It's in our instant noodles and chocolate bars, our lipsticks and fuel tanks. But what is palm oil, and how has it come to dominate our lives so completely?
Jocelyn C. Zuckerman travels across four continents and back in time two centuries to find answers about the most widely used vegetable oil on Earth. The obscure oil palm fruit, she discovers, has played an outsized role in history, from greasing the gears of the Second Industrial Revolution to transforming the economies of Malaysia and Indonesia.
But this little fruit also belies an industry of vicious exploitation and ruinous damage to our planet. The multi-billion-dollar palm oil business has been built on stolen land and slave labour, once spurred the colonisation of Nigeria, and has swept away lives and cultures. Fires lit to clear the way for plantations spew carbon emissions to rival those of entire industrialised nations. Mass deforestation so ravaged the landscapes of Southeast Asia that animals like the orangutan now teeter on the brink of extinction.
Combining history, travelogue and investigative reporting, Planet Palm offers an unsettling, urgent look at the global palm oil industry, illuminating what has today become an environmental, public health and human rights disaster.
James Beard Award-winning journalist Jocelyn C. Zuckerman is the former deputy editor of Gourmet. Her articles have appeared in Audubon, The Nation, Vogue and The American Prospect. She graduated with honours from Columbia University's Journalism School and was a fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation. She lives in Brooklyn.