UPDATED – 9/18/2018: Silk Soy Milk is NOW Certified Sustainable on Palm Oil?!

UPDATED 9/18/2018: OK, I swore off Silk Soy milk years ago for a few reasons, the main being their flimsy palm oil policy.

Last night while in the supermarket, I ran a carton of Silk Soy milk through my handy-dandy palm oil app.  It came back with “PALM OIL FREE”!?

What the hell?!  So I went to the website of WhiteWave.  Here’s their new palm oil policy — dated January 2016.

Not sure where they are now but I’ve written them an email.  But here’s their policy.  Promising indeed.  (BUT I still argue that there’s no such thing as sustainable palm oil.)



UPDATED 3/12/2015:  Well, because Silk never got back to me from over a MONTH ago, I wrote them again.  This time, I got their attention.  Here’s what they said:

Thank you for your recent email to Silk®.

I am very sorry you have not received a response. In order to provide you with the most accurate information we need to further investigate your inquiry. We apologize for the delayed response but will get back to you as soon as we gather this information.
Thanks again for contacting the Consumer Affairs Department.

Consumer Connections Representative

Ref: N1971875

So as soon as I get their response from their” further investigation” (how long should that take?), I’ll print their latest response.

UPDATED 2/11/2015 I bought some soymilk today, really craving it.  I know their soybeans are grown in North America, so aren’t deforesting South American rainforests (how about Mexico, though?). But the palm oil thing still bothers me, despite their big touting of RSPO membership below (see the below trail for where I’ve been with Silk). So, I decided to write to them again.  Here’s what I wrote this time:

From where do you source the VAST amounts of palm oil in your products?  In 2013 you touted that you lived by RSPO principles, which is a real yawner, because the RSPO is toothless and hasn’t stopped deforestation or the death of critically endangered species, like the orangutan.  It’s a greenwashing organization so corporations like yours can make yourself appear to be sustainable. Again, what is your CURRENT policy on buying ONLY traceable sustainable palm oil?  I will print your reply on my palm oil blog, as I have been doing for years. I love your product, but HATE PALM OIL.  I will no longer buy your product if you still think being an RSPO member means shit.

I will print their response as SOON as I get it. ___________________________________________________________ PREVIOUS HISTORY Ever since somebody at my gym “pushed” a sample of Silk soy milk on me in 2008, I’ve loved it. Unfortunately, there’s Vitamin A palmitate in it — palm oil. I’m not sure when I became educated about the evils of non-sustainable palm oil, but I guess it was at least around 2008. Concerned by this ingredient then, and prone to memory lapses (obviously), I wrote to Silk’s corporate mothership WhiteWave repeatedly over the years and never posted their responses (not sure why either). This is a great opportunity to see how corporate thought on palm oil has evolved over the years for this company, from a sort of shallow nonchalance, to activist in its apparent need for palm oil sustainability. Why can’t all corporations do right by the environment? From 2008:

Thank you for your recent e-mail to Silk®. We appreciate your interest in our products.

The source of the vitamin a is a combination of palmitic acid and retinol. Vitamin A is naturally preserved. Thanks again for contacting the Consumer Affairs Department.

I pressed further, so they responded with this:

Thank you for your recent e-mail to Silk®. We appreciate your interest in our products.

We use Palm oil as a source of fat/oil in our products. The oil is obtained from the fruit of the palm tree. However, at any given time, new concepts can be developed and tested by consumer focus groups.

Thanks again for contacting the Consumer Affairs Department.

I wrote again in 2012. They responded then with this — a clear change in their sourcing:

We purchase high-quality food grade palm oil from two carefully selected and reputable suppliers, both of which source and produce palm oil products in an ethical and sustainable manner. Additionally, both companies are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an organization dedicated to the education and promotion of sustainable farming practices from social, economic and environmental perspectives.

The benefits associated with the use of palm oil as a food ingredient include a high content of vitamin E, zero cholesterol and an alternative to oils containing harmful trans fat. For these reasons, palm oil is on track to become the top vegetable oil procured in the world.

With regard to the countries where palm oil is sourced, the economic development to regions with limited or no government assistance is an important factor in determining their viability.

Partnering with producers who value sustainable business is an important part of our company’s mission.

Thanks again for contacting the Consumer Affairs Department.

Not remembering I wrote them a year ago, I wrote again yesterday, here in 2013, wanting to get back to drinking my Silk. They responded with approximately the same pro- sustainable palm oil email as above, but with a tweak (emphasized below):

Thank you for your recent e-mail to Whitewave Foods. We appreciate your interest in our company.

We purchase high-quality food grade palm oil from two carefully selected and reputable suppliers, both of which source and produce palm oil products in an ethical and sustainable manner. Additionally, both companies are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a 184-member organization dedicated to the education and promotion of sustainable farming practices from social, economic and environmental perspectives. The benefits associated with the use of palm oil as a food ingredient include a high content of vitamin E, zero cholesterol and an alternative to oils containing harmful trans fat. For these reasons, palm oil is on track to become the top vegetable oil procured in the world. With regard to the countries where palm oil is sourced, the economic development to regions with limited or no government assistance is an important factor in determining their viability. Partnering with producers who value sustainable business is an important part of our company’s mission. We hope this information is helpful.

Not sure why the slight update. But I’m happy that WhiteWave/Silk is allegedly purchasing sustainable palm oil. Back to drinking it guilt free? Hopefully. UPDATED 10/7/2013:  Some outstanding news from WhiteWave.  I found this story today:  here it is in a nutshell:

WhiteWave Foods Becomes One of the First U.S. Companies to Source Sustainable Palm Oil with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil In order to be considered certified sustainable, palm oil must meet eight principles and 39 practical criteria of sustainable production. These principles and criteria are designed to prevent undue environmental and societal harm. “The progress from WhiteWave Foods in converting a verbal commitment to a tangible delivery to ensure that all palm oil used in its products is fully sourced according to rules set by the RSPO deserves praise,” said Darrel Webber, secretary general of the RSPO. “Consumers in the United States of America, and all around the world, are becoming increasingly discerning in their responsible buying decisions. More awareness will be gained as more companies commit to responsible sourcing of sustainable palm oil… Purchasing CSPO through the mass balance system provides an important mechanism to increase demand for CSPO and support the transition to fully segregated CSPO markets in the future,” said John Buchanan, senior director of food security at Conservation International. “Conservation International applauds WhiteWave’s actions and hopes that other companies will follow this example.” WhiteWave also launched Responsible Sourcing Principles, which are designed to provide guidance for the sourcing of ingredients and materials. The Responsible Sourcing Principles are currently being implemented across the company’s North American brands, including Silk, International Delight, Horizon Organic and LAND O LAKES…” http://www.fool.com/investing/businesswire/2013/09/25/whitewave-foods-becomes-one-of-the-first-us-compan.aspx

OK, we still need to be suspicious because we all know the severe lies and shortcomings about RSPO certification.  But hopefully, this will help turn the tide against ANY non-sustainable palm oil.  Hey, it’s something.  I might even go back to drinking Silk!

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UPDATE: 7/12/2018 – Lenny & Larry’s: The Complete Cookie and Palm Oil


UPDATE:  7/12/2018:  I get occasional questions from readers wondering where Lenny and Larry’s is today on palm oil.  So I wrote them to ask. To their credit, they responded rather quickly:

We have been using sustainable palm oil with our palm margarine. We are completely moving away from margarine and directly to palm fruit oil. We have secured a supplier.

I will forward your email to my team.

Thanks for reaching out.

But that left a huge, gaping hole of information in their palm fruit oil sourcing.  So I pressed onward.

Thanks for the info, XXXX.  So without you giving away any secrets, is your palm fruit oil coming from 100% sustainable sources?  Is it from Indonesia/Malaysia, the hotspot for deforestation?  Is it RSPO certified as sustainable, traceable back to the source?

Sorry, I do have some blog readers who are asking where you are today and I’d love to give them some great news.

By the way, Palm Done Right gets sustainable palm oil from Ecuador and Sierra Leone — nowhere near the orangutans whose habitat is being destroyed for palm oil.

Surprisingly, I got an even faster response. This time, though, I’m not sure whether to take it as just fun and playful considering this guy’s about as, well, plainspoken and hot-headed (?) as I am (but with a decent sense of humor), apparently, and hope their team does  get back to me with good news that it’s all certified traceable and sustainable.  Or could I take it another way:  a completely tone deaf corporate response to a nettlesome enviro who hates how unsustainable palm oil is destroying the remaining tropical rainforests of the world.

Decide for yourself:

Sorry. Not answering any of the questions below. 😜

If my team is interested, they will follow up. I do appreciate you reaching out.

Regards, XXXX_

And make your purchasing decisions accordingly.  I know I will.


ORIGINAL POST: 8/2015:  I haven’t posted in awhile.  I’ve been traveling (all those final Grateful Dead shows in the Bay Area and Chicago) and even took in U2 at Madison Square Garden last week.  But I’m back now and hope to post a bit more as I get some free time.

I was working on an environmental law project in Los Angeles recently and needed a snack fix.  I went downstairs to a convenience store and immediately reached for this particular brand of cookie.  Not only because it was vegan but all natural.  What the hell.

But, yes, there’s palm oil in it.  So while I was waiting in a long line to checkout, I hunt and pecked a quick email to this company to inquire about their palm oil sourcing.  Given that I hashed it out with my right thumb, it was short, sweet — and perhaps a bit terse.  Although I did not accuse them outright of using conflict palm oil, that’s the way it was taken.  In all fairness, I could see how it could be taken that way.

Decide for yourself:

You claim to be healthy and enviro-friendly yet you use palm oil, the demand for which is destroying the last rainforeats and killing endangered species, not to mention harming indigenous peoples.

I will boycott your product and urge others to do so until we are assured you do not use conflict Palm oil.

Please respond with your sourcing info.

I won’t bore you with the exchange that transpired with an employee who responded to me over the weekend, but suffice it to say, this employee and myself are fiery, impassioned people  — and our email exchange reflected that.  This person obviously cares about the success of his/her company and its reputation — and for good reason.  I, on the other hand, am an impassioned environmentalist who knows a little something about the palm oil issue.  And I try to put my money where my mouth is.  I won’t buy something again until I know whether there’s conflict palm oil used or not.

At any rate, I think this employee and I became new acquaintances with some of the same passions and interests, such as a love for the animals and the environment.  Here’s their ultimate response.

Thanks so much XXXX and we hear you loud and clear. We are all animal lovers at Lenny & Larry’s. In fact, our brand will be 100% vegan by year end.

Since we don’t actually purchase any ingredients (we contract third party manufacturers), we encourage ALL suppliers to purchase sustainable ingredients. Palm oil is only in trace amounts within a sub ingredient which is the non hydrogenated margarine. It is minuscule in terms of volume. We are almost certain, knowing the company that supplies the margarine, it is sourced from sustainable sources…

We will continue to support Operation Gratitude, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, ASPCA and other great causes.”

So this seems like a progressive company that aims to do the right thing.  So let’s continue to watch them to see what they do.

UPDATE 8/5/2015:  In a sign of collegiality, Lenny & Larry’s sent me a box of cookie treats yesterday.  They’re quite good, vegan and “all natural.”   (Again, let’s just hope that the above is true — that L&L’s third party margarine provider (which uses palm oil) gets it from sustainable sources.)

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UPDATE 06/25/2018 FINALLY! Palm Oil-Free Microwave Pop Corn!



UPDATE:  6/25/2018:  Quinn CoFounder/CEO Responds.

I wrote the following email to Quinn’s nice original response to me:

Thanks XXX!


Sorry for any of my environmental whackjob crankiness!


Yes, I do know about Palm Done Right and, despite the fact you’re using palm oil — it’s done right, and mostly in Sierra Leone and Ecuador, which means NO orangutan habitat destruction, PLUS it’s not deforestation-produced AND it’s on already degraded land.
After being so angry that ALL major popcorn manufacturers NOW use palm oil, I was SO happy to find you guys because cooking on a stovetop like my mom did when I was young, is a hassle.?  AND compostable bags!
I’ll update my palm oil blog piece to reflect the Palm Done Right info.



And like the cool (busy) co-founder/CEO she is, she responded today:

Rant all you want! I don’t mind. I get it, hence why I am doing what I am doing.
It’s done right, as right as it can be.  And exactly, NO orangutan habitat destruction which was a big one for me, and no deforestation.
We are also angry at ALL The popcorn manufactures. Again, this is why we started QUINN, to show them their is a better path.
You can 100% do this on the stove top, instructions on the box, if you ever feel the need.  I am so glad it’s nostalgic for you. It is for me too!
Thanks so much for updating your blog info.
Thanks again for reaching out, and stay in touch!


I had Quinn popcorn guilt-free again this past weekend (while watching Aaron Sorkin’s nifty “Molly’s Game”, OK, it has a few issues).  It really is the BEST microwave popcorn out there — with our without palm oil!

Oh, and did I say the popcorn bag is compostable!?



UPDATE 06/21/2018:  PALM DONE RIGHT IS Used in Quinn Popcorn.

After I wrote the below piece, I discovered that Quinn Snacks does indeed have some products that DO use palm oil.

At first I was disappointed but I rushed to their website for solace, finding it here:


SO the palm oil they DO use is sourced sustainably (some environmentalists say that’s not enough) on already degraded land, and in Ecuador and Sierra Leone, meaning NOT EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE to those deforestation hotspots of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Palm Done Right info is here:


They also wrote me back today twice, one from the co-founder (partially redacted below) and from their customer service team:

We have 5 skus of microwave popcorn that do not contain any palm oil. We use high oleic sunflower oil from Colorado.
We have 3 skus of microwave popcorn, one of those skus does have PALM DONE RIGHT organic palm oil.
We also have pretzels, and those items contain organic palm oil as well from PALM DONE RIGHT.


Have you heard of PALM DONE RIGHT? A link to their website is here!

So while you can eat our popcorn guilt free, especially 7 out of 8 skus, the one sku that DOES have Palm oil in there would be our Extra Butter.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions, and really appreciate the patience with response time!

Take care,



Sorry about the delay in response. We are a very small team and respond to emails as quickly as we can!
Glad you enjoyed the popcorn and yes, we do still carry the Movie Night Extra Butter! You can purchase it on Amazon here.
We are always looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact and Palm Done Right was the best choice for us to do that.
Hope you have a great day!



AND their bags are compostable.  (Know they come with butter and sunflower oil bags that are NOT recyclable, though.)

So buy Quinn for guilt-free microwave popcorn


6/13/2018 – ORIGINAL POST

I have been despondent for many months now, bemoaning the fate of the Trumpian world in general, and the current state of microwavable popcorn in particular.  Every once in awhile a guy gets a craving for popcorn while binging BBC crime dramas on Netflix (that they pass off as their own, natch), you know?  But on a recent visit to the supermarket lately, I noticed that EVERY SINGLE GODDAMNED microwave popcorn product contains palm oil.  Every.  Single. One.  (Or so I thought.)  I even lamented the plight about a year ago here:


So I went old school, shaking a pan filled with canola oil and seeds on the stove top, like a 1950s-era housewife (or house husband; let’s not get gender specific, though that was probably historically-accurate for the era).

UNTIL NOW!  Look what I found tucked away at the very top of a palm oil-laden shelf in the supermarket this past weekend:

Quinn Pop Corn! (Named after the founders’ son, which, admittedly, is a bit precious, but I digress)!  Not only does it care about the environment in its packaging but they use NO PALM OIL!

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I was so elated I fired off a quick email to them.


Just a quick email to say thank you so much for not using rainforest-destroying, orangutan-killing, people-displacing/enslaving, global-warming exacerbating PALM OIL in your products!   I am an anti-palm oil activist and have gone back to making popcorn the old-fashioned way (in a stove top pan) to avoid using palm oil, which I discovered is in virtually ALL microwave popcorn upon my last supermarket check a few weeks ago.

To my great excitement, I found your popcorn nearly hidden in my local store. Not only is it the BEST microwave popcorn I have ever had, but I am elated that it doesn’t destroy the environment, and actually takes it into account in its packaging and ingredients.

I will post your brand on my anti-palm oil ranting blog. Thanks so much for giving us an environmentally-sane product in an insane world!

If they respond, I’ll post it here.  But for now — BUY QUINN!

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UPDATE: 06/13/2018 – Justin’s Does Better!


UPDATE:  06/13/2018:  While researching Quinn Popcorn, I stumbled on the fact that they support Justin’s snacks, which I wrote to a couple of years ago (see below).  Well, they’ve changed a bit.  Here’s news from them:

Sustainably Sourced Palm Fruit Oil

Our organic peanut butter cups are made with 100% organic palm fruit oil that is sustainably sourced from South America and certified under the RSPO‘s IP (Identity Preserved) supply chain model.

Our nut butter jars, squeeze packs and snack packs also contain palm oil that is certified sustainable under the mass balance supply chain model by the RSPO.

And here’s what that means:


Sustainable palm oil from a single identifiable certified source is kept separately from ordinary palm oil throughout supply chain.


Make sense?

Although we’re always skeptical of the RSPO, Identity Preserved sounds far better than Justin’s old fallback, Mass Balance RSPO supplying of palm oil.

So plaudits to Justin’s!


06/23/2016:  Another palm oil “horror” story from my employer’s kitchen.   The company means well:  to give employees some snacks to refresh them through their workdays.  However, the company doesn’t exactly do their due diligence on the sourcing of those snacks — or the internal ingredients.

Case in point (again):  Justin’s peanut butter products.  It’s supposed to be this whole organic-y, touchy-feely, nothing-but-peanuts-and-butter slice-of-heaven.  But the second ingredient on the label is freakin’ palm oil.  So I circled it on the label with a big black marker and left it on the kitchen counter for quizzical co-workers to wonder, “Hmmm, why was ‘palm oil’ circled here?”

Then I dashed off another death and destruction email to Justin’s Facebook page, loudly and boldly for all to see (and reposted, and reposted, and again).  If you’re a regular reader of this infrequent blog, you know it involves accusing corporations of being complicit in the death, destruction, displacement, etc., that palm oil cultivation wroughts (is that a correct usage of that word?)

Here’s their well-intentioned but misinformed response. It’s the same canned rationale they tee-up proudly on their website.  (http://justins.com/values)

Sustainable Sourced Palm Fruit Oil.


Our organic peanut butter cups are made with 100% organic palm oil that is sustainably sourced from South America and RSPO certified.

Our nut butter jars, squeeze packs and snack packs contain palm oil that was certified sustainable under the mass balance supply chain model by the RSPO.  Recently, this supplier’s certification expired. We proactively removed the sustainable callout from our label in recent months when we learned the certification was set to expire. We are diligently looking for a sustainably sourced, RSPO certified alternative and will continue to keep our website up-to-date with the latest ingredient information.


They clearly are well-intentioned.  All the greenie bells and whistles are on their website, from “Sustainability Initiatives” to “Giving Back” to “Compassion.”  But they put all of their eggs in the RSPO basket for easy cover.  And, as we know, the RSPO is no knight in shining armor.

(See https://gettingonmysoapbox.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/rspo-completely-or-just-mostly-worthless/)

Note too, that Justin’s says because their supplier’s “certification expired,” they specifically stopped labeling their products containing it as “sustainable.”  Makes sense, right?  Plaudits to them for having a sense of truth-in-advertising.  But if they’re no longer able to label it as “sustainable,” which from RSPO history it probably NEVER WAS in the first place (since it simply doesn’t yet likely exist (like a mystical unicorn)), and was explicitly drawn from “mass balance” programs (read: offsets), it sure-as-hell isn’t sustainable now.

So, Justin’s, we need to boycott you.  Sadly, deforestation is most probably occurring due to your direct actions.  Do better.  Be a leader.  Don’t buy “mass balance” palm oil.  Because that just means so-called “sustainable” palm oil is mixed with “traditional” palm oil.  Traditional probably meaning that rainforests were razed for agricultural purposes.

And to show just what’s at stake, look at this recent video I saw that shows sentient, soulful orangutans thinking and reasoning – and showing compassion. These precious creatures (along with rhinos, elephants, tigers — and indigenous humans) are being driven to displacement and extinction.  All for palm oil.  Cheap, dirty palm oil.



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Infuriating: Orangutan v. Bulldozer on Borneo


Look deep at this photo for all it depicts — wildlife facing down human “progress.”  Who wins?

Some backstory.  This picture was taken in 2013 but re-posted by my personal heroes International Animal Rescue on June 5 for World Environment Day.

Sadly, although this pic is from 2013, this forest is still being destroyed, “despite a high-level Indonesian government commitment to protect the forest.”

Read the full story here:


Just had to post this.  It says so much.

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Trader Joe’s – Can’t (Won’t) Guarantee that All the Palm Oil It Uses is Deforestation-Free

InkedIMG_2788 (2)_LI

I have a pretty long history of hassling Trader Joe’s for their palm oil policy. It hasn’t always been pretty. But in 2015, they promised their palm oil was from South America, which, while still suspicious if deforesting, say, the Amazon, at least meant the deforestation ground zero of Indonesia and Malaysia was not implicated this time.

Here’s the link to that past history:

So I went into a TJ’s recently and saw palm oil in a chocolate bar. So I wrote them, hoping the palm oil policy had been at least the same — or even more promising for the environment. Here’s their answer:

Thanks for writing to express your concerns over the use of Palm Oil in our products. We will forwarded your comments to the appropriate buyers and our Product Steering Committee for review. At Trader Joe’s we are always striving to improve and your feedback allows us to do so.

Much of the palm oil used in our Trader Joe’s products comes from smaller-scale family farms. These farmers are sometimes certified by ProForest and/or are members of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which ensures that they meet strict social, environmental and technical criteria. For an example, one of our suppliers who utilized Palm Oil in our products, has kept to their pledge to source 100% RSPO sustainably sourced Palm Oil since 2015. Many of our suppliers that utilize Palm Oil are committed to working with oil suppliers to support the development of a sustainable, cost-effective market for palm oil to prevent the deforestation of lands.

With regard to environmental criteria, the assessments required by ProForest and RSPO are carried out at the landscape and operational level at both the farms and processing facilities. These assessments cover environmental impact on the soil, water, air, biodiversity and local communities. The lands the farmers use are not lands that were deforested. The lands used to grow the palm fruit are lands previously used for agricultural purposes (cattle, rice, bananas, etc.).

Still, though, while much of the palm oil our vendor’s source is as described above, it is impossible and disingenuous for us at this time to ensure that all of our palm oil is sourced this way, and some of it is definitely sourced as a commodity. However, for those products where the palm oil is sourced as a commodity, it is an ongoing process to work with these remaining suppliers to move towards a verified sustainable source. (Emphasis added.) We definitely appreciate your input, as we truly depend on customer feedback to help us determine how we do things. Hope this information helps and thanks again for reaching out.

Customer Relations
Trader Joe’s

What the serious Fuck!?

“…[I]t is impossible and disingenuous for us at this time to ensure that all of our palm oil is sourced this way, and some of it is definitely sourced as a commodity.”

So I wrote them back. Shocked that they find this acceptable.


I responded. You didn’t reply. I find this evasive.

You used to get your palm oil from South America. No more?! So back to Indonesia, who is deforesting faster than any nation on earth for palm oil!

So far no response. That’s not good.

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UPDATE: 1/10/2018: Costco’s Darrell Lea’s Australian Liquorice Bites — Yes, They Contain Palm Oil

UPDATE: 1/10/2018:  A reader commented below that he just saw that Darrell Lea liquorice STILL contains palm oil despite the company’s promise to move away from the palm oil greed that is as addictive as opioids.  So I just wrote them a follow up email asking what gives.

Well that was fast.  Here’s there response hot off the internets:


I appreciate you reaching back out to us and I personally understand your concerns with the use of Palm Oil.  We have trialled alternative ingredient sources but have been unable to replicate the same quality to date.  As a business, we continue to seek “better” ways to manufacture and our product portfolio is certainly ahead of the general market when it comes to ingredients that are both better for the environment as well as our consumers.  I do appreciate however that the use of Palm Oil is one area that we need review.

We do source RSPO but I note your thoughts around this. 
Please feel free to contact me directly at any time for an update….  I will be honest in saying that we are yet to find a suitable replacement so I do not expect changes in the immediate future.  However, please know that I understand and appreciate your concerns and know that we are continuing to work on alternatives.


So I wrote them back with one parting shot (from 2018)

So you continue to cause deforestation, death of orangutans, displacement and/or enslavement of indigenous peoples and the exacerbation of global warming…for licorice?   OK, good to know


I”ll continue my 4+ year boycott.

Original Post:  August 22, 2012

Darrell Lea

Darrell Lea (Photo credit: Gene Hunt)

So I noticed a tub of licorice (or liquorice) bites in my work’s common kitchen.  I believe it was bought at Costco, and the name brand was Darrell Lea.  I turned the tub over and read the ingredients.  Sure enough, there was earth-destroying palm oil in it.   So I wrote them an email.  Then I wrote them a second email.  Finally, I wrote again, using exclamation points and capital letters.  Here’s their response:

Thank you for contacting Darrell Lea regarding the use of palm oil in our liquorice products.

I am not sure why we have not received your previous emails, but there have been a few changes to our computer system, including our internet service recently.

Darrell Lea is working towards removing palm oil from our liquorice products. We have a couple of compound ingredients that contain palm oil (which are RSPO) that our suppliers are attempting to replace for us. Work on providing us with alternative materials is ongoing as they do not currently any acceptable replacements.

Kind Regards, Sharon Fletcher Quality Assurance Manager

Well, at least they’re changing their sourcing plans now.  But to again point to RSPO palm oil means absolutely nothing from that impotent organization, run-over by palm oil interests.

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Hippie At Heart – A Deadhead Profile

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Tim Randall thoughtfully surveyed the hundreds of hours of plastic concert cassette tapes neatly stacked before him in old, slightly idealized wooden crates, the kind apparently used to ship citrus back in the day. To him the tapes were nearly as valuable as gold — or at least magical gold pixie dust for their transportive musical qualities — as he doted over them in an almost obsessive-compulsive effort to keep them in chronological order. In the background, the melodious tones of delicate fret work, and lilting guitar riffs playfully dancing across the upper musical register, emanated from the tinny speakers working overtime on the 5-in-1 tape/CD/radio/record/Wi-Fi player. Spying a misfiled second-set concert tape, Randall clicked his tongue sternly, plucked it out and dutifully restacked the collection to make room for its misplaced fraternal twin; its rightful place directly under the first-set tape.

You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but Randall has been a Grateful Dead fan, or Deadhead, most of his adult life. He grew up in the conservative inland valley of Southern California, and had the misfortune of attending a church-centered school where ministers preached the evils of rock music, even imploring them to burn their records. And his dress as a lawyer these days — pressed slacks, starched blue button-down, but rebellious Doc Martens dress shoes – belie his more counter-cultural musical inclinations. He’s no hippie. But scratch deeper as he’s beatified by a Dead tape he’s playing, and he might as well be a swirling, twirling dervish, like the spinning dancers, or “spinners” as they are called, often found on the periphery of Dead concert halls, blissed out on the grooves, vibes (and, maybe, drugs) of a show.

Each cassette holder is wildly adorned in colorful, stylized block letters in blue, red or black ink, depending on the creator’s artistic whimsy. For two-set concerts, the norm for Grateful Dead shows, the first-set cassette tab contains the upper-half of the names of the towns or concert halls of each live show. The second-set cassette tabs contain the lower portion of those legendary venues. Only when the two cassettes are stacked atop one another, as one complete, two-set show, do the cryptic squiggles and curves reveal their full identity: names like “Madison Square Garden,” “Greek Theater” or even “Cornell ’77,” the Holy Grail of any Dead tape collection.

Though middle-aged, Randall’s relatively young for a Dead tape collector. Considering the band has been around in various iterations for 52 years, the leading edge of Dead fans are now in their 70s. He probably falls somewhere in the meaty center of the Deadhead age spectrum: too young to have seen the Dead in their LSD-fueled psychedelic heyday of the 60s and 70s, but old enough to sneer at the soused, young hoodlums who crashed the scene in the ‘90s merely in search of a good party and easy access to mind-expanding psychedelics. You know, as Randall admonishes in a condescending teenage squeal, “The ones screaming out, ‘Play ‘Touch of Gray’!, Play ‘Touch of Gray’!,’” the Dead’s only late career Top Ten hit from their “In The Dark” album, much to the consternation of disapproving concert veterans like him.

Randall’s concert library started small and humble; a single cassette capturing the second-set of a concert held at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater on May 6, 1989. It was flipped to him by “somebody who knew somebody” marooned on a conked-out scuba diving boat off the coast of Hawaii with a-one Jerome Jerry Garcia, none other than the guitar-god in Randall’s favorite band. His tape stories all seem to have this same sort of slightly picaresque angle accompanying them too, which only adds to their value. This special tape was sacred too, not only because it was his first, like a child, but also for its sparkling sound quality for an analog tape, an outdated medium which loses fidelity and develops annoying “hiss” with each successive duplication generation. From this lone Stanford show, the collection grew in fits and spurts over the decades.

Randall saw his first show while in college. He commuted trough two hours of freeway traffic with fraternity buddies to what was then known as Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, in southern Orange County, CA, and watched the April 18, 1987 show for free from high above the stage, while perched on the undeveloped hills behind. That he experienced it while high on magic mushrooms is only part of his memory’s allure. He’s self-aware enough that the irony does not escape him that he probably could be considered one of those  shallow, gate-crashing partiers, pejoratively labeled “In the Darkies”; the ones demanding to hear “Touch Of Grey” that he himself ridicules and bemoans. His first show as a paying customer was about a year later, on April 22, 1988, during the Dead’s annual residency at Irvine Meadows. (Deadheads, like baseball fanatics who know player stats, have an enclopedic knowledge of their show attendance.) It wasn’t until about a year after that that he was finally struck by a worshipful epiphany where he just suddenly “got” the music. What was once a mere excuse for a party before, became an almost religious experience.

From that point onward, he had to obtain every taped concert from wherever and whenever he could. The tapes flowed from the tapers on-the-ground at the shows, with their tell-tale giraffe-like microphone stands, shotgun boom mics and Nakamichi tape decks, and filtered through the scene by simple word-of-mouth glad-handing. In those years too, his career stagnated under “you’re-only-young-once” pressure to attend every concert “within an eight-hour drive or three-hour flight” from his L.A. home. He fondly remembers a bootleg t-shirt from the era riffing on an old Fed Ex commercial of the day that captured the Deadhead ethos on concert attendance: “When you absolutely, positively have to be there, every night.” For years of his obsession, Randall dutifully sacrificed some of the date nights and raucous bar calls of his young adulthood to stay home and record the crystal clear concert soundboards that KPFK radio broadcast during prime time hours on Fridays, 8 PM to 11 PM.

Randall’s tape library then burst into museum-like bloom when a fellow Deadhead sold his kaleidoscopically-kolored tape collection to him for a paltry fifty bucks, just enough to cover the blank tape stock (mostly Maxell XL IIs, the Deadhead brand of choice). Soon, Randall was trading with others online thanks to the advent of the internet in the 90s, his collection soon branching out into musical off-shots Phish (Jerry DID die in 1995, after all, and Randall just HAD to move on), and other Deadly-similar jambands with equally psychedelically juxtopositional band names like The String Cheese Incident, moe., and Leftover Salmon. Even as Randall’s work responsibilities got weightier; and his musical interests were pulled in other directions, he loyally dragged his tape collection around with him for some thirty years. His girlfriends demanded playfully that he just get rid of them rather than lug the heavy boxes, crates and cartons with him everywhere. But he couldn’t part with them.

Until that day finally came recently. Paying heed to a new girlfriend who waxes enthusiastic on downsizing and simplifying life, Randall finally agreed to part with his cherished library after so many years. These days there’s really no reason to go analog anymore anyway, what, with all that’s available on internet archives and shared bit torrent websites, unless you’re an analog snob, that is. Indeed, nowadays, digital downloads are immediately available after a concert, or even sometimes streamed live in-the-moment via audience streaming applications like Mixlr and Periscope.

So Randall posted an ad on Craigslist:

“Dead Tape Collection Free To A Good Home.”

He quickly received three serious offers. Oddly, two of them came from different people with the same name, “Paul,” a seeming synchronicity characteristic of Dead subculture trippiness, Randall mused. He opted for the first Paul to respond, without swapping much more than an address, phone number and appointment. When it came time to part ways with his bounty, it took Randall three dolly trips to wheel his library out to Paul’s white panel van. Along the way they traded war stories of shows, their favorite bands, and of irascible Garcia’s enraptured hold on Deadheads. But Randall could quickly tell that Paul wasn’t as knowledgeable and experienced as he was, at least on matters involving either the Dead music or the scene. That’s good, Randall thought. These tapes can help turn Paul onto a whole new musical world, like it did him. And Paul, in turn, seemed sincerely touched by the huge donation, even offering a token payment for the tape stock, which Randall politely declined, muttering something corny about “paying it forward.”

As Paul drove off into the night with some 700 hours of new Dead tapes, Randall knew his library had found a good home. As he headed back to his apartment, he didn’t seem prone to wistful longing or weepy nostalgia over the loss of his tape library. In fact, he had a little jaunt in his “giddy-up” and uttered a meaningful stanza or two from one of his favorite Dead tunes that aptly fit the occasion:

“When you get confused

Just listen to the music play.”


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