The word “without” in Italian is “senza.” Whilst travelling there’s a fair few things Pete and I have had to go without, simply for the fact that we can’t fit it in our rucksacks or purchase it in a foreign country. But we have also been living without the overpowering need for money and without stressful exhausting 10+ hour working days. Another thing we have managed to live without is palm oil.
Now for those of you who don’t know, here’s a brief introduction to the frustrating world of palm oil (for those of you who do know, feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs or enjoy a brief snooze). Palm oil is a substance that seems to be in almost anything and in Britain, no matter how hard you try it seems impossible to complete your big shop without accidentally purchasing a product with it in. So why should we avoid it? Well the problem is that it grows in hot exotic countries that also happen to have some of the most endangered wildlife in the world. The flagship species is Orang-utans which suffer from palm oil production due to the obscene amount of deforestation which results in very little viable habitat left for the gentle ginger Giants. But in reality it effects masses of species, both animals and plants and the generic biodiversity of such areas. It is also a huge contributing factor to all sorts of climate change and extinction problems. To put it bluntly and emotively, palm oil production is raping nature.
So why do we continue to grow it? Why not use some other types of oil? In reality palm oil plants are the fastest growing in oil production therefore have a higher yield at a lower land acreage requirement. In Britain we sometimes use other alternatives such as sunflower oil but it is less profitable for farmers and will take up more land in order to grow the same amount. The best thing we can do is opt for sustainably sourced palm oil so no further forests are lost.
And this is where the third part of the problem comes in; if you want to avoid buying palm oil it is nearly impossible. Believe me, I have spent hours in supermarkets painstakingly looking through ingredients lists and foregoing some of my favourite products in order to avoid it and yet still some will inevitably slip into my basket. What’s more is that searching for sustainably sourced produce is impossible because companies don’t seem to want to advertise it. As a student I stopped buying Butterkist popcorn for years because of the ingredients list stating palm oil until I finally emailed the company only to be told that they use sustainably sourced oil and have done for years. The same with my beloved Nutella.
So what does all this have to do with Italy?
Well in this wonderful country they are proud to have products without palm oil and state it in large letters on the front of packaging and even in their advertisements. “Senza Olio de Palma” kept cropping up and it wasn’t until I learned what “senza” meant that I realised just how fantastically easy it is to buy guilt free in Italy. Yes they have more easily sourcaeble oils grown in Italy but the mindset seems in the right corner of the argument. Even at the chocolate festival we went to we stopped to buy some chocolate honey and the woman made a point of stating that it is palm oil free, even without me asking. Why oh why can the rest of the world not follow suit? I hope one day we can. I have, over the years witnessed a very slow and gradual understanding of eco awareness but there are millions more who remain ignorant, or even worse, choose to ignore their knowledge and refuse to change their shopping habits. But if we carry on as we are, ignorance will not remain bliss for very long.