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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2014  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 257-267

Trading Fat for Forests: On Palm Oil, Tropical Forest Conservation, and Rational Consumption

Department of Anthropology, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA

Correspondence Address:
Cindy Isenhour
Department of Anthropology, University of Maine, Orono, ME
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.145136

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The longstanding butter vs margarine debate has recently become more complex as the links between margarine, industrial palm oil plantations, and tropical deforestation are made increasingly clear. Yet despite calls for consumers to get informed and take responsibility for tropical deforestation by boycotting margarine or purchasing buttery spreads made with sustainably-sourced palm oil, research in multiple contexts demonstrates that even the most aware, engaged, and rational consumers run into significant barriers when trying to reduce their environmental impacts. This paper supplements important critiques of neoliberal conservation at the site of extraction or intended conservation (Carrier and West 2009; Igoe and Brockington 2009; Bόscher et al. 2012), with empirical research from the other end of the commodity chain. It argues that programs which place faith in the ability of rational consumers to influence conservation outcomes through their choices on the market, neglect significant structural constraints and overestimate the efficacy of market choices. While careful to recognise the importance of civic pressure for policy legitimacy, this article also contributes to a special section on rational actors, calling into question the dominant ideology of free and rational choice that undergirds so many market-based conservation programs.

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