Last night I drove back to Los Angeles in solitude, except for the CD player pumping out BB King and Guns and Roses, from San Diego where I had posted the first two entries on my blog. Even though it was midnight, it still took two hours and forty minutes to get back because there was a collision in the fast lane. It took over thirty minutes to get around it. There were two tow trucks and at least five police cars, lights flashing. Without the collision, I would have made great time: two hours and ten minutes. I noticed that as soon as the cars on the freeway passed the collision scene, they all immediately speeded up to 80 miles an hour. I won’t say that I did so as well because I don’t want to incriminate myself. I guess we all knew that the Highway Patrol was safely behind us.
Anyways, I had much time to think. I thought about the discussion I had with Linda, Janet’s sister who was visiting San Diego from Saskatchewan. Linda pointed out that since she started reading food labels to avoid palm oil, there had been a noticeable improvement in her health. In the past she bought factory-type baked goods which usually contain palm oil. Now she buys her baked goods from local bakeries that make the goods on the spot, usually the same day, because these are the kinds of places that do not use palm oil. She feels healthier and has more energy. I had noticed something similar. My appetite had lessened since I became very consciencous about avoiding palm oil and I’ve actually lost a few pounds (not easy for a person with an orangutan-size attitude towards food!) without any effort at all. Once you avoid palm oil, you automatically start avoiding greasy types of popular food laden with the substance which is a saturated oil and not particularly healthy. You gravitate away from the manufactured food towards the fresh food aisles in the supermarket and to the healthier oils such as olive and canola. I have also started eating more fresh nuts.
Why are we avoiding palm oil? Palm oil is the number one cause of forest destruction in Borneo and Sumatra and thus, the worst enemy of orangutan populations in the wild. In the province of Central Indonesian Borneo ( Kalimantan Tengah) where I do my orangutan work, the provincial government has a land use plan that will convert twelve million acres of forest to palm oil and other plantations. This means that virtually all the forests between the coast and the chain of mountains that runs along the interior of Borneo will be destroyed, along with their wild orangutan populations and other wildlife. I don’t want to belabor the point but it’s somewhat ironic that making a personal commitment to avoid palm oil in order to help save orangutans and their habitat actually helps us lead healthier and better lives, perhaps even longer lives.
I am excited tonight as I write this. Tomorrow I will be up at five a.m. to go to LAX to catch a flight that will take me to Spain and ultimately to the Canary Islands where I will be speaking at the Second International Animal Rights Symposium. Roger and Deborah Fouts will be there; I’ve known them for decades and have admired their work with Washoe, the original “signing” chimpanzee who was taught Ameslan (American Sign Language), the native language of many people in the US. It’s always a pleasure to see Roger and Deborah. Once Roger gets on a roll, talking about how we distance ourselves from the great apes, he could be Napoleon exhorting his troops and a stand-up comedian at the same time. His passion spurs his charisma and sense of outrage at human attitudes towards the great apes. How can we say that we are that different from a creature, the chimpanzee, with whom we share 99% of our DNA. Or even with the orangutan with whom we are 97% genetically similar.
The Canary Islands are one of the few places on this planet that I have lusted to visit ever since I read about them being the practice grounds for Portuguese and Spanish conquest at the end of the Middle Ages. The Portuguese, and soon the Spaniards, were the first to tack to the wind so expertly that they could easily get back to their home ports. (This was a problem that the Vikings, skilled seafarers that they were, never quite solved. They always had a problem getting back. This may be one of the reasons that they were never able to colonize the Americas, despite their indisputable visits there before Columbus). Before the Spanish entered the Americas, they exterminated the native people of the Canary Islands and destroyed its ecology. It’s a very melancholy and tragic tale, one that is generally unknown, but it caught my attention years ago. I always think of the Canary Islands, which are said to be very beautiful, with a wisp of sadness and think about the native people, now long gone, who fought for decades against the invaders, only to be destroyed so utterly and totally that, in the end, not one survived.
Let’s hope that the orangutans, one of our closest cousins in the animal kingdom, will be spared a similar fate in the wild.