In March Chester became the world’s first sustainable palm oil city. BHN talks to Elliot Hill, head chef of Oddfellows Hotels, about the sustainable palm oil campaign.
- Firstly, can you explain why unsustainable palm oil is so threatening to wildlife and the environment?
Palm oil is in a huge amount of products, so the demand has resulted in the rapid and unregulated expansion of plantations. Particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, which I think around 85% of the worlds palm oil is produced there, vast areas of rainforest have been cleared to make way for oil palm trees. These have been home to orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos amongst other endangered species and fauna. It’s not just the deforestation and the destroying of these creatures home, rainforests are often found on tropical peat soils. When they are cleared, the peat lands are drained to make way for plantations, a scary amount of carbon is released which is contributing to global climate change. Furthermore, illegal fires used to clear land for the development of plantations are insanely awful, not only destroying habitats but spreading smoke and pollution impacting both wild and human health. In addition, we have human rights issues, abysmal workers rights by land grabbing plantation owners. It truly is outrageous.
- How is sustainable palm oil sourced in a way that doesn’t harm the environment and endanger wildlife?
The trees used for palm oil are highly productive, far better than for any other edible oil. It’s the most efficient use of land for vegetable oil, I think it produces twice as much as coconut trees, and thirty times as much as maize. It requires less fertilisers and pesticides. Sustainable palm oil I believe is imperative, we can produce so much from what we have, we can’t afford as a planet to keep destroying these habitats for endangered species, they have no where else to go, but we do. We have to ensure as much as possible, not only in just palm oil, but everything we use is sustainable, that isn’t causing so much damage to the environment for the sake of dinner – it’s simply not worth it.
- You have been researching your suppliers to determine where their palm oil comes from, how do you ensure it is from a 100 per cent sustainable source?
We request RSPO certification from our suppliers for any of the products which contain palm oil. There is an awful lot, but with a little research and cooperation there are a plethora of products that use, and pledge, and want to use sustainable palm oil.
- How many supplier changes have you had to make implement this change?
Not as many as you might think, not just suppliers but everyone is recognising the need for change. The publicity surrounding these issues are making people aware, and making people implement these changes, especially to businesses in our industry sustainable quality alternatives. Like I’ve said, it’s imperative as a species we become more sustainable, and leave less of a negative impact than we currently are.
- When did you first become invested in the importance of using sustainable palm oil and what inspired this?
We’re constantly looking to improve sustainability at Oddfellows and Cultivated, not just with palm oil, but everything we do. Minimising waste, looking at our suppliers, even down to where the product comes from and how long it takes from field to fork. With palm oil though we thought we understood, but it took talks with the experts from Chester zoo to recognise the differences, and realise how big an issue it really is globally, and actually how outrageous it is. We shouldn’t be letting this happen! It’s an opportunity within my role where we can give back and I’m so passionate about it. We source as many micro local as possible. Our philosophy is about feel good food, you feel good about eating it as you know its ethically created and sourced, and of course the flavour! Palm oil is all part of this.
- Palm oil is found in around 50 per cent of supermarket products. What advice would you give to consumers who want to ensure they’re buying sustainable palm oil?
Certainly to educate themselves, read the labels, do the research, and try to make the right choices. Is it really worth having that product at the expense of wildlife, of all the egregious acts that happen in producing the oil from deforestation to human rights. There is a handy tool on the act for wildlife website as well which may help!