I make soap. Not just because it seems like something a not-actually-disaffected Fight Club loving Gen-Xer would do, but because I like throwback DIY stuff. There’s a reason that this is my favorite Portlandia sketch ever. Warning, there may be a KFC ad that runs before the video.
I make pine tar soap, which is especially old timey. Some of our podcast listeners have received this soap, as well as our guests, and donors to charities I encourage.
I’m not hardcore into soap making, so I don’t know much about the lye calculators and variants of soaps. Lavender is not in my vocabulary. I just like my pine tar. So I follow instructions, and whammo – soap. But now, I am changing a recipe. One of the easy go-to ingredients for soap is Palm Oil. This is also a major ingredient in processed food. I wouldn’t recommend eating anything with it. But as soap is not meant to be ingested, I have been using palm oil.
As it turns out, palm oil is one of those monoculture crops that is really destructive in the way it is harvested. In Indonesia especially, it is a massive problem, and the modern agricultural methods include the slaughter of orangutans.
There are sources for sustainably produced palm oil. But I am switching off this product when my current supply is used up. I am going truly old school, the way my great great grandparents would have made soap. They wouldn’t have had access to palm oil. Heck, these were people who got excited at an orange at Christmas. When they made soap, they used tallow or lard.
So have I been capricious or fickle in taking an ethical stand against killing one animal but not another? Why an orangutan but not a pig? There are vegans who try to make the case that anyone who eats meat is a hypocrite for not eating dogs. It’s all or nothing.
All kidding aside, there is a voice that has been strong in the paleo movement that really upsets vegans. She happened to be one for a long time. Her name is Lierre Keith and she is a radical feminist, eco-activist, farmer, and she makes waves among everyone. I tend to pay attention to folks like that, who don’t easily fit into a neat category that can be identified by cable news talking heads. (Has it really been this long since I last mentioned Joel Salatin?)
By mentioning her here, I do not intend to say she speaks absolute truth on all matters feminist/gender related (where she has been accused of transphobia) or in ecological/ethical matters. But her book The Vegetarian Myth does reposition some of the assumptions we make about what is cruelty, what is most destructive to the most animals, and what is the best plan for the long term health of the planet.
In short, one of her most prominent comparisons is in how we farm. If we favor an industrial model that is more plant based, over a grazing ruminant meat system, for example, how many animals are killed in large scale grain production? Many more than the cows. They are smaller and considered pests, so we don’t think of them the way we think of the cows which are more visible. But to sheer numbers of creatures, she makes the case that more die from non-meat farming than meat farming.
I don’t know if this is the kind of thing that falls under Freakonomics or not. I just find it fascinating to ask the deeper questions. For me, using a byproduct of meat processing, a lard that I bought at my local small butcher, may indeed be a less destructive, more ethical, more animal-friendly choice than shipping palm oil via Amazon Prime, while I stay completely insulated from the processes that made that bottle appear at my door.
It’s so easy to absolve ourselves of the world’s issues, whether they be violence, injustice, destruction of the environment, as long as we feel like we didn’t personally do it. If I didn’t throw a can out my car window, I’m not littering. This mentality is what allowed the modern industrial food complex to grow: just get it out of my sight. I don’t want to see, hear or smell what goes into my food. So rather than killing our own chickens once in a while, there now exist people whose job it is to simply kill chickens all day long, with the same repetitive motion as someone working a factory line putting parts on an iphone. Both are soul-sucking, and reduce human to cogs in a machine. One has the added emotional blunting of death. The sad fact is, most of us NEED this screen between us and the true cost of our lifestyles. If we could truly see the cost behind it all, (you know, like children in Syria whose killers wouldn’t have nearly the same power if there was no worldwide addiction to crude oil) – we’d be a bawling mess every day.
Wow. This got heavy. Must be Lent. I even ran today. I felt good. But being optimistic isn’t about turning a blind eye to the little choices we can make every day to make a difference. Knowledge is power. It’s also a burden. Once you know something, it’s hard to “go back.”