The production and expansion of palm oil have emerged as a major and controversial issue in political and public debates in the North and the South on sustainable food and agriculture. Scientific research has played a marginal role in these debates that are characterized by black and white views on palm oil as a good, bad or even ugly crop, and by solutions that are limited in scope. Our first argument is that new conceptualization of the complexity and dynamics of the palm oil sector can revitalize debate on sustainable palm oil and be used to identify sustainable pathways for palm oil production. For this purpose, we develop an interdisciplinary framework, conceptualizing the palm oil sector as consisting of systems, flows and networks. Our second argument is that a transdisciplinary approach is need to identify and develop sustainable pathways. We present six ideas on how to do so. Given the controversy in debates on the production and expansion of palm oil, we consider switchers as critical actors for shaping sustainable pathways, both in the palm oil sector and at the science-policy interface.