"Mommy, I'm sad about the animals who are in danger of becoming extinct."
This is something I hear from my daughter every day. She is not just concerned about her favorite animal, the tiger. She worries about all endangered species. And wants desperately to do something to help them.
When we saw Island of Lemurs: Madagascar at the IMAX theater, she wanted to get on a plane immediately to help fight the fires destroying their habitat.
Because when you are five, you think that way. Then, the other day I heard a plaintive:
"No one has given money to my tiger campaign in a long time."
"Well, sweetie, we asked everyone we know when we first kicked it off, and those who could gave money to support your cause. That is how fundraising works. You tend to have a strong immediate response, and then it dies down. You did a wonderful job and you should be very proud."
"But it's not enough. The tigers need more. We need to meet more people."
"We can't just meet people and ask them to give money. And you cannot save the tigers all by yourself. You care and are doing what you can. That is what matters. If enough people out there are like you, the tigers have a chance."
"What about palm oil?"
"What about it?"
"The tiger keepers said it is destroying the tiger's habitat."
Each day at our local zoo, the tiger keepers do a training demonstration. As part of the presentation, they talk about the threats tigers face in the wild. One of the main causes of habitat destruction is palm oil production.
Tigers are not the only endangered species impacted by this. So, SB and I decided to see what we as a family could do about it.
The first thing we did was head to the kitchen. We pulled out every packaged item from our pantry, fridge and freezer and read the labels. This is more complicated than it may sound. If any of of these ingredients appears on a label, there is palm oil in it:
We were pleased to only find a handful of products in our kitchen that had palm oil in them:
But SB was dismayed to see one of her favorites (Nutella) in the mix.
"Do I have to give this up, Mommy?'
"No, sweetie. You don't. It is a choice, and it is entirely yours to make."
She looked at the container for a moment, then back at me.
"I choose the tigers. No more palm oil."
I explained to SB we would use what was left of the products, since we had paid for them. But moving forward, I promised I would support her choice by reading all labels, conducting research online and working to ensure we found acceptable substitutes for those products, while not purchasing any other food items that include palm oil.
To which she added, "We have to tell Daddy, too."
Then we began to look around the house at personal care, cleaning and additional products. That is when things got interesting. Here are just some of the items we found in our home containing palm oil:
Yikes! This represents many of the things our family uses in our daily lives. And I didn't even check my cosmetics, our first aid materials or all our various sunscreen products.
Later I came across a free app that uses your phone's camera to scan UPC codes and reports whether or not something has palm oil in it. If palm oil free, the product is declared, "rainforest friendly" and cheering ensues. If palm oil is detected, you hear the sound of a chainsaw and are told, "The Choice Is Yours!"
SB went through the pantry with my phone and identified even MORE palm oil products than our initial search had uncovered. There is not going to be a quick, easy fix, that is obvious.
So, we have begun to conduct research together online. The issue is complicated, and not without controversy. Most conservationists agree there is no way to completely eliminate palm oil products. The focus instead for many (though not all) is on supporting sustainable, "conflict-free" production. In many ways, it reminds me of the dolphin-safe tuna labeling movement.
This is going to become SB's very first school science fair project, and she is well under way. In addition, she has recruited a team of like-minded friends to develop a project on this issue and compete in a city-wide science festival to be held in early 2015. Together they will develop a booth using the principles of STEAM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics).
Fittingly, the event will be held at our local zoo, as well as the science and history museum. Stay tuned for updates, as I'm sure I will have much more to share!