Sustainably Grown Palm Oil: The Future of Fast Food?
What’s better than deep-fried dough covered in sugar? Turns out, Dunkin Donuts has an answer: sugarcoated, deep-fried dough that doesn’t destroy the rain forest.

Palm oil has become a key ingredient in many processed food products, including fast food and as many as 50 percent of foods sold in grocery stores. Palm oil has surged in popularity over the last few years not because of its taste or nutritional value, but because of the consumer backlash against trans fats, which are known to contribute to the development of a number of diseases. Because palm oil is solid at room temperature, food manufacturers use it in products like Oreos that require a soft yet thick texture.

The replacement of traditional solid fat sources with palm oil has had unintended consequences. Palm oil is made from the pulp of the fruit of oil palm trees, which grow mainly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. The top two palm oil-producing countries are Indonesia and Malaysia, where thousands of acres of rain forest have been cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations.

While the production and exportation of palm oil has supported the economies of these countries, the extensive deforestation and habitat destruction associated with its production will have only negative long-term consequences. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically in Indonesia due to the carbon released as a byproduct of deforestation. One unique population of orangutans that lives only in Aceh, Indonesia is nearing extinction due to fires raging through the expanses of palm oil plantations next to its rain forest habitat.

Local communities of people who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods have fought to end the destruction, but little has been done on a global scale to stop it.

That is, until now. Dunkin Donuts has announced its intention to use only sustainably grown palm oil in making its donuts. While it remains to be seen exactly what changes the popular food chain will make in order to source sustainably grown palm oil, the decision is certainly a step in the right direction.

As long as the global market has access to unsustainably produced palm oil, food corporations will continue to purchase it and use it in products, contributing further to environmental destruction. Consumers must stand up to protect the rainforest and those who depend on it by purchasing only those products made with sustainably grown palm oil.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: NPR, Rainforest Action Network
Photo: Wikipedia