Jenn the Greenmom wonders who first sighted the wild longhaired dilemma to confirm that it actually has horns...
I find myself struggling with a little bit of an ethical dilemma lately.
It’s about the divide between “patronize small ethical businesses” and “make it yourself.”
Let me ‘splain.
A couple of weeks ago I visited a nearby spa for a blissful morning of lounging in an enormous whirlpool with waterfalls, sipping tea in a robe on a comfy chaise, and having my hands and feet smoothed and buffed and polished into lovely feminine softness. (This place is amazing—one can stretch a simple mani-pedi into a full-blown Day Of Beauty. All in a LEED-certified building.) I was chatting with my technician about natural beauty products, and she mentioned that these ladies who sell stuff through the spa were up in front working on their display.
And that’s how I met the Duggan Sisters.
First of all, let me just say that these are a couple of amazing women. They have built this business in the basement of their house on the South Side, deeply committed to hydrotherapy as a route toward purifying our bodies of the various and sundry toxins, poisons, irritants, and general ickies we are almost unable to avoid in our daily existence in our chemically nasty world. They have an online store and are teaming up with Whole Foods to sell their products, which look fabulous. (They also hold regular “Raw Food Cooking Classes,” a cool if somewhat oxymoronic concept.)
You can check out their online site and store—their “life stinks” line of all-natural deodorants, free of any aluminum compounds (the “crystal” deodorants contain potassium alum, an aluminum compound which, while it would certainly be toxic to the system if it could be absorbed through the cell wall like the aluminum chlorohydrate molecules employed in mainstream anti-perspirants which clog the system and prevent toxins from being released especially from breast tissue, is less of a problem for most people but still not ideal.) (Mary Duggan and I got into a slight debate on the topic, and while I’m not convinced she’s up on the chemistry of how it all works, her point about “if it’s at all toxic, why even bother figuring out exactly how it works” makes a certain degree of sense…still, alum is one of those compounds that’s been around and in use for hundreds of years, you can find references to it in colonial cookbooks and stuff, so at the very least it’s not some weird chemical cocktail that’s been cooked up in recent years in some lab to make someone a lot of money…) (I’m digressing again, aren’t I?)
Anyway. Life stinks deodorant powder. Good for underarms, stinky feet, all kinds of things. It contains exactly three ingredients: sodium bicarbonate, Australian tea tree oil, and either lavender or cedarwood essential oils. Bicarbonate is basically baking soda, a known odor absorber. Tea tree oil is one of the best anti-bacterial/anti-fungal oils around, and lavender and cedarwood have similar properties but also just plain smell nice. They source their oils directly from the growers and know they’re getting the Good Stuff, and they know their Sodium Bicarbonate contains no aluminum, unlike most of what’s on the market.
I really wanted to buy some. I really wanted to support this small local business, and do my bit to help along these awesome women on a wonderful journey of passion to heal and help other women.
But…I just could not bring myself to spend $27 on any product, however awesome it might be, when I knew it had exactly three ingredients and I had those ingredients sitting in my kitchen. Not just random stuff, either, good oils, aluminum-free soda, the whole nine yards.
So…that's where I start wrestling with my ethical dilemma thing.
A few months ago I reviewed Motherlove Herbal Company’s Green Salve, which is a truly awesome product I will likewise probably not ever buy for myself, because I know how to make something that will serve my needs very nearly as well, and I’ve told my readers how I do it, and it’s really appallingly easy. (Well, except that the Motherlove people actually infuse their oils with the fresh herbs, which is dicey and messy to do on one’s own, and I can't be bothered.) The little pump bottle of Little Twig Baby Oil I bought a few years ago has been emptied and refilled with my own version of that incredibly delightful concoction several times. The primary raison d’etre for my blogging existence is to figure out how, in my own home, to make my own version of practically anything I might otherwise have to go out and buy, and in so doing to have complete control over the ingredients that go into it. (I am, of course, only partially successful at this.) Now, when the things I’m learning how to make are items like healthier chicken nuggets or nontoxic skin care products, I feel no qualms whatsoever about scooping the corporations. Or when it’s how to make quantity versions of staples like cooked beans or yogurt or applesauce, which I would otherwise need to buy in multiple little containers with God-knows what kinds of processing and preserving (and BPA can linings!) rather than with one or two simple ingredients in my own kitchen.
But with things like these deodorants and salves, I begin to sometimes feel a little squirmy about telling everyone how to make the products themselves, when I know some small business I completely support is trying to earn a living selling that exact thing.
Some folks “in business” are very open and out there about their content—Stephanie O’Dea, the Crockpot Lady, blogged for 365 days about using her crockpot every day—and despite having published two books now of recipes from that year, she has removed none of her content from the original site. Jan Andrea of Sleeping Baby Productions, who sews absolutely gorgeous baby slings, hosts the single most comprehensive sling-sewing site I’ve ever encountered, with beautiful tutorials for how to make anything she sells as well as any other kinds of slings you could think of. She’s fairly firm about people not taking her patterns to make slings they will sell, but her attitude seems to be “if you want to make your own sling, awesome, go for it, here’s how—but if you don’t feel like it, I’m happy to sell you one.”
Crunchy Betty (my absolute heroine) has a site full of recipes that honestly kick the butt of any purchased cosmetic product I’ve ever encountered, and that honestly includes lovely ethically produced natural products as well. (This morning I even skipped recipe all together, and mixed up a spoonful each of almond meal, yogurt, and honey and washed my face with this yummy scrub). I’m not sure what her business-life investment in her recipes is, or whether she sells products anywhere…
So, I don’t know…not even sure what I’m asking, really. And honestly, with any of the products someone else makes and for which I know and share my version of the recipe, there are tons of versions of same all over the internet (including deodorant made from baking soda and essential oils), so it’s not like I’m really spilling deep trade secrets or anything…
Anyone have any insights on this? Or even better, do any Booth readers actually have small in-home businesses where they make natural products in the vein I’m describing? Or have friends who do? How do you feel about those of us whose corner of the blogosphere is all about “you don’ hafta buy nothin’ from nobody, here’s how you make it yourself!”
I’m just curious. Because I think those small businesses absolutely rock.
(And in the meantime…the Duggan Sisters also have some very lovely looking bath soaks –the kind which take chlorinated tap water into account--that I do not know how to make nor do I have the ingredients in my kitchen…if any of y’all try them out, I’d love to hear how they do!)
--Jenn the Greenmom
(UPDATE: Please make sure you read down the comments; Mary Duggan apparently found the above post to be full of "damaging misinformation." I honestly thought I presented it all as my opinions with links to the reputable sources of information, i.e. her site, and was fairly clear about that, but...anyway, she links to her 15,000+ words worth of dissection of my less-than-500-words about her and her company below in the comments, and she has asked me in the interest of "ethics and integrity" to make sure our readers see it. So...there it is.)