Are Chanukah Doughnuts Killing Tigers?

This article is written by guest writer Rabbi Margie Klein and originally appeared on EcoWatch.

This year, as we celebrate Chanukah and we remember the story of the miraculous oil, it’s worth taking a moment to ask—what kind of oil are we talking about?

The Talmud states that the menorah, at the center of the Chanukah story, can only be lit with pure, pressed olive oil. We honor that miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight by making foods and candles with all sorts of oils. Unfortunately, some of these oils are far from miraculous.

Some of the oil used in our favorite Chanukah foods comes from palm oil. Palm oil cultivation is leading to the rapid destruction of rainforests across Southeast Asia, encroaching on the habitat of some of the Earth’s most beautiful creatures: Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants and rhinos.

If you buy your sufganiyot (doughnuts) at Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme, there’s a good chance it’s being cooked in or with palm oil that comes from destroyed forests.

It’s a real crisis. The palm oil industry already has destroyed more than 30,000 square miles of land, leaving behind only 400 Sumatran tigers in the wild. The burning of these forests is also sending billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, making it one of the world’s largest drivers of climate change.

What’s really tragic is that palm oil can be grown without deforestation, but Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme lack basic practices that could ensure that they’re getting it from responsible sources.

Though these companies claim that they use palm oil from companies endorsed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), this industry-led group adheres to weak standards that still allow for deforestation.

For example, a new report by Friends of the EarthForest Heroes and SumOfUs chronicles how the IOI Loders Croklaan/Bumitama company, a member of RSPO, bulldozed orangutan habitat in Borneo to make way for palm oil plantations that reach the global marketplace (including Chanukah products sellers) through global agricultural products traders. That’s why companies like Nestlé have adopted stronger standards that eliminate deforestation from their supply chain.

Here are three ways you can make a difference:

1. Buy doughnuts, gelt and other Chanukah foods that don’t have palm oil from destroyed rainforests.

2. Burn candles, not rainforests, by using candles made of beeswax or paraffin rather than palm oil.

3. Ask Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme to adopt responsible palm oil sourcing policies by signing the petition. Additionally, if you buy from a local kosher bakery, ask them to make sure they aren’t using deforestation-based palm oil.

If one day’s worth of oil can last for eight days, then perhaps with our help, these threatened species can thrive once more.

Rabbi Klein is a NYC native, currently the spiritual leader of Sha’arei Shalom in Ashland, MA.  She is founder of Moishe Kavod House, a community of Jews in their 20’s and 30’s dedicated to tikkun olam, the repair of the world, and is co-editor of Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice (Jewish Lights)

Image courtesy of Otir on Flickr.

On December 3, 2013
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