Archive: November 2018

& what it means to me


To sign the Greenpeace petition to stop big brands from using unsustainable palm oil in their products, click here.

Despite many of us hearing whispers about the widespread use of cheap palm oil and its effects on the environment for a couple of years now, the public are starting to feel the rumble caused by a new huge campaign. This has been led by Greenpeace and, rather unexpectedly, Iceland.

You've very probably seen their Christmas video about an orangutan that's been left homeless due to the production of palm oil, which was banned from being aired on TV but has gone viral online. Iceland themselves have removed palm oil from all their own-brand foods, which is a huge step forward that other supermarkets and food brands need to follow.

What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is made from the fruits and seeds of African oil palm trees, grown mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil is super cheap to use, and really versatile so tends to be the fat of choice for many food and beauty products. Seriously, just check the ingredients of some of your food at home, and it's likely that at least half of them contain palm oil (if not, then well done!).

Why is palm oil bad for the environment?
The demand for palm oil is so great, that new plantations are springing up constantly in a bid to keep up. African oil palm trees grow best in low-lying, hot and wet climates, which is naturally where rainforests tend to be. These rainforests, which are areas of great biodiversity and homes to many endangered animal species, get torn down to make way for the huge palm oil plantations. In fact, a football-pitch-sized area of rainforest is torn down every 25 seconds on average. This has been devastating for species at risk, such as the Borneo elephants, Sumatran tigers and, of course, orangutans. Orangutan numbers have fallen by 150,000 between 1999 and 2015.

Deforestation can happen either by trees being felled or, more commonly, by fires being purposefully spread. Not only does this quickly kill hundreds of animals living in these forests, but the burning itself releases greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

The deforestation and the new roads built for easy access to the new plantations can also be utilised by poachers and wildlife hunters, who prey on those few alive, terrified and confused animals that are left once the fires burn out. Without the forest to hide and protect them, these animals are at even more risk of being hunted or captured.

Palm oil production is harmful to humans too. There have been reports of many indigenous people who have been driven out of their homes by plantation owners to make room for more palm oil tree crops, as well as multiple human rights violations.

Clearly, the producers of palm oil have a lot to answer for, and it's time that we, as consumers, put a stop to this unnecessary destruction of valuable rainforests and the animals that live there.

What about sustainable palm oil?
You may have heard about sustainable palm oil and the RSPO. When any of the British supermarkets (bar Iceland, of course) have been called out about their use of palm oil, they have all insisted that they haven't done anything wrong because their palm oil is from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The RSPO is the world's largest palm oil certification scheme and, similar to Fairtrade and its products, it certifies certain palm oils as 'sustainable' if they meet certain criteria. But, deforestation is not considered in the RSPO's criteria, so palm oil could have been grown on a patch of land specifically deforested and still be 'RSPO sustainable'. Its standards also do not ban the destruction of peatlands, which is another way that palm oil growth can damange the environment. For this and other reasons, some environmentalists have accused RSPO of being a greenwash, which is when something claims to be better for the environment than it actually is.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) carried out a study that discovered that 'sustainable' palm oil is only slightly better than normal palm oil in terms of preventing environmental damage (deforestation, peatland destruction, decreases in biodiversity etc). Clearly, more needs to be done to protect nature from people and their palm oil.

But, banning palm oil completely might have terrible consequences because people would seek an alternative cheap vegetable oil to take its place, and the problem would be replaced by a different oil.

So what is the best thing for us to do?
Personally, I've decided to try to cut out foods that contain palm oil. It's tough though, because it really is in everything - chocolate, biscuits, spread, processed vegan alternatives, bread, shampoos. The list goes on and on. If anything, this shows how pervasive the palm oil problem is, and how important it is that we change our ways.

As individuals, we need to think about how much we are driving the demand for products that contain palm oil. So what do these foods have in common? They are heavily processed, they are pretty bad for your health and now we know that they are also bad for the environment. This is why home-cooked meals are the way forward - with fresh simple ingredients, where you add your own oil (if you use it) such as olive oil or sunflower oil. Food is so much tastier when you've made it yourself and you can have that extra feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you haven't contributed to the palm oil crisis.

Since turning vegan, I definitely pay a lot more attention to food labels than I did before, and now I've started adding palm oil to the list of no-nos that I look out for (no more Oreos for me!). Even if it's just a few products that you cut out of your diet, you can really make a difference to the environment.

Of course, the other way to help is to speak about palm oil. You can sign petitions, tweet about it or just mention it to a friend. Conversations lead to action, and they can inspire change both here in the UK and in all the countries desperately trying to keep up with our palm oil craze.

If boycotting Oreos will help to save the world, then its a small price to pay.

Final reminder that if you want to sign the Greenpeace petition to stop big brands from using unsustainable palm oil in their products, then click here and add your name!

1. https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/faqs-palm-oil-answered/
2. https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil#start
3. http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php
4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/palm-oil-found-can-avoid/
5. https://www.theweek.co.uk/94596/what-foods-and-beauty-products-contain-palm-oil
6. https://theconversation.com/palm-oil-boycott-could-actually-increase-deforestation-sustainable-products-are-the-solution-106733

What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the fleshy part of the coconut and is especially exciting because it can be used for many different purposes, without adding a single thing to it! Unlike most oils, coconut oil is actually a creamy-white solid at room temperature. It melts very quickly from body heat though, making it easy to spread and apply. Many people use it to cook and bake with, or even as a vegan spread.

If you fancy taking it to the bedroom, it's a natural, nice-smelling-and-tasting lube and massage oil, though I'd recommend getting a separate pot for this purpose! No one wants that cross-contamination in their baking... I mostly use coconut oil in my beauty routine now, and I know of other people who use it as a hair conditioner, as a deodorant, and even apparently as a teeth whitener?! I take some of the claims about the wonders of coconut oil with a pinch of salt, but saying that, I know from experience that coconut oil can definitely be a brilliant vegan, natural and cruelty-free alternative in the kitchen and the bathroom (plus the bedroom, *ahem*). 

How do I use it in my beauty regime?
In my slow but steady quest to eliminate more waste from my way of living, I began to realise that one ridiculous steady-stream of waste was coming from the make-up removal wipes that I had been buying. It was time to change, so I started looking up more natural ways to take all of my make-up off, and coconut oil just kept cropping up in my research. When using as a make-up remover, I simply scoop some up with my finger tips, and apply all over my made-up face, rubbing it in gently. I then take a flannel, dunk it in warm water, then use it to wipe off the make-up-coconut-oil combo from my face. And then repeat once more to ensure that my face is completely clean.

I'd also started running out of moisturiser, and again, coconut oil seemed to be a popular vegan option. So, I figured I could probably kill two birds with one stone (what an awful phrase) and starting using it pretty-much daily on my face. I don't put too much on, as it can look a bit greasy if you over-apply it, but just a small amount goes a long way and has made my skin a lot happier.

Why is it better for the environment? 
Coconut oil alone is not necessarily better for the environment, which is why you have to make sure that you buy sustainable, organic and cold-pressed coconut oil, in order to make a difference. Coconuts, when produced traditionally, are pretty low-impact and eco-friendly, as well as organic. One reason for this is because they don't require pesticides or herbicides, since coconuts are from palm trees which don't require special conditions to grow and can out-compete/live alongside nearby low lying plants. Coconuts also have to be hand picked from the trees, so tractors and other machines are rendered useless.

However, nowadays you can buy coconut oil that isn't organic, because the demand from consumers has massively increased in recent years. Coastal mangroves have been cleared in certain countries, such as Sri Lanka, and replaced with coconut-only crops (monocrops) which reduce the biodiversity of these areas and require fertilisers.

The way that the coconut oil is processed is important too: many coconut oils are produced by transporting coconuts to an industrial plant, where they are cooked down, then shipped somewhere else to make oil, which is then bleached and deodorised, which are intensive processes hazardous to the environment. Alternatively, if the coconut oil that you buy is raw and cold-pressed then you are avoiding that lengthy processing.

Unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the beautiful hot countries that export coconuts, your oil will have travelled a fair way to end up in one of your cupboards. And additionally, who knows where it's been on its journey from the fruit to the oil?! Transportation produces greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change, so buying local is always best for the environment. Coconut oil is still better than any alternatives that I have found so far, but if you have something more local to the UK that I can try then please let me know!

Where is mine from and why?
You can find coconut oil in so many shops now, even in supermarkets! But, if you want to find one that's more eco-friendly, then you should do your research and not buy willy-nilly. I bought my most recent jar from my local Holland and Barratt store, because I didn't want to order anything online and be showered in horrible plastic packaging. The brand that I went for in the end was Vita Coco. Their coconut oil is raw, cold-pressed and organic (perfect for the reasons that I described above) and comes in a glass jar, which I will repurpose once I've used all of the oil up.

Another common issue with coconut oil, is that it can be produced by farmers who are exploited by the companies they work for, being paid very low wages and experiencing a low quality of life. Therefore, I tried to look for either Fair Trade coconut oil or companies with schemes in place for their workers, to improve their communities. Vita Coco has such a scheme, where they invest in projects that help local schools, teach farmers how to improve their crops and therefore their income, and they also utilise all parts of the coconut, by giving the coconut shells back to the farmers to be used as rooves for buildings.

I'm not sure about how quickly I will use up the coconut oil at the moment, so I decided to buy a 200 g jar to start with, and it cost me £5.25. I'll keep you updated but so far, it's doing the trick and costs less than I would have spent on a new moisturiser of the same size and a new pack of face wipes!

Do you have a special use for coconut oil that you would recommend?

1. https://ecocult.com/is-coconut-oil-eco-friendly/
2. https://grist.org/food/are-coconut-products-bad-for-the-environment/
3. https://www.vitacoco.com/vita-coco-project

Mental health is no longer a taboo subject, but it can still be tough to know exactly what to do or say to support someone who is struggling. Due to the wonderful work of charities like Mind and the huge public campaign Time To Change, mental health is finally being talked about. More and more people are opening up to loved ones and friends about their mental health issues, whilst less and less people stigmatise them. Thankfully, these problems do not have to be dealt with alone - having the love and understanding of those around us can truly make a difference in an individual's recovery.

The nature of mental health means that there is no magical way to make someone feel better and no perfect way to support someone. I, myself, am no expert, but since having lived with depression and anxiety, and supported many other friends suffering with their mental health, I have learnt some of the dos and don'ts. Sharing is caring, so here is my advice for helping with a friend or family member with mental health problems:

Just Listen
Being able to open up and share those toxic thoughts, scary feelings or horrible experiences can be so difficult, that having someone to sit there and listen to you babble, without fear of judgement or interruption, is such an amazing thing. People with mental health can feel so isolated and terrified of communicating what they are coping with. They don't expect answers or magic cures, they just want to express themselves and you can be a positive part of that.

Don't Make Them Feel Guilty
I can still remember the first time that I admitted to an adult that I was self-harming and having depressive thoughts, and it was horrible. It was never going to be a nice experience, but I wasn't allowed time to explain exactly how I felt or how scared I was, because instead, they panicked. They told me that I could have therapy but it would show on my medical records and I would find it harder to be employed. They cried a lot, and I felt really guilty, like I was a burden. I was fifteen years old and it made me instantly regret sharing my issues and I didn't share with anyone again until years later. I understand that they were coming from a place of love, and that they were just as scared as I was but their initial reaction hindered me from getting help for a long time.

Do Your Research
There are so many different mental health disorders, that you can't just place them in the same box and try to handle them in the same way. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet and there are tons of resources that you can find to help you understand mental health. Mind has an amazing A-Z of mental health that is a great place if you want information!

Know That You Can't Fix Them
Mental health issues are awful and it can be painful to see someone you care about degenerate and worsen in their condition. But, being controlling and forcing people into treatments they don't believe in or are not ready for, does not help. With mental health, a delicate and caring attitude is needed. If your friend is in immediate danger (for example, attempting to commit suicide or self harm), then do call the emergency services and/or take them to a safe place, but being too forceful can often hurt more than help.

Understand How Their Mental Health Affects Them Everyday
Mental health is more than being sad or nervous or having mood swings, it can make everyday tasks and outings feel like huge obstacles. So try to be understanding if your friend can't make it to your big party or if they prefer you to visit them in their home. Although it can be hard, remember that how they act is not personal if it's related to their mental health.

Give Them Time To Heal
Mental health is just as important as physical health, but the former tends to heal much slower than the latter. Improvement is not always linear with mental health, and people can take years, or even decades, to recover or learn to look after their mental health. Continue giving your constant support and try not to get impatient or frustrated. It will mean so much to your loved one.

Look After Yourself
If you are feeling bad yourself, then put yourself first. Self-care is very important, and it's okay to take a step back and explain that you need to work on your own mental health.

If you need more specific advice, then please do check out Mind's extensive information about supporting a friend with a mental health problem. I hope that this little post has helped and I am always sending you, and your friends/family, lots of love and hugs.
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