merits, environmentally speaking, compared to other oils. Palm oil is a single issue campaign that promotes speciesism and can actually distract from or give some people the excuse they were looking for not to become vegan. Veganism is the best chance we have of solving the issues of environmental destruction and species extinction, and therefore we must recognise that no matter how much our heartstrings are pulled, we must be rational and focus on promoting veganism – nothing less will do.
I’ve written extensively on Facebook and this blog about why we should never engage in single-issue campaigns for animal causes and why CNOVA is the only morally justifiable form of activism that is effective. If you think animals matter morally, please study the links embedded in this sentence.
If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s easy and great for you, incredible for the animals, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.
To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:
Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.