The topic of palm oil is one that often divides the vegan community and causes heated arguments and discussions. I see it all the time on Facebook. Whenever somebody posts a picture of, for example, Oreos - which are technically vegan, but contain palm oil - you can expect a burst of outrage in the comment section about the ethicality of palm oil. These comments usually end up being deleted.
Technically, palm oil is vegan - but only so long as we follow the standard definition of veganism. According to dictionary.com, a vegan is "a vegetarian who omits all animal products from the diet", and/or "a person who does not use any animal products, as leather or wool." By this definition, palm oil is vegan, since it is plant-based and is not derived from an animal.
But let's look deeper. The dictionary.com definition only scrapes the surface of what veganism is about. Personally, I follow the Vegan Society's definition of veganism: "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment." In short, veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude exploitation of and cruelty to animals. Veganism is, according to the Vegan Society, about much more than simply eliminating animal-derived ingredients from our diets and clothing choices.
"Palm oil, as we know, is often collected through unethical means, and palm oil production is known to cause damage to the environment and to destroy animal habitats."
I consider the Vegan Society's definition the most accurate because the founder of the society, Donald Watson, actually coined the term "vegan". Who could be more qualified to define a word than the creator of the word itself?
So, if we follow the Vegan Society's definition, veganism is about, as much as is possible and practicable, making ethical choices in every aspect of our lives. And palm oil, as we know, is often collected through unethical means, and palm oil production is known to cause damage to the environment and to destroy animal habitats. Most commonly, palm oil production is associated with the habitat destruction of endangered orangutans. According to Wikipedia, human activities have caused severe declines in the populations and ranges of both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. Habitat destruction is one of the three largest threats to both species.
"So, while palm oil is certainly a plant-based food, I personally think that unethically sourced palm oil cannot be included in an ethical diet."
So, while palm oil is certainly a plant-based food, I personally think that unethically sourced palm oil cannot be included in an ethical diet. It's as simple as that. Of course, there are many vegans who do consume palm oil, and while I encourage them to seek out alternatives, I do recognise that different people follow different definitions of "veganism".
If you are interested in cutting out palm oil from your diet, there is a very useful app from Palm Oil Investigations. The app can be downloaded here. Keep in mind that it may not be available in your country yet -- in this case, you may like to donate to Palm Oil Investigations to help them raise funds to expand their app.
One Green Planet offers a very helpful list on their website, found here. The list gives information about vegan brands that use and do not use palm oil. Please, next time you do your grocery shopping, keep this important information in mind.