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Appetite for Destruction – The Palm Oil Diaries

2016 | 59 min | Recommended min. age: 14 y

The palm oil industry has papered over vast swathes of the planet, much of it valuable and ecologically diverse. Forty million tonnes are produced annually, and it can be found in 50% of all packaged foods. This shocking doc investigates what has catalyzed this new industry and the social and environmental impact of it’s exponential growth. Is palm oil quite the Godsend that many initially thought it was? An anonymous Guatemalan Mayan reports on the conditions the local population have to suffer at the hands of the palm oil companies. “One has to drink water from puddles, even if they have been urinated in and trodden through”. After decades of abuse at the hands of the military coup, low paid workers question whether it’s now inevitable that the free market exploit them. “For us, the indigenous, they simply see us as working animals”.

Palm oil has dominated the environmental press in recent years, amid claims of deforestation and the detrimental effects of monoculture. Michael Dorgan set out to investigate these claims. In Cameroon, where palm oil has been cultivated for almost two centuries, the palm plantations have stayed consistent in size, and remain largely small scale family operations. The community revolves around the plantation, and the wealth it generates supports hospitals and schools.

But in Guatemala it’s a very different story. The local Mayan population are forced into selling their land to the palm companies, and branded terrorists if they resist. One local Mayor introduced a small tax on palm production, only to find his attempts turned away in the central courts. However, palm oil has changed the face of rural Colombia, and helped the population recover from the brutal civil war that tore it apart.

But what effect is it having on us, the unwitting consumer? Dorgan travels to Sweden to take part in an experiment to determine the effects of palm oil on the body. The results shock him as he is told his body fat percentage has doubled, whilst his muscle content has halved, all in the space of a month.

“Appetite For Destruction” opens the lid on the global palm oil industry, its local effects on the producing communities, and the health implications for those who ingest it.

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