Butter as destroyer of tropical forests

Just when you think you maybe have a handle on living sustainably a news story comes along to emphasize the point that little in life is exactly what you thought it to be and causes a body to despair of ever figuring out what is what you when it comes to a body’s ecological footprint. That we live in a world where much store-bought peanut butter contains no peanut oil I already knew but this makes my head hurt.

EDITED TO ADD: Sorry about the paywall. Here’s another story with more industry and less food science researcher input. The original link was readable on my phone for some reason but I see that it doesn’t work on my laptop. It’s a story by a cooking writer who looked into why butter is remaining solid at room temperature these days thereby rendering many recipes obsolete and recounts how cattle feed is now loaded with palm oil which has changed the composition of the milk from cows fed the stuff.

Since I posted this the Dairy Farmers of Canada have issued a response and recommended that use of palm oil be suspended while they study the question.

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unfortunately that is behind a paywall. Something about palm oil, from the title?

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Yeah, subscribtion only. But palm plantations are one of the worst things in current agriculture.

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Ok, that’s odd. It shows up without a paywall on my phone but when I check it on the laptop it’s paywalled.

It’s a story by a cooking writer who looked into why butter is remaining solid at room temperature these days thereby rendering many recipes obsolete and recounts how cattle feed is now loaded with palm oil which has changed the composition of the milk from cows fed the stuff.

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Huh, that story reads fine for me. (On a laptop.)

The butter I eat has not changed a bit. It’s hard in the fridge, soft on the table, as usual. Maybe the butter we get is better. (It’s Kerrygold brand.)

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Yes, there’s palm oil in a lot of products, and it can be hard to find a brand that doesn’t use it for some things. I eat a lot of frozen pizzas when I’m not feeling up to doing any real cooking for myself, and almost every brand has palm oil in the ingredients list. I try to buy the store brand from Safeway, because it’s the only one that doesn’t list palm oil in the ingredients list and isn’t ridiculously overpriced. Unfortunately, due to its prevalence, personally boycotting products that have palm oil in them isn’t likely to make much of an impact. Moreover, it’s not so much the product itself that is the problem, it’s the production method. There really needs to be a policy change in the countries where palm oil is produced to eliminate non-sustainable practices (e.g. slash and burn farming), but that seems pretty unlikely as well given that the countries where palm oil is a major revenue source are typically not able to enact or enforce those sort of regulations effectively. The best first step would be to go after foreign investors that are financially backing these industry practices from outside of the producing countries and remove the support network behind the industry (not that even this step would be straightforward or easy).

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There is “sustainable” palm oil (Girl Scout cookies, for instance, use it), but it is really not much of an improvement on regular old palm oil: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/palm-oil-certification-sustainable-rspo-deforestation-habitat-study/

I allow myself one palm oil “cheat” item, but have largely cut it out of the rest of my diet. Though I still sometimes forget to check a new product before buying it and only realize once I get home to my dismay. And then I get to add a new thing to the “do not buy” list! Saddest to not eat most Cheez-its anymore…:(

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@cthawley Yeah, the thing about this story is that the only actual ingredient in the end product is milk. There is nothing on the label that would tell you that palm oil was fed to the cows. Apparently it is fed to increase the fat content of the milk, although I only have news accounts to go by. It’s not an issue for me, personally - we buy grass fed butter from a dairy north of here and “grass fed” is a regulated label here - but it speaks to the incredible complexity of sustainability issues. The amount of tropical forest that has been destroyed to make way for palm plantations is staggering and as long is it enters the food web before you see it there’s no way to know.

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The thing is, from a sustainability perspective you’d be better off just using straight palm oil instead of butter, given the amount of land it takes to raise cows (and the tiny amount of fat they produce for it). Grass-fed cows are even worse because it means they have to eat even more (and thus use more land and water) to produce the same amount of butter.

Palm oil is bad as a general rule but nothing is that simple.

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Huh… well, I would be happy to hear about products/brands I should consider adding to my “do not buy list”, if people care to share.

I mean…you can’t live sustainably via any cow-based products anyway, so this doesn’t really make a huge difference.

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Yeah, that’s one more example of how complicated making choices can be, although it’s a different argument. But since you brought it up, the net impact of food choices is about a lot of things and gross energy equivalent production per hectare of land is just part of the picture. Grass fed means not feed lot farmed, which means not fed on heavily fertilized, pesticide drenched, hormone jacked feed, whether it be maize or palm oil, etc., etc. It also means production on pasture land that functions as an ecosystem, not a food mine that pollutes streams, destroys topsoil and guzzles methane based fertilizers. I’ll buy grass-fed butter from a mixed farm up the road before I’ll buy monocrop palm oil shipped from half way around the planet and feel pretty comfortable about the choice after all the variables are considered.

Anyway, the point of this post is not that anybody should eat butter, it’s that making a choice about what you eat based on what a label says is pretty much a crap shoot these days.

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Thanks, but that sounds like a narrow take on my question. And a bit dismissive, to be honest.

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I know probably most of sweets that would require milk now have palm oil replacing it all or part of it in them.

Our son bought some cheap peanut butter the other day to use in some baking, figuring that the tasty organic stuff we buy was too expensive. He couldn’t figure out why the mix was so dry and difficult to mold. My wife checked the label and the “peanut” butter was peanut meal from which the peanut oil had been extracted (it’s expensive oil that can be sold elsewhere for more), palm oil and icing sugar. I’d eat it if I was starving, I guess. At least the label has palm oil listed.

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Have to say I don’t even know how real peanut butter should taste, it’s not popular around here. My husband’s mother was working for Cadbury and said with years they were adding more and more palm oil in products, it’s just cheaper and sadly people don’t have much to spend on more eco-friendly food.

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I try to pick out food with less packaging or more eco-friendly packaging. Additionally trying to keep track of palm oil sounds difficult. I guess on the bright side the packaging thing causes me to buy somewhat less manufactured food, and that probably cuts my palm oil consumption at least a bit.

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Не всё так просто. К примеру у нас, в Беларуси, уже наблюдается исчезновение лугов (замещаются лесами) там, где прекращён выпас скота и сенокосы. А пальмы у нас не растут, холодно.
Not so simple. For example, in Belarus, the disappearance of meadows is already observed (replaced by forests) where grazing and hayfields have ceased. But palms don’t grow here, it’s cold.

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OK. So they cut the forest to grow palms, then feed the cow with palm oil. Next, I go to the supermarket and buy low-fat milk… Things are seriously broken.

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I originally posted this as an odd story offering a kind of weird take on supply chain issues as they relate to sustainability as revealed by supply chain issues as they relate to baking. That hook would have been more apparent if the original link had worked better, I think. I guess it’s not surprising that it has become a conversation about palm oil, given it’s presence as an issue in the news, but that really wasn’t my intent even if I did jump on when it went that route.

It really is hard to keep track, especially for people with limited finances and kids, jobs, mortgages/rent and all the rest that makes a busy life. And as @melodi_96 notes, cost is a major factor for most people. We save a lot on groceries by having fairly large vegetable gardens and I guess we spend the savings on buying sustainably and ethically produced stuff as much as possible for the rest. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t have satellite or cable (because the overwhelming mass of TV programming is rubbish that insults my intelligence, not as any sort of monastic sacrifice). If I choose to spend more on food that was produced by neighbours or put on my table with a minimum of harm to the people who produced it and the land that grew it it’s not really an extravagance it’s just a choice about allocation of resources. If you don’t have resources to reallocate or alternatives available it’s not going to happen.

Your point about manufactured/processed food is a big deal. Eating whole, unprocessed stuff not only makes it easier to make informed choices it’s generally more healthy.

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