Valentine’s Day is dipped in chocolate. Truffles neatly arranged in heart shaped boxes will exchange many hands this Friday. Before you make your chocolate purchase this year scan the ingredients for palm oil.
Chocolate is half cocoa butter which solidifies at room temperature. Cocoa butter gives chocolate its sheen, snap and higher melting point. Increasingly, palm oil is substituted for cocoa butter. The versatility and low price of the edible oil are favored among confectioners. The replacement of cocoa butter in chocolate products is expected to grow with the looming cacao shortage.
To produce the world’s most popular vegetable oil, the tropic landscapes are engulfed with orderly rows of palm trees. In Indonesia, the world’s number one producer of palm oil, the metamorphosis of terrain is the most drastic.
Indonesia, a gathering of 18,000 islands on the Indian Ocean are lush in biodiversity and host to one of the world’s most extensive peatlands. Peatland is simply layers of soggy plant debris; they act as fresh water reservoirs. Formed over a period of 10,000 years, the layers of plant material can reach depths of 70 feet. The saturated land is a critical source of clean drinking water for animals and humans living downstream.
Peatlands are critical in regulating the world’s climate. They hold 30 percent of the world’s carbon, more than all the forests combined. Over the ages they’ve absorbed 1.2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. This amount is equivalent to carbon emitted from 34 thousand coal plants in a year.
During the dry season, peatlands are ablaze in Indonesia. Illegal fires down virgin forests and drain peatlands. Palm is planted on the cleared terrain.
Nearly 2 million palm plantations grow on former peatlands in Indonesia. The Indonesian government issues face masks to its citizens to bear the sinister smoke from smoldering peatlands. But the damage is irreversible. The carbon is released into the atmosphere, the foremost contributor to climate change.
An estimated 5 percent of the world’s palm oil is certified by The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an certifying organization established to improve environmental practices in the palm oil industry. While the RSPO has begun to tighten regulations of certified members on the issue if deforestation and peatland conversion a ban has yet to be implemented.
I purchase chocolate without palm oil. It is my silent stand to protect peatlands and our shared world climate.
Eat less water at your kitchen table!