You consume me

Moving to New Zealand has changed a whole bunch of things in my life, one of them being the relationship I have with my possessions.

Life in the Southern Hemisphere is very different from my previous life in London. One of the biggest differences is the impression I constantly have that time has stretched. This is partly due to the fact that I don’t have a job, but at the same time it’s also true that life is so much slower here, which makes me think it’s ok for me to literally take my time – do things at my own pace, don’t rush, and take it easy.

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In the past months, I’ve had a lot of time to think. This is not necessarily a good thing, however – if I manage to not let my stress and anxiety creep up and overwhelm my poor synapses – it also means that I can do a lot of research on things I’m passionate about and reflect on my actions and the impact they have on my surroundings and on my own life.

I’ve obviously been very much into the whole Zero Waste thing, minimalism, and downsizing my material possessions. One thing I’ve learned is that the whole point of simple living is finding what’s important to you. Simple living for me doesn’t mean to only own two pieces of clothing and a pair of chopsticks. Minimalism and downsizing don’t have to be synonyms with depriving yourself of anything. To me, it makes sense to get rid of anything that doesn’t bring me joy or that doesn’t serve me. If it’s something that I feel it weights me down or it stresses me out, I’ll get rid of it.
But at the same time I’m also incorporating more things into my life, I’m purchasing things that I believe will make my life better and me happier.

My goal is to only own things that I love and that are functional to my lifestyle.

Since we moved into our apartment about four months ago, I’ve been into my wardrobe at least once a week if not more, staring at all my clothes and trying to decide what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to chuck.
I have been chucking (by which I mean, donating) at least a third of my clothes. (This is a lot, considering I had already downsized quite a bit before moving to New Zealand altogether.) What I donated were things that I never wore, that didn’t fit me, or that I didn’t like. What is still in my wardrobe are things I love, things I wear all the time, and things I’m emotionally attached to (which I’m ok to keep, by the way).

However, the other day I went shopping for some clothes. I can’t remember the last time I went shopping for clothes. I’ve never particularly liked going shopping, which is proved by the fact that a good part of my clothes I’ve had since I was in high school (yeah, they still fit). But this time I went because I realised that after my wardrobe cleanout I was left with mismatching clothes and I was missing some good quality, durable staples.
For example, I’m all set for summer weather (which is ironic, considering I haven’t been living in a place where summer is a thing for the past five years), but I’m very unprepared for winter (which is double ironic, for the same exact reason). So I set off to go get myself some warm fluffy jumpers.

Now. This shopping experience was nothing like I’d ever thought a shopping experience could be like.

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I’ve never been so conscious about what I was gonna buy. There are two reasons for this.
The first one is that I recently watched The True Cost (you can read my thoughts about it here) and I’ve decided I’m never ever going to buy anything that comes from unethical and unsustainable suppliers. The second reason is more subtle and complicated.
Since about June last year, I’ve had to be very VERY careful about all my expenses.  I’ve always been quite penny-pinching, but travelling and being jobless really takes stinginess to the next level. Obviously not having money to spare completely changes your perspective on the things you can afford to buy. Plus living off the same two outfits for four months makes you realise that yes it is boring as hell, but you really don’t need that many clothes or that many things in general, for that matter.
Since I moved to New Zealand, my attention has shifted from what I want, to what I need. So much so that even when I finally had some money to spare and I could finally afford to go shopping, I realised I wasn’t feeling that thrill of buying things that I was expected I’d get after months and months of restriction.

I made a mental note of the shops I wanted to visit (all second-hand, independent retailers or shops that sell sustainable brands). Then I established my priorities: I would only buy things that are functional, multipurpose, good quality, and that I really liked. Finally, I set myself a budget.
With all these goals in mind, I set off for the most successful shopping trip of my life. I didn’t find everything I wanted (I’m still on the hunt for a pair of black jeans and some good winter jumpers, which is going to be tricky considering it’s summer in New Zealand), but I’m so glad I managed to only shop in second-hand stores, I stayed well within my budget, and I’m absolutely in love with everything I got.

Ideally I want to get to a point where all I have, I love.

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I am so excited and amazed by all the changes I’m making in my life, for the better. I love the fact that I have so much time to do research and understand what’s becoming more and more important to me. I’m learning new values setting myself new priorities. And I’m very proud of the person I’m becoming.

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I only feel beautiful when I’m hungry

Today I want to disclose something that I’ve never really shared with anyone but that I feel it’s important to talk about at this point in my life. Today’s topic is how I see veganism in relationship with eating disorders.

I’m not going to go into details on this (it would require a whole different blog post), but long story short, I used to suffer from disordered eating when I was about 20, during my first and second years of university. I was never diagnosed with a specific eating disorder, but I went through a phase in my life where I thought I was worthless and didn’t deserve food. So I stopped eating. I was punishing myself – I don’t know for what. But depriving myself from food was part of a set of strict rules I was imposing on myself, turning my whole life into a rigid discipline that was only aiming at making me smaller and smaller – in every sense.

Eating disorders and mental illnesses are very complicated to explain. The good news is, I got over mine. I recovered, and my relationship with food became “normal” again. However, although I did gain my weight back through the help of a dietician, I never received any psychological support. Looking back at those days now, I honestly wish I did. Sometimes I’m really scared it’s all going to come back. I know I’m in a safe place now, and when I do sense those feeling creeping back up, at least I can recognise them in time and stop them. But I’m not sure it’s normal they are even coming back,  nor whether they would be coming back if I had talked to somebody at the time.
Although I do enjoy food now, I take pleasure in cooking and I can safely experiment with different “diets” without worrying that I’m doing it for the wrong reasons, from time to time I do feel a sense of guilt when I eat too much or I have something I think I shouldn’t have.

I no longer want to feel this way.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m about to embark in yet another food experiment: I’m going to eat raw vegan for a week.
I’ve been following a bunch of raw vegan YouTubers in the past months and this lady in particular inspired so so much and made me want to give raw veganism a go. Among the many reasons she gives on why you should eat a raw vegan diet, she explains that when you follow this kind of plant-based regime it’s very hard to binge. The thing I struggle with the most as a result of having suffered from an eating disorder is the urge to binge – as in, to eat not when you’re hungry, but when you’re bored, or stressed, or you just feel like eating in your mind but you’re body is not actually sending you any hunger messages. I decided that I want to try and see what it’s like to listen to your body, and to actually eat as much as you want, without feeling guilty or bloated or just not good.
I’m doing this while being in full possession of my faculties, and I promise there are no reminiscence of disordered eating or will to lose weight or anything like that. I’ve done TONS of research and I will make sure to take in all the nutrients and calories I need.

Regardless of the results after this week, I think it’s important to remember that I’ve already came a long way in terms of how I see food now as opposed to how I considered it in the past. Veganism has helped me immensely in this sense.
When I first went vegan my parents were worried because they thought it was just another way for me to restrict my food intake. It took a lot of effort and research to show them that being vegan doesn’t mean starving yourself, that you can in fact gain weight on a vegan diet, and that overall veganism is actually much healthier than “standard” meals revolving around meat and dairy. It was only once I went vegan, some six years after my eating disorder, that I finally started to really enjoying food again.
Eating vegan took the guilt out of the equation. I now know that I’m eating healthy, delicious food, and I’m loving it. Every time I sit in front of a meal, I know I’m not hurting any animals, I’m helping the planet, and I’m doing a favour to my body. This also helped me love myself more, for doing something good. It shifted the focus on my actions, rather than on my appearance. What I do is more important than what I look like.

This was kind of a personal post but I’m glad I’ve shared it and took it off my chest. I’m extremely happy and grateful to be in the safe place I am right now. It took a lot of work, but I made it. And I’m very excited to be constantly learning about my own body and mind.
Stay tuned for more updates on my food experiment and a whole bunch of What I Eat in a Day videos! Thank you so much for stopping by and I will talk to you soon!

You’re not alone (in producing rubbish)

As much as I enjoy researching Zero Waste and making adjustments around the household in order to live a more environmental-friendly life, I can’t ignore the fact that I share a flat with my Permanent Boyfriend (calling him husband makes me feel old). So I decided to ask him how he feels about it. Here’s the verdict.

  1. How much did you know about the Zero Waste movement before I started looking into it and sharing it with you?
    Not much. In the past I had spent some time thinking of how much energy we waste but not so much about household waste.
  2. Do you feel like I force you to make an effort and reduce waste/do you think I push it too much?
    Sometimes I do feel it is an effort, but I do recognise that it’s one worth making. See below my answer on does it make sense to aim for 100%.
  3. How does it make you feel to know that you’re doing your part in reducing waste and the impact you have on the planet’s wellbeing?
    It makes me feel good but I must confess that it’s difficult to be doing it when so few other people are. Basically we’re doing something that would become amazing if everyone did it, and that by itself makes it worth doing I guess.
  4. How much of a pain is it for you to think about recycling/not buying packaged goods etc?
    A bit of a pain, but I don’t like the idea of just lazily strolling along in life, I am happy you are helping me be more aware of my impact on the environment.
  5. To what extent do you think we should stretch being Zero Waste? Do you think aiming at 100% Zero Waste is realistic? How much compromise would you allow?
    100% seems unrealistic at the moment and I’m not sure that’s what we should be aiming for. Perhaps the time spent in trying to push the concept further and further could be best spent trying to convince other people to do a bit more than they currently do. Surely the overall result will be better if, instead of a few people managing to do 100%, we had a lot more people doing say 70%.
  6. What’s the most important thing you think we can do to help save our planet?
    Recognise that we have an impact on it and not be lazy about it. Also, we should get governments to help out and do things like impose limits on packaging in supermarkets, revise best before dates etc. That would make the whole effort much more effective.
  7. Would you like to add anything?
    Thank you bye. You’re a pain in the butt.

Answer number 3 got me thinking because it is true that it’s a bit frustrating to put all this effort in something that only a minority of people are doing. It feels a little bit like voting: you might think that you’re just one person and your vote is not going to make a difference, but if you combine your vote with everybody else’s, it is going to make a difference. And that’s what this blog is about: spreading the word. The more people get to know about Zero Waste, the more they are likely to take a step in the right direction. In my dream world food comes unpackaged, there are regulations on rubbish disposal, and everybody is vegan. WELL.

As for the rest, I agree with pretty much everything Giac said (also the last point). I’d particularly like to make a point regarding answer number 5, on whether 100% Zero Waste is realistic or not. I don’t think it’s healthy to be extreme in anything you do, and I also think not producing any waste is just not possible. As much as it makes me feel good and proud to see how little waste I’m accumulating, I also don’t want to ruin my life by not eating what I want because it involves packaging, or stop travelling because fuel contributes to air pollution. I’m more than happy to try to find alternatives and reduce packaging and pollution, but up to a certain point. When my happiness, well being and mental balance start to get affected, that’s where I draw the line.

I think I’m doing a pretty good job anyway, surely there’s still room for improvement but I’ve come a long way so far and I’m very proud of it.

Stay tuned for more posts on my Zero Waste journey and how I’ve improved my impact on the planet so far. As always thanks for stopping by and I will talk to you soon!

You are what you wear

Last week I watched The True Cost,  a documentary about how the clothes we wear are made. I’ve been watching countless YouTube videos of people reviewing this documentary, particularly this and this by two ladies who I’ve been following for a while and whom I get inspired from when it comes to veganism, positive mental attitude, and a simple and happy lifestyle in general.
So I sat down with a pen and a notebook, watched The True Cost and took some notes.

I feel like I’ve always been vaguely aware of the Where Clothes Come From issue – as in, I’ve always known that my jeans and t-shirts were mostly sawn in some Third World country far away – but I’d never really given it too much thought. I remember going to the market on a Thursday morning over the summer holidays with my Mum, and rummaging through the piles of clothes she would always check whether they were made in Italy (that’s where we are from). But at the time I wasn’t buying my own clothes (I wasn’t buying any clothes to be honest – I was such a hobo in high school), so the problem didn’t really exist.
I first started to be interested in the fashion industry (HA! I should really re-phrase this. If you know me in real life you know I honestly don’t give a crap about fashion, what I mean is I started to be interested in where clothes come from) when I moved to London and I first set foot into one of the biggest high-street, low-cost shop chains: Primark.
Having lived on a budget since I started uni eleven years ago (WHAT) and throughout my Barely-Making-Enough-Money-For-Food career, I was used to purchasing my clothes at inexpensive high street shops like H&M, Forever21 etc. But Primark was a whole new level of cheapness: Sweaters for £5! Dresses for £10! Tees for £2!
After the first burst of excitement (I can be a student and afford shopping!), I quickly came to the realization that surely this couldn’t be sustainable. How could it be possible to buy a pair of jean shorts for £2 and have a clean conscience that whoever made those jeans was being paid a decent living wage? The answer of course is: it’s not possible.
After my first visit, I avoided Primark like the plague. Apart from the poor quality, unethically produced clothes, the shop itself was constantly crammed with people jumping on top of each other Boxing Day style, it was dirty and smelly, the queues for the fitting rooms were never ending, and overall no mentally sane human being would have wanted to spend more than five seconds in there.
Then in 2013 the Rana Plaza accident happened, and that’s when I first started to actively research where my clothes came from. I already knew about Primark, but I also started to look into those brands I would normally reach for when shopping: H&M, Zara, Forever21, Pull&Bear, Topshop (underwear only).
My overall reaction to finding out the unethical policy behind these fashion corporations was not really to stop buying clothes from them, but to stop buying clothes altogether. For the three years or so during which I was in London working but not making enough money to splurge on shopping, I would only get new clothes as and when I’d go home to Italy and my Mum actually offered to buy stuff for me. I eventually did get a job that allowed me to treat myself a little bit, but even then high street shops were all I could afford, and by then the Rana Plaza incident was already yesterday’s news. So I went back to buying from H&M etc.
Recently I’ve found myself being more and more interested in a whole bunch of environmental issues, from Zero Waste to sustainable food to, yep, how clothes are made. And I wish I’d made better choices in term of shopping even when I didn’t have that much money and cheap, fast fashion seemed the only option.

As The True Cost explains, in the US today only 3% of the clothes sold there are actually made in the US, as opposed to 95% of them back in the 1960s. Each year Americans buy 80 billion pieces of clothing, 400% more than two decades ago.
What’s happening today is that the price of clothes is going down, but the cost is going up. Fashion corporations have the power to dictate the price they want, and can switch among manufacturers until they find the one that agrees to match that price. In order to do so, of course they’ll have to cut on costs, which mainly means lowering employees’ wages.
People in Bangladesh, Malaysia and other developing countries who work in the clothing manufacturing industry have to endure inhuman working conditions: they operate in an unsafe environment, often with no safety features such as fire extinguishers or emergency exits; they are exposed to harmful chemicals that can cause from mental disabilities to cancer; women might find themselves forced to send their children away to live with some distant family in order for them to be provided with a proper education; and all of this while being paid a monthly salary that is way below the minimum wage.
People working in textile fields don’t have it any better. As Christina Dean points out:

Sixty one per cent of China’s groundwater is classified as ‘unfit’ for human contact by China’s Ministry of Environment; 190 million people in China fall ill and 60,000 people die every year from diseases caused by water pollution, of which the textile industry is a major contributor; and cancer rates are reported higher amongst people living near polluted rivers.

Cotton farmers in India also work with toxic pesticides and fertilisers, and face conditions so critical that taking their own lives often seems like the best option. It’s been estimated that the suicide rate among farmers is one every 30 minutes – the highest in history (ref.).

The cause of all this? Fast fashion.
We buy clothes like they are disposable products, thinking they’re going to last us for the coming season and then we are just going to throw them away.
Primark is the emblem of fast fashion. In fact, the very first time I heard about it was when I was studying in Edinburgh, and a friend of mine would regularly travel from there to Glasgow exclusively to visit Primark. She would explain that the clothes were so cheap she wouldn’t feel guilty throwing them away at the end of the season.
We tend to act this way because high street shops are constantly being replenished, so that every time we walk in we see something new and we are tempted to buy more than we need. In H&M, new clothes are coming in every week.
Do we have any idea how wasteful fast fashion is? In the US alone, 37 kg of textiles per person are thrown away every year. That’s 11.1 million tons of clothing that ends up in a landfill (ref.).
And if you’re thinking, Oh but I donate my clothes to charity – Think again. Only 10% of the clothes we donate get sold in thrift stores; the rest end up in landfills in developing countries, mainly because they are not considered good enough to go back in the stores to be sold (ref.).
(There’s also some good news: about 45% of discarded clothes from the US are shipped overseas, where demand for second hand clothes is very high. This helps create jobs for people who can open their own business selling these clothes, a much more affordable alternative to new clothes in developing countries. More good news: fast fashion actually means that we are donating more clothing then ever simply because they get over a trend. Every cloud has a silver lining after all.)

I’m not big on shopping, but I do have quite an extensive wardrobe. Although the majority of my clothes I’ve had forever (I still wear stuff that I’ve owned since high school), this is no excuse for what is in my closet now. After watching The True Cost I went through every single piece of clothing I own to check what was or wasn’t ethically produced, and this is the result.

Trousers
Total: 5 pairs
Ethical: 1 (second hand)
Unethical: 3
Not sure: 1

T-shirts
Total: 43
Ethical: 7
Unethical: 12
Not sure: 24

Sweaters
Total: 29
Ethical: 5, of which 2 handmade and 1 secondhand
Unethical: 15
Not sure: 9

Dresses
Total: 12
Ethical: None
Unethical: 9
Not sure: 3

Items not included: workout clothes, shorts, skirts, pyjamas, tank tops, underwear and stuff in the washing. 

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Conclusion: I suck (and I own way too many clothes). 39 pieces of clothing that I own have been unethically produced. That’s almost half of all the clothes I have (43.8% to be precise – yeah maths!).

I think what we need to understand here is that we as consumer have the power to steer the fashion industry towards a more humane and ethical way to manufacture textiles. The more we buy into fast fashion, the more we are part of the problem. We live in a consumerist world that constantly bombards us with consumption propaganda, and we base our purchase choices on materialistic values that make us believe owning things will make us happy.
But it’s about time we recognise the impact of our consumption. We are the consumers, and we are in charge. 
By refusing to support multinational corporations who don’t respect basic human rights and turning to ethical brands instead, we can make a change. Let’s buy fewer, more durable garments. Let’s recycle, up-cycle, buy local and second hand. Let’s make our clothes last, and let’s make sure we know where what we wear comes from.

These are some of my favourite ethical brands: Patagonia, Prana, American Apparel, Fat Face, People Tree.
And you may also want to check out these cool ladies who cooperated with the making of The True Cost: Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva.

Sick and subversive

Yesterday I woke up feeling a cold coming, I had a job interview for a position that I don’t particularly want, I went to the gym only to discover that I’d forgotten my shoes, and I spent the rest of the day wrapped in a blanket whining and being a general pain in the butt.
I don’t have a job and I also currently don’t have much will to live, however if there’s something I do have it’s time. Today I don’t feel any better, so I decided to not waste another day complaining about my maladies but to do something productive instead. So I came to the library and did some research on palm oil.

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Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit. It is the cheapest vegetable oil in the world, and a huge source of profits for multinational corporations who make a profit at the expenses of the environment, the native people, and the wildlife of the rain forest in South East Asia.
The palm oil industry is one of the most environmental offenders on the planet. It is one of the main causes of deforestation, carbon dioxide emissions, and decline of endangered wildlife.
After reading this article and many more, I hereby argue that the palm oil industry affects the entire planet. Palm oil is bad for the environment, bad for the animas, bad for the people, and bad for you.

1. The environment

In 2015, over 62,000 square miles around the world were committed to pail oil plantation (ref). 85% of the world palm oil supply comes from South East Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia). In Sumatra, 80% of the rain forest is gone – burned to the ground to generate space for palm oil plantations.
As explained in Before the Flood, Indonesia is one of the most corrupted countries in the world. Colossal companies such as Pepsi, Kellogg’s, L’Oréal, Procter&Gamble and many more are able to make profit by bribing the government to issue a permit for them to burn the land. So far there are no restrictions or regulation from the governments to prevent these corporations from doing what they’re doing.
The biggest damage palm oil plantations are causing is a dangerously large amount of carbon dioxide emissions. The video mentioned above explains that Indonesia peat lands store about 35 billion tonnes of carbon. When the land is burned to create space for plantations, that carbon is released into the atmosphere. In 2015, fires added more than 2 billion tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Normally, trees would absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, but if we set fire to the forests we release carbon back into the atmosphere, meaning we are producing excessive emissions and destroying the only natural filters we have at the same time.

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2. The People

An estimated 3.5 million people work in the palm oil industry. While providing employment can be favourable in Third World countries, the expansion of the palm oil industry often means that these people have no choice but to work for it – at a potentially high cost.
Human rights abuse is a daily occurrence in the palm oil industry: workers are forced to operate in an unhealthy environment with inadequate safety equipment, climbing up trees and spraying pesticides that cause health damages. They are underpaid and have no medical coverage or any other benefits. Child labour is not uncommon.
Working in the palm oil industry often translates to modern day slavery.

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3. The animals

Indonesia is home to 15% of all known species of birds, plants and mammals. The Leuser ecosystem is “the last place on Earth that still has elephant, rhino, orangutan and tiger together in the wild” (ref).
However, both the Sumatran tiger and Sumatran rhino are now facing the threaten of extinction. In Borneo, the orangutan population has decreased by 50% in the past 65 years.
It is CRAZY to me that people would go so far as to decimate another species for their own interest. It is shocking and outrageous and unbelievable that humans would consider it to be ok to erase other living creatures from their natural habitat. The idea that our successors might not be able to ever get to see tigers, rhinos, and other majestic creatures because we have wiped them out of this world fills me with guilt and shame.
Anyway. The good news is, there are organisations like PanEco which, through their conservation programme, are doing a great job at preventing the orangis from dying out and protecting their habitat.

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4. Our health

As every other oil, palm oil should be consumed in moderation. That said, palm oil does have some health benefits: it reduces blood pressure as well as the risk of arterial thrombosis,  it doesn’t contain artery-clogging trans fats and it’s rich in natural antioxidants, including vitamins A and E. However, this is true of palm oil only when consumed as a fresh food.
Turns out that palm oil that hasn’t been heavily refined is very hard to get hold of: the palm oil that we normally consume is oxidised (or processed). Such palm oil is high in saturated fats – in fact, it contains as much saturated fats as butter. Saturated fats are considered to be the most detrimental to human health. Palm oil is particularly rich in palmitic acid, which is one of the fats most likely to cause cholesterol clumps in arteries.
As this article explains, “palm oil causes low-grade inflammation that is linked to insulin resistance, obesity and other metabolic diseases that are partially mediated by our resident gut microbes.”
A research on mice showed that “compared to a high-fat diet formulated with either milk fat, rapeseed oil, or sunflower oil, one that includes palm oil resulted in higher inflammation in plasma and adipose tissue” (ref).
Processed palm oil poses health dangers such as reproductive toxicity and organ toxicity, impacting organs such as the heart, kidneys , liver and lungs.
Finally, according to this article, “the refining process depletes many of the nutrients that occur naturally in the oil and also makes the oil much more difficult to digest” – but at this point this is probably the last of our problems.

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Palm oil is virtually everywhere: processed foods, chocolate bars, crackers, margarines, soups, as well as non-food products such as soaps, deodorants, detergents and cosmetics.
The problem is, palm oil is not always easy to spot. Often disguised under as many as 200 other names, it can be tricky for consumers to identify it, especially when you think that “under current European legislation, companies are under no obligation to state whether or not their products contain palm oil specifically, as it currently permits palm oil to be stated in the ingredients as ‘vegetable oil’” (ref). (I’m not sure about regulations in the US, the UK and other parts of the world.)
Most of the time consumers don’t think about what’s in the food or products they buy. How often do you take the time to read the ingredient label at the supermarket? (Unless you’re a vegan, heehee.) But checking what’s in what you buy is the first step towards being more informed and aware of your choices.
Educating yourself is critical. This might sound like an overwhelming issue, but it’s one that can – and has to – be addressed by us as individuals. As individuals, we can stop this. Every time we buy, eat or consume a particular product, we have the power to choose whether we want to support the palm oil industry or not. The decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis in the comfort of our household have an impact on the other side of the world: they affect the ecosystem, the people, and ultimately the whole planet.

You can check whether your favourite products contain palm oil or not here and here.
Also have a look at what the WWF and the Union of Concerned Scientists have to say on the matter, and test your knowledge on palm oil on TakePart.