“You may have never set eyes on an oil palm tree, but it’s probably an intimate part of your everyday life. Whether you start your day with a shave or an application of lipstick, you are probably putting the oil from the tree’s fruits on your face. You buy a donut on the way to work, and with each bite, you swallow some of the palm oil in which it was cooked. After work, you stop at the supermarket, and about half the products on the shelves contain palm oil. Before bed, you scrub your face with soap and brush your teeth with toothpaste. They’re both palm oil’s way of wishing you good night.”
That’s how I start my “Matter” column for the New York Times this week about a tropical tree that has infiltrated everyday life in a way few of us realize–and which has gobbled up tropical forests to feed our collective hunger. Now scientists have deciphered its genome. Will its DNA hold secrets for raising oil palm trees sustainably, or will it just accelerate the palm oil’s dominance? Those are some of the questions that I explore. Check it out.