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Monday, July 20, 2015

Ramen Is Killing the Planet (Dammit)

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 3:00 PM

  • Suphaksorn Thongwongboot/Shutterstock
May we bring your Monday afternoon down to the lowest low for a second? It turns out that ramen is an environmental and social disaster. Not as gross as hog lagoons, maybe, but definitely worse than SodaStream.

The culprit here is that seemingly-banal-yet-counterintuitively-vicious ingredient: palm oil, whose use is skyrocketing because it’s a nutritious alternative to trans fats. And who knew it was in ramen? As with blood diamonds, and genocidal avocados, it can be hard to trace back a product's sinister lineage when you're the end user.

Palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia are expanding a rapid rate, and they’re rife with forced labor, child workers, and other forms of exploitation. On top of that, the land given over from jungle to industrial-scale monoculture shelters endangered species like the orangutan (and is home to indigenous populations). Sumatran and Bornean orangutans have lost about 90 percent of their habitat to logging. As the amount of land under cultivation will leap almost five-fold from 2005-2025, the UN estimates that Indonesia will have lost 98 percent of its rain forests, and this equatorial deforestation accounts for one-tenth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Orangutans, by the way, aren’t just cute and playful and orange; they’re also crucial species for the survival of the forest, as a number of rainforest seeds germinate only after passing through their digestive tracts. And between 1,000-5,000 die each year due to human activity.

Given that about half of all common household products contain palm oil, and plenty of American food giants (Hershey’s, Campbell’s Soup, Kraft) use palm oil, what does this have to do with ramen? Writing in Salon, Reynard Loki notes that the two largest instant noodle companies (Nissin Fold Holdings and Toyo Suisan Kaisha, maker of Maruchan) have refused to phase out the use of conflict palm oil, and they use a lot of it.

Pressure is mounting, though. The French ecology minister recently announced that people shouldn’t eat Nutella because it contains palm oil (although Greenpeace later defended its parent company for taking strong steps in the right direction.) The Rainforest Action Network is stepping up, but for now, maybe let’s all just stick to tasty hand-rolled noodles.

[Via Salon]

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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