Finding Quality Ingredients

June 19, 2010

It’s turning out to be harder than I expected. If I were searching for the cheapest ingredients that I could get, it would be simple. Go to Costco or Walmart. Because I want to get clean ingredients- organic, sustainably produced and Fair Trade, it makes procurement much more challenging. What’s so hard?

First off, there is the difficulty of finding ingredients that are organic and Fair Trade. There aren’t nearly as many producers that are both organic and Fair Trade as there are producers that are simply organic. Then, there’s the due diligence involved in researching what producers mean when they say that they are Fair Trade. When an item is labeled as “Fair Trade”, the producer can demand a much greater price for their goods. Because of this, I found a lot of producers that said that they were “Fair Trade”, but they didn’t explicitly explain what they meant by that. In the end, I did find two producers that I was comfortable with. I bought olive oil from Canaan Fair Trade and shea butter and palm kernel oil from Agbanga Karite, which is a part of Alaffia. I’m hoping to also buy coconut oil from Agbanga Karite.

Second, there is price. Ingredients that are Fair Trade are much more expensive than ingredients that are simply organic. As a comparison, I could have gotten a gallon of Costco olive oil for roughly $20. Bragg’s organic olive oil is $63 for a gallon. To buy a gallon of Fair Trade organic olive oil, it cost $104- roughly five times the price of Costco. This begs the question about why someone would pay that kind of premium for an ingredient that you can get much more cheaply. There is spiritual and moral value that you are buying. It’s paying for something outside of just the olive oil. This is a huge topic that I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll say that it pays a person who is living in poverty a living wage. The topic of why many (if not most) people in developing countries can’t get their heads above water and what our consumption patterns have to do with that is also something that I want to share with you in the coming weeks.

There is a side issue with olive oil. Pomace olive oil is the preferred olive oil for soap making, according to all the soap making books that I’ve read. Extra virgin olive oil tends to “melt” more easily in the soap. When I researched pomace olive oil, I found that it was made by using solvents after the first press of the olives. It’s superior for soap making, but it also has traces of solvents in it, which I’m not comfortable with. So, I’m sticking with extra virgin.

Third, I’ve found ingredients that I wanted to buy, but that I couldn’t due to environmental issues. I wanted to buy rosewood essential oil. Turns out that harvesting rosewood is contributing to the destruction of the rain forests of South America. Sandalwood is out because it has been felled in India to the point where it is now endangered.

Who knew that it was going to be this challenging? But, for me, it’s exciting to think that the ingredients that I’m choosing to use are actually making a difference in people’s lives. I’m hoping to create a top-notch product that my customers love to use- and that helps to bring about economic justice in the developing world.

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2 Responses to “Finding Quality Ingredients”

  1. poelcat Says:

    Thanks for this post. It clarified a few issues for me. I just finished reading a book called The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations

    Thinking of the issues you raised in light of some of the ideas raised in this book caused me to wonder if some sort of grass roots effort and collective group of people could help reverse some of these inequities. I’m very unclear clear on what those efforts might be, but some of the examples in the book gave me hope that it might be possible.

  2. robinjohnsonsimpson Says:

    I’ll put that on my list- thanks so much for the suggestion!

    I’m hopeful about the Fair Trade movement. It’s not perfect, but I think that it’s a good start. I think that if we can start talking about consumption patterns and their global impact, hopefully, in time, it will begin to make a difference.

    Looking forward to reading your recommendation!


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