Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2022/ Junk Food Without Palm Oil

Junk Food Without Palm Oil

While I am on the topic of food inflation, I might as well give you an update on my futile attempts to avoid palm oil. This entry will focus on junk foods. It will be embarrassing because I am compelled to admit that (a) I eat way too much junk food, and (b) I purchase that junk food at unsavory places like Walmart and Dollarrama.


I am avoiding palm oil because palm oil plantations are destroying orangutan habitat, and for some reason I feel it is really important that orangutans not go extinct. There is a voluntary, industry-led organization called RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which I do not trust at all. Despite the existence of this organization, habitat destruction is getting worse. The standards are terrible and almost all "RSPO-Certified" palm oil contains product that contributes to further deforestation. Complaints about violations to the protocols drag on in courts, and meanwhile more habitat gets destroyed. Maybe organizations like the RSPO are a solution to less destructive palm oil in the long run, but for now I feel it is just greenwashing.

There are counterarguments to my position. Palm oil is cheap and efficient. It takes less land to grow palm oil trees than most other oil-producing crops. Palm oil plantations provide jobs (which I guess matters more than orangutan habitat). Furthermore, trying to avoid palm oil is futile because it is everywhere. This is part of the reason I do not feel bad advocating for palm oil boycotts -- there is little danger that they will actually put many Indonesians out of work, but the threat of boycott puts pressure on companies to improve their practices.

It turns out that palm oil is really useful because it is semi-solid at room temperature. Ten years ago this was not such a big deal, because we had another source of semi-solid fat: hydrogenated oils. The problem with hydrogenated oil is that it contains trans fat, and trans fats are associated with heart disease. Canada banned hydrogenated fats in 2018, and palm oil filled that void. I guess we care more about heart disease than orangutan habitat.

There are other semi-solid fats. Butter is the best one, but it goes rancid and is made from animal products. Lard is another excellent fat, but it is made from piggies. Coconut oil is a third option. I do not know how I feel about coconut oil; my guess is that if we adopted coconut oil the way we have adopted palm oil, we would destroy habitat just as much. But for now I am not boycotting coconut oil.

Identifying Palm Oil

Most manufacturers are pretty good about identifying palm oil as an ingredient explicitly. However, there are other signals to watch for:

Most processed foods are made with some kind of oil. If the type of oil is listed explicitly (sunflower, cottonseed, canola, coconut, etc) then I usually consider that food safe.

In the following sections I will identify junk foods that I believe are less likely to contain palm oil. As usual, they will tend to be lower-end junk foods. As usual, they will be unambiguously unhealthy. But this is how I have been getting by, and maybe sharing my experiences will help somebody else.


Let's start with the standard disclaimer: chocolate is not ethical, but I guess I care more about orangutan habitat than I care about child labour/enslavement.

Most products containing chocolate also contain palm oil. Almost all chocolate bars do. The exceptions are those that are chocolate without other candy added. Usually, the ingredients contain sugar, cocoa, milk product, soy lecithin, cocoa butter.

There are a few examples of chocolate products that have other ingredients:

Chocolate bars have become my go-to junk food because I am capable of eating them slowly. If I am disciplined I can chop the squares of chocolate into smaller pieces and eat those, and stretch out a chocolate bar over an hour.


This is a difficult one, and in researching this entry I realize that I have been giving potato chips too easy a pass. All chips are made with oil (duh) but unlike most other products these oils are labelled as generic "vegetable oil" and not palm oil specifically. I have definitely seen some kinds of chips (tortilla chips, maybe? Cheetos?) that have explicitly listed palm oil, so I incorrectly concluded that other chips were safe. But clearly palm oil is one oil used in potato chips.

There are a few brands of chips that explicitly list what oils they use. I bought a "Giant Value" brand of kettle-cooked chips that elaborated "vegetable oil" as "contains one or more of the following: corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, sunflower oil". That was a good sign.

The bargain basement brand "Uncle Ray's" chips explicitly list the oils they use, but the other bargain basement brand "Family's Best" does not.

Some brands of cheese puffs or onion-ring-type chips list the oils they use explicitly.

Other than small bags of Humpty Dumpty Party Mix (which I pick through, and will miss dearly) I tend to avoid chips because I eat them far too quickly.

Baked Goods

Baked goods are a disaster. Almost all baked goods are made with palm oil in one form or another.

Muffins are sometimes an exception. Sometimes the giant six-pack muffins (costing about $5, and 350 calories per muffin) are made with canola oil. You will want to read the label carefully.

At FreshCo I have seen store-brand cookies made with canola oil and not palm oil. These are the bougie cookies that mislead you into thinking they are baked "in-store", but are just commercially-baked cookies in clear plastic clamshell containers. The corresponding cookies at Food Basics and Walmart all contain palm oil, however.

Some granola bars use canola oil or sunflower oil. After giving blood I got some "Kind" brand granola bars, which are supposedly enlightened hippie snacks. There was one "Oats and Honey" bar that used canola oil, but later I got a "Kind" granola bar coated in chocolate and it contained palm oil.

I have occasionally run into "all-butter croissants" which do not list palm oil as an ingredient. I have bought them even though butter is effectively made with palm oil as well. You can't win for losing.

At one point Dollarama had these individually-wrapped mini-muffins from Italy that had some kind of chocolate cream inside. They were pretty mediocre, but I believe they did not contain palm oil. I think they have been discontinued, however.

Wafer cookies are never a good idea -- they are super-sugary and far too easy to wolf down. But if you are craving them, there is one brand that does not use palm oil. The Walmart Great Value brand uses coconut oil in its wafer cookies, not palm oil.

During the pandemic I bought cheesecake once and must have given it a pass, but my guess is that any cheesecake made with graham cracker crumbs must contain palm oil. (This is incredibly disheartening, since cheesecake is my favourite food of all time.)

Most bread is free of palm oil unless it uses margarine. However, not even bread is categorically safe. At Walmart there were loaves of white crusty bread that contained palm oil (but for some reason the corresponding breads with olives or cranberries used canola oil instead). Even here you have to pay attention to labels.

It is safe to assume that all other baked goods (crackers, pies, etc) are made with palm oil. If you want to avoid this your best bet is probably to patronize Mennonite bakeries, because they use lard in their baking, and I guess I care about orangutan habitat more than I care about torturing piggies.

Other Junk Food

Does hummus count as junk food? KW Wholesale carries $0.90 cans of hummus which have a short list of ingredients: chick peas, sesame paste, water, salt, and citric acid. The tradeoff is that this hummus is manufactured in Lebanon. This hummus is great but I do not buy it that often because then I want to eat it with crackers or bread.

Most brands of pudding are made with palm oil, but there have been exceptions. If I recall correctly different flavours of the same brand have different ingredient lists.


This is not junk food, but I feel compelled to write it here. Despite popular opinion I do use soap and toothpaste, and recently I was disheartened to realize that soap is largely fat, and guess which fat is being used in my Ivory bars? It may be possible to get very expensive hippie soaps that do not contain palm oil, but I don't think I will. I guess I don't care that much about orangutan habitat after all.