Eating sustainably is important to me mainly because I am very concerned about the environment. However, with following a Paleo lifestyle if we are suppose to be eating what our paleolithic ancestors ate then during times of drought they would have to go without certain items. Since the Paleo diet is now very popular the food industry is catering to it, which is really just providing highly processed (not true Paleolithic) food items.
Therefore, when I am buying anything, whether it is food or body care products, I try my best to ensure the item is coming from a sustainable resource. I would like to do that with everything that makes its way into my household but that is virtually impossible, so I do the best I can with the information I have available. This will ensure I am eating sustainable as much as possible. I’m talking about sustainable resources not fair trade produced resources, which is also very important it me (that is a whole other post). In particular, there are three paleo food items I have noticed that are probably not coming from a sustainable source.
You will not be eating sustainably if you eat almonds. A lot of paleo recipes have with almonds in some form in them. While almonds are nutritionally great for you and I’m sure our ancestor ate them they are not a sustainable food item. Why you ask? Because almond trees require 1.1 gallons of water per almond, that’s right 1.1 gallons of water for a single almond to grow.
80% of the world’s almonds grow in California, which is suffering a horrible record breaking drought*. Since there is not enough rainfall farmers are drilling down to aquifers for water which is causing the ground to sink due to the over pumping of the aquifers. Meanwhile, the Sierra Nevada and Coastal Mountain ranges are rising due to the reduction of groundwater. The rising of the mountains is causing earthquakes.1
Plus, the farmers need to import 60% of the managed honeybees to pollinate said trees.1,2 This is because almond trees require pollination to grow the almonds. Additionally, the farming area is soaking with pesticides killing off the bees.2 Therefore requiring more and more honeybees which then again die from pesticide exposure.
Therefore, consuming almonds in any form (raw almonds, almond milk, almond butter, almond yogurt) is a triple whammy of bad news. This is why I no longer buy almonds or almond related anything.
Nothing related to how almonds are currently grown is what our paleolithic ancestors could do. Therefore, consuming almonds in any form is eating sustainably.
*Note: while the California drought has official been declared over the ground water is still low. So, I am still recommending to avoid almonds.
Palm oil is the second item that is not eating sustainably. It is found in many products from toothpaste to shampoo to baked goods.
Palm oil is made from the palm fruit of the African palm tree. The African palm tree can grow in any environment where there is a lot of heat and rainfall.
Indonesia and Malaysia produce a majority of the world’s palm oil. However, in order for the palm tree plantations to grow first the plantation owners burn down indigenous forests. This releases the trees stored carbon, stored carbon in the forest floor, plus carbon from the smoke into the air. The carbon contributes to climate change. Plus, the air near these plantations is thick with smoke. These kinds of farming practices have led Indonesia to become the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Additionally, when international companies come in and take over the land they are displacing the indigenous people who live there, destroying their way of life, and committing human rights abuses (including child labor).
Extinction of species
Over 300,000 species are affected by the destruction of the rainforest. The destruction of the rainforest is killing and displacing the animals, therefore the native species are becoming extinct. In addition, the creation of the plantations allows smugglers and poachers to capture and kill many species for trophies and entertainment.
It is estimated that Sumatran Tigers will be extinct in the wild within 3 years.3 As if that isn’t bad enough the plantation owner are killing Orangutans at over 6000 lost EACH YEAR!4 The UN considers this to be a “a conservation emergency”. The Indonesian rainforest requires the Orangutans to exist. The seeds of the rainforest need to germinate in the gut of the Orangutans. The Orangutans eat the plant life in the rainforest. When the Orangutans consumes the plant life the seeds pass through their gut. When they defecate the seeds plant in the forest floor creating new plant life.3 With no Orangutans, there is no Indonesian rainforest. It is a domino effect.
To get a truly eye opening prospective of how much of the rainforest has already been destroyed watch the premier episode of “Years of Living Dangerously”.
Other palm oil names
Furthermore, palm oil isn’t always labeled as “Palm Oil”. It is labeled under many different names.
- Elaeis guineensis
- Etyl palmitate
- Hydrogenated palm glycerides
- Octyl palmitate
- Palm fruit oil
- Palm kernel
- Palm kernel oil
- Palm stearine
- Palmitic acid
- Palmitoyl oxostearamide
- Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3
- Palmityl alcohol
- Sodium kernelate
- Sodium laureth sulfate
- Sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Sodium palm kernelate
- Stearic acid
- Vegetable fat
- Vegetable oil 5
What to buy
I recently found Palm Done Right. Palm Oil Done Right farmers ensure do not clear cut or burn down the forest. They learn about how one species going extinct can throw an entire ecosystem off balance. Additionally, there is education for the locals on how to be a palm fruit farmer. The farms are in Ecuador, far from the problems in Indonesia and Malaysia. Additionally, the palm trees are organic and they use entire palm fruit.
Nutiva is one company that sources from Palm Done Right. Nutiva is USDA Organic and have a certification of Fair for Life. These certifications provide farmers and producers guidelines to follow in the full lifecycle of palm fruit to palm oil. Nutiva sells red palm oil and palm oil shortening.
You can also go to http://www.palmoilfreeproducts.com.au/ to purchase palm oil free products.
Check http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/shoppingethically/palmoilfreelist.aspx for a full list of palm oil free products.
This is only the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). Fish is also not eating sustainably and I don’t recommend farmed fish. However, farmed fish has overcrowding problems, small pens for the fish to swim in, the fish eating an unnatural diet, and high use of antibiotics.6 Plus, overfishing is destroying our oceans.
We are killing the natural ecosystem of the ocean due to centuries of human’s abusing the world’s oceans and waterways. We are killing off more fish than the fish can reproduce.7
This doesn’t mean I avoid fish altogether though. I just make smart choices and don’t eat it a lot. Monteray Bay Aquarium, Seafood Watch has excellent resources to help you make the smart choice on what fish to buy. They also have an app for your mobile devices. Check out https://www.seafoodwatch.org/ You can also look for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified labeled fish. If you are not sure ask your fish monger. If he/she doesn’t know then just avoid the fish till you have better information. Watch MSC’s video explaining how their labeling works.
You can also click here for more information about farming and wild caught methods. http://www.seafoodwatch.org/ocean-issues/fishing-and-farming-methods
Lastly, one of my favorite documentaries is Mission Blue which is available on Netflix for streaming. It highlights how and why our oceans have changed in the last 50 years. https://www.mission-blue.org/
While the California drought has be officially declared over the farmers are still sourcing their water from the aquifers. The aquifers are still low on water. Unless you can find a farmer who can find who is organic and not sourcing the water from an aquifer I would still avoid it.
As for the palm oil industry, please read the labels and understand where the palm oil source is.
While fishing practices are improving it is still important to do your homework. Ensure what you are spending your money on goes to a sustainable fishery.
Therefore, for these reasons you have to do your homework if you are going to be eating sustainably whether you follow the paleo diet or not.
Remember to vote with your wallet.