Changing the world

Allison Boyer

Photo by meredith j. cooper

Allison Boyer is not your typical 10-year-old. Classic example: For Halloween, she dressed up as an orangutan and, instead of collecting candy, went door-to-door handing out flyers alerting people to the plight of her favorite apes. It turns out that they’re losing their habitat in Southeast Asia at an alarming rate, in part due to the production of palm oil, which has wiped out huge swaths of the rainforest there. Palm oil, she learned, is an ingredient in a lot of snack foods, from Twix to Girl Scout cookies. Since she was 7, every chance Allison gets in school to do a report—from science-fair projects to poetry writing—she figures out a way to include orangutans. She even adopted one from Borneo, as did her school, Marigold Elementary. The outspoken fifth-grader, who found herself more tongue-tied meeting Jane Goodall than confronting the Girl Scouts of America, plans to set up a booth at farmers market next month and at the upcoming Endangered Species Faire May 2.

You’ve made videos about orangutans?

I do a video on YouTube called “Orangutan News,” where I go around and raise awareness about palm oil. My very first movie was about an orangutan who gets captured and the scientist takes him to a store to see how he reacts when he sees products with palm oil in them. I got second place in the whole state for the Reflections Program [through the PTA]. The category was about what I can do to change the world.

Why are you speaking out about the Girl Scouts?

They’re one of the organizations that use palm oil in their products, and I find it really, really sad. Is a snack worth an orangutan’s life? Most of the things that use palm oil we really don’t need—things like candy, Twix, Three Musketeers; Clinique and Lancôme are both pretty bad. Five thousand orangutans die each year because [people] clear-cut the rainforest to make room for the plantations and they don’t have anywhere to go.

What do your classmates think of your crusade?

Some people are supportive, but others tease me and taunt me. When I’m eating something, people will come up and ask me, “Does that have palm oil in it?”—and I’m like, “No. I’m against it, so why would it be in my food?” My teachers are always really proud of me for what I do and how many things I’ve done for the orangutans.

So you’re raising awareness in your school?

Yes. I have these posters I haven’t put up yet to raise awareness about vending machines. Because I can tell people to buy things without palm oil, but a lot of people don’t memorize what products use it, and someone could put money in and buy a Twix bar, and then they look at the ingredients and see it has palm oil, but they’ve bought it already.