Remember when vegans of color was having that discussion on how palm oil and products containing it (hello pukey Earth Balance!) are destructive to the environment, and I chimed in and said that instead of palm oil, everyone should be using coconut oil? Then some people asked me about the environmental aspects of coconut oil, and I said I’d look into it, using my buying power as someone who buys it by the five gallon bucket.
So I contacted my source at Omega Nutrition, and to their credit it took them only six months and two emails to respond. As their response was the president and co-founder of the company, Robert Gaffney, calling me up and us having a great chat, I can’t complain.
As I suspected, coconut oil is a vastly more sustainable product than icky old palm oil, primarily because palm oil production entails razing entire fields and forests of trees—sadly, it is akin to slash-and-burn deforesting tactics used to clear-cut land to graze animals, which is one reason many of us became vegetarian in the first place. This process obviously destroys entire ecosystems, but it seems to have a particularly devastating effect on endangered orangutans.
Coconut oil production, on the other hand, entails harvesting the fruits of the tree and letting the tree live so it can continue to produce more coconuts.
Robert told me that he gets his coconuts from the Philippines, where he works with a guy who employs about 2,000 employees who sustainably harvest his organic coconuts. Apparently the coconut palms are wild and the guy who runs the business in the Philippines started it in order to fund an organic banana chip business on the same land, so I believe there is some sort of symbiotic ecosystem thing going on there.
We talked about the nutritive benefits of coconut oil as well, and I told him I use the refined variety so that I can fry with it and make pie crusts and baked goods that don’t taste coconutty. He told me that the most refined coconut oil is still healthier than the more pure canola oil, primarily because canola is an acid-producing food, and vegetarian diets tend to be high in acid-producing foods anyway. Yes, this is the owner of the company saying this, but it reminded me that I learned all this in cooking school, and he is spot on.
The one thing I forgot to ask Robert was about the working conditions of the people who are harvesting the coconuts. He did say he was happy that they were providing so many “good jobs” in this area, but I should have pressed him a little more (I didn’t have great cell phone service throughout the conversation, alas).
But the whole conversation cleared my mind a lot, and now I am free to love coconut oil with my whole heart.
If you still have qualms about coconut oil (perhaps little “saturated fats are bad!” thoughts niggling at you?), go read my coconut oil manifesto! If you have the Bloodroot books, you can read it there too, in Volume Two!
Vive la Coco!