The phrase ‘carbon footprint,’ is a house-hold term used to quantify the greenhouse gases emitted by a product’s manufacture and distribution. Why is there no similar term for the populations of animals directly endangered by the manufacture of the food we buy? Because no such word exists, I’ve coined the phrase ‘disappearing paw-print,’ to describe the number of animals killed by a food-product’s manufacture and distribution. One product with a gigantic ‘disappearing paw-print’ is palm oil.
Palm oil accounts for over 65% of all vegetable oils, and is found in up to half of all processed foods, cosmetic products, and biofuels. It flourishes in equatorial climates, and contributes to the devastation of rain-forests in Malaysia and Indonesia. More than 80% of Indonesia’s forests have been destroyed in the last two decades. The WWF recognizes the unsustainable production of oil palm plantations as a leading threat to endangered species– among them orangutans, elephants, rhinos, and tigers.
The orangutan population in Sumatra has declined by 1,000 a year for the last 15 years. Meanwhile the Bornean orangutan is also endangered, with approximately 5,000 killed each year. Each of these animals are directly effected by their rapidly shrinking habitat. If the destruction of rain forests continues to metastasize orangutans could disappear from Sumatra and Borneo within the next decade. Hundreds of them are slaughtered and dozens of babies orphaned in the name of palm oil each month. Most terrifying of all, is that demand for palm oil is anticipated to double by 2020.
Having lived in Indonesia and been awed by the primate population living just beyond my doorsstep, the deforestation and loss of life palm oil represent hits close to home for me. However, it’s heartbreaking regardless of geographic location.
With this in mind- I have to wonder if veganism and vegetarianism should extend beyond animal products and by-products to avoid foods that directly result in large-scale loss of animal life. Where do we draw the line? Is there any difference between a vat of palm oil- soaked in the symbolic blood of a rapidly dwindling species of orangutans, and a hamburger? Both result in death, and both bare an unmistakable ‘disappearing paw-print.‘ So next time you’re thinking about your carbon footprint, please spare a moment to consider the paw-prints that your food choices endanger as well.
For a list of palm oil products check out: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-to-stop-buying-palm-oil-and-help-save-the-orangutans.html?page=2
Sources: WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUNC) , http://www.orangutan.org.au; http://www.orangutan.com/threats-to-orangutans/ ; http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-to-stop-buying-palm-oil-and-help-save-the-orangutans.html#ixzz2PvFiZYcE; Photo by Caters / Caters