EDMOND — It’s not every day a mom picks her 10-year-old up from school and all he wants to talk about are the perils of palm oil deforestation.
That’s what Gillain Lang was faced with three years ago when she picked her son, Cameron, up one day when he was 10. Cameron had left his favorite snack untouched, and Gillian wanted to know why.
“I asked him why he didn’t eat his snack and he said because it has palm oil in it and it’s destroying the rain forest,” Lang said.
The conversation led the family to adjust the way they shop.
“When your 10-year-old son says they don’t eat snacks because they have palm oil you think about it and we all decided to do what we could to change what we bought at the grocery store,” Gillian Lang said.
Doing what they could included 11-year-old Hannah’s decision to opt out of selling Girl Scout cookies because they contain palm oil. Girl Scout cookies are wildly popular and are a key part of any troop’s fundraising. But even though Hannah opted out she still participated.
Hannah took donations, with two thirds of the money going to the Girl Scouts and another third to the Oklahoma City Zoo’s conservation efforts that include educating visitors on the impact of palm oil deforestation, which has eliminated habitat for Sumatran tigers and orangutans.
The zoo also has donated more than $60,000 in recent years to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and PanEco, a non-profit that educates countries like Indonesia on how to develop sustainable palm oil. Palm oil is found in a number of household products from potato chips to soap.
Both animals are critically endangered, with an estimated 700 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.
“Her troop was awesome and they supported her,” Gillian Lang said. “They even gave her a special badge.”
She raised $500 the first year and a $1,000 the second year. Earlier this year the Girl Scouts of the United States of America announced they would take steps to move toward sustainable palm oil in their cookies.
As for Hannah, she plans on raising money every year to help with conservation. Her birthday is April 1 and she donated all of the money she received to the zoo’s efforts and asked those giving her presents to give cash so it too could be donated. Gillian Lang visits the zoo almost weekly and has developed an interest in photography. Some of her photos have been used by the zoo and others have been sold to raise money for conservation.
“It’s something I wanted to do because I wanted to help,” Hannah said. “A lot of people don’t know about palm oil and when they know they usually want to do something to help out, too.”
Cameron said he has talked to his friends about palm oil and while most were unaware that it was a problem they have been interested.
“I talk to them about it without being pushy,” he said. “But if every person in my school just gave one dollar it would be like a thousand dollars. You can have an impact even if its on a smaller level.”
He also relates to other issues surrounding palm oil.
“It’s not just a bad thing for animals it also involves a lot of child labor,” he said. “A lot of kids in those areas have no other options other than to work on palm oil plantations.”
Both Lang children participate in the zoo’s camps. For zoo educators like Teresa Randall, making the next generation of kids aware of the world around them is their mission.
“When they go on to carry that message it’s special,” Randall said. “When they become the voice it comes from the bottom up instead of the top down. They are the future. We’ve done our jobs well because they care enough about it to make a difference.”
Hannah and Cameron show no signs of slowing down. She will raise money next year for conservation with her birthday money and through other fund raising ideas she’s thinking about.
“I know what I’m doing will get bigger each year ,” Hannah said. “At the same time I’m doing things bigger each year it’s the same with the palm oil plantations. They’re making it bigger and expanding. But I do think we can have an impact.”