I think until you travel, you never really know how the little things you do can have such an effect on others. In Borneo, I got a stark reminder of that. Do you know what palm oil is? Most people don’t. But it’s an ingredient found in a lot of processed food, in its refined form. It has little nutritional value, and might even promote high levels of unhealthy of bad cholesterol.
Pure palm oil isn’t bad, of course. It’s high in beta-carotene, and many other vitamins. It has a high smoking point, and when sustainably harvested can be a significant source of income for small shareholder farmers.
But since when do we (by that I tend to mean, Americans) like to leave a good thing alone? Instead, we’ve mass-produced palm oil and turned it into a lucrative commodity, refining it down to the point where it adds a requisite texture to processed foods…. and not much in the way of nutritional value. Not to mention, the social and environmental impact – farmers selling their valuable (to themselves and to the global community) tropical forest land for palm oil companies to grow sterile unpretty tracts of palm trees.
The reminder is glaring in Borneo. As you drive deeper into the rainforest, you see rows and rows of palm trees, neatly lined up and clearly artificial, devoid of life and a major disappointment for those of us who are keen to see a bit of mother nature at her most turbulently beautiful. You see palm fruit lying on the ground. Perfectly manicured palm fronds swaying in the breeze. But no undergrowth. No birds. No monkeys. No elephants. In sum, no jungle at all, but a massive commercial farm like you’d see in Iowa or Ohio, but with a slightly more exotic plant.
When you do see jungle, it’s astonishing in its savage finery. Riots of green, ropey vines, mixed vegetation, a dozen or so birdcalls, and occaisonal flashes of hands? feet? tails? trunks? Something is visible amidst the dense growth of flora that has grown unchecked and unchanged for eons. But sadly, this true forest is dwindling swiftly, and more and more of the jungle of Borneo (particuarly along the large rivers) is losing ground to commercial greed, for which we all share a little bit of blame.