It all started during the mid-19th century. Technology advances in shipping allowed the opening of new commercial routes and fur flung areas of the world were connected, as large wooden ships sailed through the oceans, distributing people and products.
Departing Scotland and Ireland to America, thousands of immigrants endeavored the cold and dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean, carrying not only dreams of a new land, beer and whisky, but a vast cultural heritage that included Halloween.
At around the same time, more specifically in 1848, a Dutch ship carried the first oil palms from West Africa to the island of Java (now part of Indonesia). There, due to favorable weather and lack of natural competition, the species thrived and a new business was established.
From South East Asia, those same ships transported spices and other wonders to the rest of world, which marveled at the regions incredible fauna, as animals were taken to and exhibited in Europe and the Americas (not something I support, but a historic fact). At that time, thousands of Sumatran Tigers roamed free in the vastly forested islands.
The plot was set. Tigers inspired dreams of adventure and sentiments of power and freedom, its images being used in cereal boxes, airplanes, fashion, movies, music and so on. Similarly, Halloween was assimilated in the US, turning out as one of the nation’s most celebrated holidays, and Indonesia became the world’s largest palm oil producer.
It could all be fine, except that when all those things come together, this story gets a dark twist. (And it’s not that the tiger killed the trainer from the picture above during Halloween, though they mauled her multiple times during her career).
Unfortunately, the dark twist is that most of the thousands of Sumatran Tigers that used to roam in Indonesian forests now share the same status as vampires: dead. Today, less then 2 centuries after the introduction of the oil palm in the country, more than half of Indonesia’s natural forests have been destroyed and only 400 Sumatran Tigers remain.
Most of this forest loss happened to allow the expansion of the palm oil industry, eliminating critical habitats for tigers, orangutans and other animals, and acting as one of the main drivers of climate change.
And sadly, Halloween’s part on that plot doesn’t come from some kids wearing cute tiger costumes.
Halloween’s role is in all that candy that is given away as treats to kids, because many of those contain palm oil.
Palm Oil may be found in different forms in your product.
This means that, while it may keep our yard trees free of toilet paper rolls, that same candy might be playing a trick on tropical forests’ trees and tigers, and one that is more like a threat.
Patches of rainforest are all that remain of the tiger habitat across much of the Tesso Nilo National Park.
But before you go and get a palm oil costume, let me be clear, palm oil is not the monster here. Palm oil is important to the Indonesian economy and provides employment for people across the country. Furthermore, the use of palm oil in the consumer goods industry is so widespread, from chocolate cookies to shampoo, that it is virtually impossible to stop buying palm oil products.
I mean, if you feel strongly about it… here’s a suggestion.
The real monsters are the corporations that produce, trade and use palm oil from deforestation in the products that you like, as Greenpeace identified in it’s latest report, License to Kill. These companies, like Wilmar International (the largest palm oil trader in the world) Mondelez, the makers of Oreo cookies, Procter & Gamble, Colgate & Palmolive and others, can stop deforestation if they take full responsibility for the palm oil they source and clean up their supply chains.
So, If you agree that we should not be consuming or giving kids a candy that results in the destruction of forests and the death of such magnificent animals, take some time on Halloween to call upon the companies that produce your favorite brand to clean up its supply chain and guarantee deforestation free products. If they say it can’t be done, let them know palm oil can be grown in sustainable ways that benefit communities and the environment, as shown by the Dosan community in Indonesia.
And happy Halloween.