Vegetable oils: ethics, environment and health

edition 4This the unedited version of my ‘ethical oils’ article from Edition 4 of

The Australian Vegan Magazine

You can order your back copy here.

What is Palm oil?

Palm oil comes from the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.), a tropical crop that produces over four times more oil than other oil crops. It’s also the cheapest vegetable oil to purchase, making it the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, and a popular source of biodiesel. The World Wildlife Fund says Palm oil and its derivatives are found in about half of all packaged items in supermarkets. It’s found in fast foods, household cleaning products, personal care and cosmetic products such as lipstick and shampoo, and products ranging from margarines and breakfast cereals to chocolates, instant noodles and ice creams. Driven by demand for these products, palm oil production nearly doubled between 2003 and 2013 and its popularity continues to grow.

In years gone by, the United Nations saw palm oil an environmentally-friendly, economically-viable “magic bullet” that would help struggling farmers in undeveloped nations build economic stability while also providing cheap calories, but palm oil’s rosy glow quickly faded. Palm oil has dramatically improved the economies of producing countries, but it’s come at great expense to the lives of many, and it’s a significant contributor to deforestation and climate change. Indonesia and Malaysia have so far been the main producers of palm oil. Continue reading

Nourish rather than destroy

Your microbiome is your personal ecosystem of microbes that live in and on your body. Microbes are small organisms, e.g. bacteria and viruses, more commonly known as ‘germs’ or ‘bugs’. These microbes out-number our cells 10 to 1, and while most of us think of microbes as being bad, the vast majority of microbes within and around us are friendly or benign. Many of the microbes that share our body with us are vital to the function of body systems, and we could not survive without them. While most of them live in our gut, they inhabit every surface of our body that comes into contact with the outside world, such as our skin, throat, nose, lungs, bladder, vagina and so on.

A healthy balance of microbes in your body is very important to the healthy functioning of your immune system. Imbalances in our micro biome can contribute to many modern diseases involving inflammation and immune dysfunction such as allergies and automimmune disease. In a way, you could think of your microbiome as being part of your immune system, because it helps keep bad bugs under control. I think of these microbes as being a support team for our white blood cells. Continue reading


I think for me, growing up in the aridity of Central Australia and living at times in remote areas where water had to be purchased and delivered regularly, I have never taken water for granted. I’ve always found it hard to understand why someone might leave the tap running when they brush their teeth, have a long shower, water in the middle of the day or splash water around freely as though it will never run out. I grew up in a house where people people didn’t even flush the toilet unless it was absolutely necessary! But I know many people didn’t have the benefit of such an amazing childhood, and they might not give the issue of water much thought at all.

Almost one-fifth of the world’s population live in areas of water scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Water scarcity already affects every continent. Another 1.6 billion people are facing economic water shortage i.e. they live in places lacking the infrastructure needed to take water from rivers and aquifers. There is currently enough freshwater on Earth for 7 billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. Continue reading

Vegan for the planet

Being vegan brings me a lot of joy because it’s such a powerful way to reduce my negative impact on the environment around me. The impact of animal agriculture on the environment is staggering. Nature has always been my first love, from a young age. If I’d had ready access to information about the environmental benefits of a vegan diet, I would have made the transition long before I did. I gave up dairy in my early 20’s due to health reasons, then I gradually removed all meat except fish because the idea of animals living in captivity distressed me. It was only when I realised the impact fishing was having on the environment as a whole that I gave up eating fish. Continue reading