cover image Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World

Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World

Jocelyn C. Zuckerman. New Press, $27.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-62097-523-7

Journalist Zuckerman links the cultivation and production of palm oil to “the combined twenty-first-century crises of obesity, malnutrition, and climate change” in this sharp exposé. She details how palm oil and other natural resources spurred the scramble for Africa by European colonizers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and cites evidence that the British soap-making company Lever Brothers (now part of Unilever) used slave labor to harvest palm oil on the 1.8-million acres it controlled in the Belgian Congo. An ingredient in everything from toothpaste to nondairy creamer, palm oil now accounts for a third of the world’s vegetable oil consumption. In the Brazilian state of Bahia, Zuckerman meets a chef who demonstrates how palm oil is integrated into the local cuisine. In Sumatra, she visits a conservation organization for orangutans, whose habitats are threatened by the palm oil industry’s deforestation practices. Zuckerman also documents how plantation workers in Honduras are subjected to hazardous chemicals for appallingly low wages. Vividly describing people and places damaged by the palm oil industry, Zuckerman establishes a through line connecting 19th-century imperialism to the exploitative practices of today’s multinational corporations. This deeply reported account sounds the alarm loud and clear. (May)