If You Eat Oreos, You Hate Baby Orangutans


The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a full-page ad in today's New York Times that urges us to save ourselves and save the orangutans by eschewing Oreos. Under the headline "Dying for a Cookie?," accompanied by a photograph of a baby orangutan touching the skulls of what presumably are his dead relatives, CSPI explains:

Orangutans are literally dying for cookies. Thanks in part to a palm oil trade propped up by indifferent
corporations and authoritarian regimes, the rainforest habitats of the last remaining Sumatran orangutans, tigers, and rhinoceroses are being destroyed. Keebler, Oreo, Mrs. Fields, Pepperidge Farm and other companies use palm oil in some of their cookies. It's found increasingly in crackers, pastries, cereals, and microwave popcorn. Though not as unhealthy as partially hydrogenated oil, palm oil still promotes heart disease. Be sure to read labels and select products with non-hydrogenated soybean, corn, canola, or peanut oils, which don't harm your arteries–or the rainforest. We can find other ways of making cookies. We can't find other ways of making orangutans.

I'll let Ron Bailey discuss the possibility of cloning them. The thing that strikes me about the ad is that it displays two tendencies for which CSPI is known: hyperbole and the intertwining of nutritional advice with a moral/ideological agenda. I'm pretty health-conscious when I shop for food, and I like orangutans at least as much as the next guy. But instead of making me doubly determined to avoid Milanos and Pirouettes, the convenient combination of these two goals makes me skeptical. I suspect CSPI is exaggerating both the health risks of palm oil and the orangutan-preserving power of my choices in baked goods. And that's before I read up on the possible nutritional advantages of palm oil or the potential for making it without destroying habitat.

To CSPI's credit, the ad does not display its tendency to go beyond persuasion and demand coercive solutions (such as bans on olestra and Quorn). And the group has every right to encourage boycotts aimed at punishing what it considers irresponsible or unethical corporate behavior. But I suspect many people who see this ad will, like me, feel manipulated rather than enlightened.