Monday, May 23, 2011

Adulteration

No, class, I'm not talking about sex, though that could be subsumed by my general topic. To adulterate means to dilute something or substitute inferior ingredients or components. My launching pad today is soap. Hence, blather about lather. My wife recently bought me a bar of Pears soap, which she knew to be one of my favorites. Since she only buys such things at bargain prices, I hadn't had any for a year or more. Now, Pears is a venerable soap, having first been made in England over two-hundred years ago. It was touted as the first "transparent" soap, though the correct word would be "translucent". This is fairly common today and is really just a novelty. I could care less whether one could read text through a bar; for me the unique scent of the soap was pleasing. Pears contained rosin, as well as thyme and several other herbs. In addition, it worked well. It was basically a natural product.

By now you're thinking, A fetish for soap, ehhh . . . Perhaps . . . but I like natural products, with as few unnecessary ingredients as possible. Also, I have made soap several times. The basic ingredients were tallow, olive and cocoanut oil, and lye. The lye saponifies the fats and oils, and this produces the soap. Any other additions are for color, scent, or healing properties. The process is laborious and smelly and is best done outdoors. After the soap is poured into molds, it must age for several weeks. It is then cut into bars.

When I eagerly unwrapped my new bar of Pears, I found it didn't smell quite the same. It had a perfumy note, like some chi-chi ladies' soap. I looked at the ingredients list on the box. To my horror, it listed 24 ingredients! The leading ingredient was sorbitol. This is a sugar alcohol used as an artificial sweetener. Why it was listed as the leading ingredient of a bar of soap is not known to me, unless the bar was intended to be eaten. My favorite soap had been reduced to a chemical stew. I noted on the box that the soap was produced in India under license from England. My first outraged question was, Why? Was the motive economic? Did it cost less to make this faux Pears? Perhaps. . . .

This adulteration, this substitution, this cheapening is happening to many things around the world. Often the motive is economic. Profit margins are shrinking. Without going "green" on my readers (God forbid!), I would guess that increasing population, conglomeration of businesses, and centralization of production would have something to do with this trend. But I don't think this explains everything. There is a strange, underlying sense that "they" want us to be aware that nothing stays the same, that change is the only constant. At various levels, choices are being made for us, and many of them seem arbitrary. As to who "they" are, I have my suspicions; readers of my older posts will know who I mean. Terms such as Illuminati or Bilderbergers have no real meaning. The powers behind the thrones will use whomever they need to do as they wish.

Tradition is now a dirty word in some circles. Since the past cannot be changed, some people feel it must be ignored. There has always been rebellion by the young against the established. That goes without saying, and cannot be stopped. The dialectic of thesis vs. antithesis equals synthesis is as old as humanity. Unfortunately youth lacks one vital quality: perspective. But it comes at a price: inflexibility. Wisdom is the accretion of perspective modified by experience. Some wisdom, at least, must be passed on as tradition. Destroying a good soap simply because you can is at least foolish; doing it to make more money is wicked. I am a poet. One of my influences was T. S. Eliot. In his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" he advised us to know and understand what past poets had done, before we did something different. You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

2 comments:

Jon said...

I am suspicious of change for at least a couple of reasons. The first is because I am old. Phooey on these darned kids and their innovations. There's a better reason though, working people tend to be suspicious of innovations because they rarely benefit us. Here in the US many of us grew up hearing the words, "New and Improved" and the constant repetition of those words might have blunted our suspicions a bit.
I think it's interesting that, in England, tradition is a concept supported by two classes; the working class and the aristocracy. Also interesting that UK workers tend to associate tradition with the political left while aristos claim if for the right. I can immediately think of two lefty, working class oriented Brit intellectuals who were brilliant defenders of tradition- George Orwell and EP Thompson. Please note that neither of them were what American politicos would refer to as "liberals". They were barn burning radicals.
Dan this is yet another example of you and I agreeing on something for very different reasons. It occurs to me that, origins and income aside, you're a natural aristocrat. As for me, "You can't fool me I'm stickin' to the union."
I was very disturbed when Dr. Bronner died and his sons tried to "modernize" his soap. After, years of cogitation, I have decided that Bronner's lavender soap is worthy of my dollar. I really miss the Doctor's rants on the label.

roseofsharon said...

Bravo on your recent blog. Another way of subjecting us to hidden chemical fillers. From the way you described the original Pears soap I would have liked to try it.