Going palm oil free
Is it possible to completely avoid palm oil?

Mar
29

Sometimes you just fancy something, you want it, you deserve it, and you know it will hit the spot. A guilty pleasure.

Yesterday, I ran a half marathon. Sometimes runs go well, and sometimes badly. But when they go well, endorphins kick in, you feel rightly proud of yourself, and on that “high”, you want to treat yourself. My Garmin (a GPS gadget worn on my wrist) told me I burned off 1900 calories. I beat my personal best by 15 minutes (though when you’re as slow as me in the first place that explains how it would be possible). I felt good.

I headed for the ice-cream van. There it was, just what I wanted. Cool, refreshing and memories of childhood. A “99” icecream with Flake. For those who don’t know what a 99 is – here it is immortalised by the Royal Mail on a British stamp.

Just as I approached the back of the short queue, I remembered. Processed whippy ice-cream, it’s probably got palm oil in. Come to think of it, so has the cornet. Oh, and even the Flake, which is Cadbury’s milk chocolate. Disappointed, my nose smelt another mouthwatering smell – that of bacon wafting over from another stall. Bacon cobs/rolls/butties, call them what you will – manna from heaven.

But won’t the rolls, processed out of a supermarket packet, contain palm oil? Probably. And can I believe what they are spreading? I can. I can believe that it isn’t butter too …

Somewhat deflated, I headed back to the car for a Nature Valley cereal bar. I love these things and they are palm oil free. But somehow, as third choice, this one didn’t seem so good.

Today – after my flying supermarket visit (always longer that they should otherwise be due to the need to vigilantly check labels) I did what I didn’t do on day 8. I went into the fish and chip shop next door, still looking for that treat. There was no queue, so I didn’t feel out of place asking the question. I thought carefully how to phrase the question, and rehearsed the answer I wanted to hear in my head …

“Excuse me, can I just ask a quick question before I order? What oil to you use to fry your fish and chips, is it sunflower oil?”

“Oh, I don’t know, let me have a look”. The assistant left the shop front, but clearly in view stared at a large vat of oil, before returning with a smile. “No … it’s palm oil”.

It’s hard work being virtuous and sticking to a principle. Today at work there were Krispy Kreme doughnuts for all to share and every day offers temptations. I can’t complain – I have all-butter palm oil free shortbread staring me in the face now as I blog. Options are limited and spontaneous ones even more so. But if one more person asks why I, of all people, am turning down doughnuts and ice cream to nibble on cereal bars and home made flapjacks, then the word is spread a little further and it’s worth it.

Mar
24

It seems that a palm oil free diet is not too bad if you can be selfish. Cook all your meals and bake all your bread fresh at home. Turn down anything you’re offered (and it’s always the nice stuff – cakes, biscuits, chocolate …) and only eat what you have vetted, or what you have asked someone to cook for you. It’s depressing, but doable.

This is a late post, but it concerns Mothers’ Day ten days ago. Short of asking my mother to feast on a bargain bucket at palm-oil free KFC, how can a grateful son be selfish and avoid a meal out on Mothers’ Day? A few days ahead of the day, I decided to visit the ASK restaurant (Mums eat free, I might be a kind son but I know a good deal …) and e-mailed ahead to find out their palm oil policy. The Sunday came and went, and I had to just eat and hope.

Now ASK have eventually replied to my e-mails, and have explained that all their ingredients come from different suppliers. They will answer whether individual ingredients contain palm oil, but only if I narrow it down to what particular dishes I am interested in. At least ASK are being co-operative and will answer my questions eventually, or so they say. I suspect I may have transgressed that day though. And I am yet to get a categorical answer. Spot the irony there …

On to better news and a plug for somewhere I have never been but would love to visit. My parents have recently returned from Cornwall and the Eden Project. Apparently there was not a biscuit to be found – the staff muttered something about palm oil and the fact that they couldn’t guarantee any biscuits would be palm oil free so none were served! Great work, Eden Project, and great work Lone Droscher Nielsen of BOS Global who had given a powerful presentation on her work with orangutans earlier in the year. Backing up their stance on palm oil were these photos.

Palm oil and the orangutan – but if you see the photo in full size please NB the website typo, please check out instead http://www.forestsfororangutans.org

palm oil

Palm oil use at Eden

Eden

Mar
17

I’m not a great one for activism. I should be – I care about the issues I talk and blog about, but I’m more the kind of person who tries to quietly make his point and influence those around me to follow my views if they so wish.

But the world would never become a better place if everyone were like me – or not at the rate at which it needs to anyway. Today there was a very successful campaign by Greenpeace UK which perhaps explains, a lot more radically, why I feel the palm oil issue is an important one.

With the slogan “give orangutans a break”, Greenpeace activists, dressed as orangutans, demonstrated outside Nestle head offices in Croydon and York. Nestle, maker of the KitKat, which I believe is the UK’s most popular snack, continues not only to use palm oil in its KitKat bars (though doesn’t have the courage to label it so) but worse still uses unscrupulous suppliers and shows no inclination to move towards sustainability.

The video below is from Greenpeace UK, and more about their campaign and actions from today can be found here

Great news already from the campaign is that Nestle are now rumoured to have dropped supplier Sinar Mas – the same company that Unilever agreed to drop on the day of Panorama’s programme earlier this month.

It really does seem that when an issue likes this gets a groundswell of attention that people and corporations will take notice. Whether it’s by making a quiet personal stand, by letter-writing and e-mail campaigns, or by telling everyone you know, it means that when there is greater exposure of the palm oil issue on occasions, the educated audience is bigger and bigger every time. We can win the battle to earn ourselves as consumers the right to an informed choice. One that will still give us great tasting bread, biscuits and chocolate, but that will leave a safer future for great apes and the ecosystems that both sustain them and regulate the planet’s climate.

Mar
10

As three weeks of Lent are over, I think so far the challenge has been successful. Sometimes it surprises me a few products I find that I can add to my slowly growing list that are OK.

  • Naan bread – Waitrose naan bread does not use palm oil! A nice surprise and it went down a treat with home cooked curry at the weekend
  • Mayonnaise – Sainsbury’s own brand low fat mayo is OK. Full of vegetable oil, yes, but clearly labelled that none of it is palm oil
  • Walkers Crisps – I’m surprised and almost reluctant to accept this but I should give credit where it is due, it genuinely seems that only sunflower oil is used.

True, I may have transgressed but at no point have I done it knowingly. Three possibilities come to mind, and it speaks volumes of the uncertainty of ingredients and labelling in food that I genuinely don’t know …

  • The peanut butter incident – duped by a change of branding and packaging, in choosing “extra crunchy”, have I chosen a brand with palm oil?
  • Mayonnaise – most brands include palm oil, although the brand I chose doesn’t (Sainsbury’s own brand reduced fat). However … on one occasion earlier in Lent, I chose coleslaw on my baked potato for lunch. High in mayonnaise, could this have contained palm oil? Since it was bought from a cafe, I really don’t know
  • The dilemma of eating out

Twice in the last week I have used best educated assumptions. Once, with no food in the house and wanting a takeaway, I considered my options. Chip shops we know are generally not good. The standard American fast food chains are known to mostly all use palm oil (with the exception I believe of KFC), but I went to our local Chinese takeaway. Needing (and wanting) something full of carbs rather than loaded in fat, I went for boiled rice, vegetables and cashew nuts. I have to assume that was probably OK – it’s a dish unlikely to be loaded in vegetable oil and my research suggests that it’s not likely to be used by Chinese restaurants as their vegetable oil of choice. But I just don’t *know*

And secondly, and similarly, I was faced with a late journey home last night, having not eaten for nine hours. Food options are scarce on my journey from Oxfordshire to Cheltenham, giving me the option of Burger King (no.), a small Tesco supermarket (unlikely to find anything for a main meal and unclear labelling anyway) or Little Chef. Ignoring all options with bread or fried potatoes of some description left me pretty much one dish – chilli con carne and boiled rice. Again I think it’s unlikely they used palm oil to cook that it. But I just can’t know.

My conscience is clear and I’ve probably avoided palm oil successfully in food and drink for another week. It would be nice to know for sure, wouldn’t it?

Mar
04

It was Tuesday – feeling virtuous, I put the breadmaker on for my palm oil free fresh “homemade” bread, went for a run, and came back to tuck into my bread with peanut butter. Until now I’ve extolled the virtues of SunPat peanut butter, the only main brand in the shops clearly labelled with no palm oil.

Until now.

peanut butter

Hero or villain?

I noticed that the labelling looked different. In the 30+ years I’ve been eating it, it’s only ever been “crunchy”. Now it’s “Extra crunchy”. The ingredients had an extra couple of items this time … including “hydrogenated vegetable oil”. I would never be buying this and eating this in Lent with only that information, especially knowing so many other brands that label it more clearly include palm oil as an ingredient. So it’s quite possible that I have been consuming palm oil.

I’m not too down, and I doubt it’ll be my only transgression, if indeed it is one. Either ingredients will change in products, or I will make my own slip-ups. I want this blog to highlight (a) how palm oil is present in so many different products and (b) how difficult it is to avoid. Looks like I’m doing that more successfully than I intended

Mar
01

It’s one thing checking out food and labels from the supermarket and maintaining palm oil free food at home. But on Saturday I was out for the day. Suddenly snacks and lunches become very difficult. For snacks, almost all crisps, chocolate, cakes, cereal bars or biscuits from the supermarket will contain palm oil. And for lunch, any bread, rolls, ciabattas and panini are likely to have been produced away from the location and contain palm oil.

So, in my day out in Hay-on-Wye, research ahead was needed. Lunch was safe – a baked potato, but I always knew that my favourite coffee shop – Shepherd’s, in central Hay-on-Wye, needed checking out.

A quick e-mail confirmed that their signature ice-cream, made from sheep’s milk, contains no palm oil. And for getting back to me so quickly and helpfully, I promised http://www.shepherdsicecream.co.uk/ ice cream and coffee shop both my custom and a plug. Both now duly done!

Ice cream

And thankfully, as a major low-fat constituent of my diet, black coffee is, and always will be, palm oil free

Feb
26

Today was a long and busy day. Up at 6:15 and in the office early, I was going to put my palm oil free destiny in the hands of either Sainsbury’s or the staff restaurant.

As the morning drew on, it was clear my lunchbreak would only be 20 minutes, and so I went to the staff restaurant. Unfortunately the baked potatoes, the salad and the pasta had all gone, with just a few sandwiches left and some cold curly fries. I know the bread was processed, and my chance for a palm oil free lunch had gone.

Well not quite – I settled on the largest available piece of home-baked flapjack and a packet of baked Walkers Crisps.

Don’t do as I do and skip or skimp on lunch – anyone can go palm oil free if they don’t eat! But this will be a one-off for me. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do missing meals! The motto is to be prepared, next time I’ll be sure to prepare my own lunch, or take my lunch longer and earlier if at all possible.

Fear not, I’ve made up for it with second helpings of home made Thai chicken and cashew nut curry this evening!

Feb
24

Yesterday, I lingered outside the chip shop for a brief second and wondered if fish and chips from the local takeaway might be a palm oil free option. I should explain for the benefit of my American friends and followers that I’m using the British definition of chips and crisps throughout this blog, though both present palm oil dilemmas of their own …

Well, it didn’t take much googling today to realise that palm oil is commonly used to fry food in a large number of English chip shops. In Scotland, it seems that lard is usually used, but in England it’s likely, though not certain, to be palm oil.

The safest thing, were I desperate, would be to approach the shop itself and ask. But is there any guarantee that the employee would actually know? And how suspicious would I seem if I quizzed an establishment on their ingredients and even asked to be taken into the kitchen to see for myself?

Still – an alternative is at hand. It’s not exactly the same thing, but this lunchtime, after deciding that the takeaway would not be a viable option for tonight, I looked in vain hope at a bag of Sainsbury’s “Be Good to Yourself” Oven Chips in the freezer, expecting to find palm oil prominent in the ingredients. However, there were only two ingredients: potatoes and sunflower oil.

Having now looked at other brands at random, it seems that some other brands have the same ingredients (e.g. McCain’s, other lines of Sainsbury’s) but not all (Aunt Bessie’s is ambiguous). So if you want a different line or a different brand, check the labels!

Tonight, in fact right now, I shall feast on sausages and chips!

Feb
23

Today I had to go for quick easy food. Going palm oil free would be easier if I could prepare fresh food every day, but we can’t expect everyone to have that kind of lifestyle. I, for one, don’t. As I went to my local corner store, I was faced with the awkward dilemma of supermarket or chip shop!

Fortunately, my local supermarket/corner shop is the excellent Co-op. I bought (and have since consumed!) a packaged fresh pizza, which, unlike all other supermarket offerings I have noticed, apart from the pricier Pizza Express range, does not contain palm oil.

But what to have with it? Chips? Garlic bread? Potato waffles? All, in their processed form, contained palm oil. Thankfully, I resolved this dilemma by having a sufficiently large pizza that I didn’t need accompaniment.* But it’s so often the way that if you think of a way round what you are having for your meal, you also have to think about its accompaniment – it’s so easy to fall down on something small.

The thank you is to all of you who watched yesterday’s Panorama: Dying for a Biscuit. If the number of hits is anything to go by, then interest in my blog has soared, through the high profile that this issue was given on the BBC yesterday. I hope all new visitors, many of whom were searching for palm oil free products while the programme was airing, will be inspired to do the same as me, or at least return to follow my progress and understand the difficulties along the way. It’s so easy to be captivated and inspired to do something one day, and then forget about the issue the next day. But this issue needs continuous attention, until palm oil is sustainably produced and certifiably so, we mustn’t forget the palm oil issue. Orangutan lives depend on it.

When I return, next time I may be more tempted by the chip shop than the Co-op, that remains to be seen. But can I be sure chip shop fish and chips would be palm oil free? As with so many of these things, I will need to research ahead. I think I will probably be OK but I would be disappointed to find out in hindsight that palm oil was involved.

*Just before publishing this post I mentioned my choice of topic to a friend, who replied “You should have got salad to go with it”. I don’t know if that’s a clue to my rushed state of mind, or my not so healthy lifestyle, but I’m ashamed to say I never even thought of that!

Feb
22

Has a website or blog post ever been entitled “Flapjack and Panorama” before?

If you are reading this in the UK and it’s 8:30pm, please stop. Watch Panorama. The documentary promises to be the most high-profile prime time exposure yet to the issue of palm oil. I hope it gives some further explanation as to why I am doing this and publicising what I am doing

Dying for a biscuit

If you have missed it or would like to know more, please consider the BBC iPlayer.

Back to today – a day in the office left me with the mid-morning snack dilemma. With so many cereal bars, crisps and chocolates swimming in palm oil, once again I was drawn towards the flapjack. Chances are, if I were buying a flapjack packaged from a shop, it would contain palm oil too. However, even I know that it’s a relatively simple (if not healthy!) thing to make. ¬†And delicious too!

Thankfully I spoke to the dinner lady (what’s the right word for someone who prepares and serves food at the staff restaurant? That seems wrong …) who has not only promised me they are made on-site using a simple recipe, but even shared the ingredient list and recipe with me! She could have inadvertently caused a drop in her own profits there, but the main thing is they are cooked with butter and not margarine, and completely free of banned ingredients

flapjack

So here’s a shot of the work flapjack in all its glory, taken from my photo a day for 2010 blog