Thoughts on Palm Oil

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

I am enjoying the Florida sun, having flown away from the frigid winter weather of the Mid-Atlantic. Donning my sunglasses and sundress I sway in a hammock overlooking the ocean with a cool breeze on my face. Between myself and the aqua water are several palm trees of different heights and what seems to be different species. In the last few days, palm products have come to my attention: from a friend sending me an article on the “best” new sweetener palm sugar, to Ask Umbra’s column on sustainable candles, to the palm oil found in Herban Lifestyle’s products. As the Herban Lifestyle disclaimer points out, the palm oil used in HL products comes from organic and fair trade sources which “adhere to strict environmentally sustainability programs” Well the more I read about palm oil, the more I wanted to know what all this talk about unsustainable palm oil production was about.

Palm oil is found in food products, beauty products, detergents, and shampoos. Palm oil is a healthier alternative to other oils and due to the bans on trans fat, the demand for palm oil has been growing. In fact, palm oil is the number one source of vegetable oil and can be found in half of the world’s packaged goods. Then, of course, palm oil is used as biodiesel, which is how I originally heard of the deforestation problem.

Palm oil is created from squeezing the red fruit from the palm oil tree that primarily grows in Malaysia and Indonesia. Since I am surrounded by palms in Florida, I thought I could check out a palm oil plantation to see what’s going on. After doing some research, I found nothing to suggest that there are any palm oil plantations in Florida (bummer, I was really looking forward to the field trip). Anyway, in Asia palm oil plantations are planted on former rainforest land, which often times is the result of deforestation. In Indonesia, 30,000 square kilometers of former rainforest now serve as palm oil plantations, that’s 30,000 square kilometers that could be serving as natural habitat and as a carbon sink. Each palm oil plantation destroys and displaces thousands of plant and wildlife species including endangered rhinos, orangutans, elephants, tigers, and many others.

Deforestation is not the only ecological nightmare in this scenario because in Indonesia and more recently Malaysia, they drain and burn peatlands. Peatlands are mostly water (90%) and act like a sponge soaking up large amounts of carbon; however, when they are drained these gases escape right back into the atmosphere. It gets worse; after the peat is dried it is burned to clear the ground for the palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, the draining of peatlands contributes to 660 million tons of carbon released into the atmosphere annually with an additional 1.5 billion tons of carbon released from the fires, making Indonesia the third largest CO2 producer in the world. Wetlands International just released a report that digs deeper into the peat swamp forests’ destruction in Malaysia; you can read more about it here.

Is sustainability possible? Well on an optimistic note, Brazil has introduced a novel program that requires new palm plantations must be planted on land that has already been deforested and abandoned (typically used short term for lumber or sugarcane). Thankfully this program will not only lead to economic development and new jobs but also new trees as the palm oil plantations create reforestation thanks to not needing to cut the trees down to make palm oil. Another pioneer in the sustainable palm oil effort is the non-profit organization, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which as the name suggests, oversees sustainable palm oil production through their RSPO Certification process. You can learn more here about RSPO, sustainable palm practices, certification, and a bit more on the history of palm oil.

Be sure to keep yours eyes peeled for this relatively new certification. As for me, I’m going to get back to watching the palms sway in the ocean breeze.

Meatless Monday: Cheddar Black Rice Pecan Loaf Recipe

Cheddar black rice pecan loaf

I used to rely on my copy of Diet for a Small Planet for creative vegetarian meal ideas. I loved it so much that I wore it out – it literally fell apart from use. I’ve never replaced it, but several recipes have stayed in my heart and memory bank. Here is one of my favorites, which I have adapted.

You will need the following:

  • 2 cups cooked rice (I used Lundberg Black Japonica™, but short grain brown works well too)
  • 1 cup shredded organic cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (I have also used walnuts)
  • 1 medium organic onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • olive oil to coat the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly coat a medium baking dish, or loaf pan, with vegetable oil.


Mix all of the ingredients, except the eggs, until well-blended, making sure that the nutritional yeast evenly coats the other ingredients.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add to the rice mixture and blend well.

Evenly spread mixture in the pre-oiled baking dish/loaf pan and bake until crispy on top, about 45 minutes.

Serve with a salad for a delicious, easy, hearty meal. It makes great leftovers, if you are lucky enough to have any.

How to Make Kale Chips

I have always loved greens, and so was thrilled when I discovered a bag of kale chips at my local natural food store. The thrill was short-lived, though. The chips were coated in a thick, super-salty, sesame coating, and the prickly stems felt as if they were leaving splinters in my tongue! However, inspired by the concept of kale chips, I set out to make my own.

Here is my list of ingredients:
1 bunch of organic kale
1-1/2 tablespoons organic olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

I thoroughly washed and rinsed the kale, then cut the leaves into 3-inch wide sections. I cut off the tough stems, setting them aside for my bunny to snack upon.

I tossed all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until the kale had a nice, even coating of the olive oil and seasonings (feel free to adjust the seasonings to your taste, or play around with different herbs and spices, like curry or chili powder). Then I spread the kale out on a single layer on a baking sheet, and baked them at 350° F for about 15-20 minutes until they were crispy. They aren’t the prettiest things, but if you like kale, you will love these.

Kale is an excellent source of vitamins K and A, as well as calcium, vitamin C and fiber. For more kale recipes (some vegetarian, some not), I recommend you check out Epicurious and Food Network (my two favorite online recipe sources).

How to Make Organic Bunny Treats

I recently discovered a new blog, Winding Road Farm, written by a woman who, along with her fiancée, is working to build a 10-acre farm in Georgia. She posted an article on the care and feeding of bunnies, along with a recipe for bunny food. This reminded me of some homemade bunny treats I purchased at the BUST Holiday Craftacular back in December. Amy Sedaris was there autographing her latest crafty book, and selling people’s homemade crafts. When I mentioned that I had a rabbit (Sedaris is a big rabbit fan), she pointed out a little bag of of “Elliot’s Cilantro Treats,” which she highly recommended.

Even though my rabbit adores these snacks, I still have quite a few left (because they are treats, you can only give one or two to your rabbit per day). But I wanted to try making my own version, just for the fun of it. While doing an internet search on homemade rabbit treats, I came across a recipe posted on Live Journal by Katie, who apparently is the very same person who made the snacks I bought (Katie, it turns out, is also the author of the Amy Sedaris Rocks website).

In the intro to her recipe, Katie explains “It’s a bit time-consuming and makes a big mess, but it’s worth it because it’s so much healthier than treats sold in stores…” I’ve developed a short-cut version that is pretty quick and not very messy. I may try them again in the future with cilantro or parsley.

Here’s what I used:

* 1 cup organic rolled oats, finely ground
* 1/2 cup organic dried alfalfa powder (I bought this from Mountain Rose Herbs)
* 4 ounce jar of baby food organic carrots
* 4 ounce jar of baby food organic banana (I used a banana-apple blend)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Grind the oats in a coffee or spice grinder to make a powder. Place the powdered oats in a bowl, then stir in the alfalfa, carrots and bananas until well-blended. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes to allow the dry ingredients to absorb the liquid from the wet ingredients.

The dough should be firm enough to shape into a ball. It looks like something a dung beetle would live in.

Roll the mixture into a ball, then place it between 2 sheets of wax paper. With a rolling pin or large bottle, roll it out to about 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick.

Cut out small circles (I used a 1/2″ diameter circle cutter) and place on the lined baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes (don’t let them get too brown), then turn off the heat and let them sit in the warm oven for at least an hour to allow them to thoroughly dry. (Katie points out that this is a very important step that prevents the treats from growing mold).

NOTE: Since these are treats, please limit them to 1 or 2 per day for your rabbit.

my rabbit is a bit camera shy

but it didn't take her long to get over her self-consciousness and dig into her treat