Lucy Buchholz pledged to have a week without palm oil. Here’s how she got on.
Eurgh, palm oil. It’s responsible for the destruction of our rainforests, which contributes to global warming and has rendered thousands of orangutans homeless, orphaned or dead. Yet approximately 50 per cent of produce found in supermarkets contain palm oil – from the food we eat, to the toiletries we freshen up with. I’ve heard the phrase ‘palm oil is in EVERYTHING’ so many times I’ve taken it as gospel – but I decided to challenge this, and see if I could live without the seemingly vital oil for one whole week.
First of all, I have a confession: I’m one of those people who couldn’t think of anything worse than leaving the house with a bare face. So, before I started my week, I made sure I researched my beauty products to see if I need to do a little extra online shopping – honestly, I was shocked. I assumed that because my make-up bag is exclusively for vegan, cruelty-free and natural products that they must all be palm-oil free – but this was definitely not the case. Although it saddened me that I was unknowingly spreading palm oil on my face every day, it was a great opportunity to try out products from more sustainable brands, such as Axiology (axiologybeauty.com) and PHB Ethical Beauty (phbethicalbeauty.co.uk). Luckily, my trusted shampoo bar and shower products from Friendly Soap (friendlysoap.co.uk) were palm oil-free, so I was happy to know I hadn’t completely missed the mark.
I wanted to begin my week on a Saturday, because I’m a firm believer that all good things happen on the weekend. To make completing my mission as easy as possible, I decided to spend an hour or so researching what I can and cannot buy, as well as how to spot the tell-tale signs of hidden palm oil. A common piece of advice warned me to stay clear of ingredients that begin with palm, stear, laur and glyc. If an ingredient begins with these root words it doesn’t guarantee that it will include palm oil, but it’s a strong indication.
Scanning the back of packets has never been an issue for me – I’m used to it from double checking whether products are dairy and meat-free – but I wanted to make the process as easy as possible, so I started my shop at Iceland (groceries.iceland.co.uk). Iceland are great advocates for palm oil-free products, and following the launch of the controversial Christmas ad, which highlighted the destruction caused by sourcing palm oil, they pledged to remove the ingredient of all own label items. The website is also fitted with widgets showcasing an item’s palm oil-free status, so buying a few essentials, such as pasta sauces and crisps to nibble on, was easier than expected.
I moved on to do the bulk of my shop at Waitrose (waitrose.com). The fruit and veg shop was easy. I try to eat as much organic fresh fruit and veg as possible, but I found myself filling my trolley with even more than usual – possibly because I was preempting the task that awaited me a few aisles down? At times, it was a pretty boring and frustrating task – at least with veganism, you have a rough idea of what will and will not be suitable, but palm oil can be found in even the most unlikely places. Nevertheless, I persevered, and as I laid my shop on the conveyer belt, I was pretty impressed by how healthy everything looked.
Knowing that my cupboard and fridge was packed with palm oil-free produce made the rest of the week fairly easy. I meal prepped my lunch for Monday-Friday, and planned my evening meals around the food that I still had in my kitchen. My snacks were also healthier – instead of reaching for a cereal bar, I ate more houmous and veg, nuts and seeds, and my beloved Nakd bars.
Eating out was a little trickier. I swallowed my pride and allowed myself to become that ‘annoying’ customer that asked staff if they knew whether any dishes were palm oil-free, but I regretted my boldness, once the waitress greeted me with a blank, vacant look. To stick to my pledge, the only thing I could do was use the knowledge I had accumulated through the week, so I opted for a tomato-based risotto – surely it had to be palm oil-free?
It’s true what they say – palm oil really does creep into pretty much everything. Completely cutting it from my life was a taxing task, but I did achieve my goal. It just requires research and organisation – God forbid, I left home without my lunch or I ran out of my new, sustainable beauty products. The challenge did open my eyes at how many products include palm oil, especially in the big brands. I can’t promise that I will be palm oil-free for the rest of my days, but this experiment definitely educated me on what products to avoid and the alternative options available.