Friday, 23 January 2015

Stuck in the biscuit aisle

There are many reasons to get stuck in the biscuit aisle: looking for a special treat, plummeting for a favourite that happens to be on special offer, perhaps checking ingredients to make sure you are not going to present a veggie friend with animal fat. On the other hand, there are good reasons to avoid it altogether. Who needs those empty calories and that extra fat anyway?

I am a relatively thoughtful shopper - sometimes this means I have habits that I stick with so it doesn't take long, but more often I'm annoyingly slow. I pore over the labels, maintaining a mental dialogue. Where has this fruit come from? ("Peru! I can't justify the air miles, let's move over to the in-season Coxes", "Israel? Put it back, I don't want to support a country which bullies its neighbour with military might"). Was this now dead animal free range when it was alive? ("Yes? Organic? Even better"). Look at this ridiculous amount of packaging. Oh, and what's the expiry, we may not eat that until Tuesday...

At the weekend, though, I'm afraid there was yet another reason for getting stuck in the biscuit aisle: palm oil.

I had already picked up some bargain Rocky bars - a handy, cheap packed lunch box treat even cheaper at half price - and I was now looking for something else to share with some friends. I thought chocolate digestives might be the answer, or perhaps a packet of Fox's Golden Crunch.

Why, oh why did I take it upon myself to look at the ingredients? Palm oil. And also vegetable fat (palm). Can you believe it? When did palm oil become so widely used? Biscuits were perfectly delicious in my childhood without the need for this exotic ingredient.

I managed to find some shortbread biscuits that relied almost exclusively on butter for their fat content so they became the choice for the day. Sadly, it turned out that the much loved Rocky bars also contained palm oil so back onto the shelf they went. 

For the uninitiated, having palm oil in everything is bad news for the environment. Having started this blog post I decided to look for an article to link to about it and came across this article from the Independent a few years ago:
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-guilty-secrets-of-palm-oil-are-you-unwittingly-contributing-to-the-devastation-of-the-rain-forests-1676218.html

Basically, you are talking about the devastation of rainforests.

Although some retailers/brands are now claiming to use sustainable palm oil, I still question why it is even necessary to use it in the first place? We have other locally produced vegetable oils. Can these not be used?

You could say what difference does one individual shopper make when faced with ethical versus cheap. But it is not as simple as that. A company, Nestle for example, will not know that I have boycotted their products for about 20 years because of distrust about their marketing policies and tactics in the developing world unless I tell them; as one lone shopper in the millions they target they won't care much. However, it is not all about them. It is about me and my wish to live in a harmonious way. To knowingly support companies and practices I disagree with disrupts my own integrity. I don't want to contribute to the destruction of wildlife on the other side of the world (not to mention the impact on the indigenous population and their dependency on the forests being destroyed). It is better for my spiritual well being to carry on with my picky ways.

Now I know how many biscuits contain palm oil, I'll be more selective than ever (and if I buy fewer that's going to be good for the waistline too, right?). I'll try reminding myself to bake from scratch - at least I'll have control over what goes in - and enjoy a weekend treat from the local bakers even more.

I suspect this may sound sanctimonious. It isn't meant to be like that - I am just trying to navigate the best way for me to live my life well, in the best way I can for me.

By the way, the company making dorritos have come under fire too. They say that they are adopting sustainable policies which will protect against deforestation, but I'm afraid that I don't trust them to have the planet's best interests at heart. For now I'll be making different choices in the crisp aisle too!