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Conscious Box: June 2012, Part II

17 Jun

June Conscious Box, Part II

Artisana: Organic Cashew Butter
So I have a thing about nuts. Basically, I don’t eat them. I’m not allergic, and I never bother asking the Thai takeout place to leave the peanuts off my pad thai, but I will pick around them. However, I do like the flavor of most nuts. Walnuts in brownies causes me great sadness, but if you somehow made a walnut-flavored brownie, I could get on board with that. Long story short: I have never eaten a cashew, nor had I tried cashew butter. And now I know that I don’t like cashews. I will say that the butter was very creamy and not at all gritty like some minimally processed nut butters.

kō denmark: Jasmine Neroli Rose Body Lotion
I’m not a big fan of jasmine, so I’m not the best person to evaluate this product. Coconut oil is a primary ingredient, and felt a little more like I’d moisturized with a light body oil that a lotion. It wasn’t greasy and it absorbed well, but it’s not something I’d try again.

Savvy Bohème: Allons-Y! Natural Deodorant
Last year I decided to switch from traditional antiperspirant deodorant to plain old deodorant. I’m not convinced about a connection between aluminum and breast cancer or Alzheimer disease, but 1) I never felt like antiperspirants were that effective anyway, and 2) bodies are designed to sweat, so why not let them. So I went to Whole Foods and bought about a billion different deodorants, from Tom’s (fail) to those crystals (bigger fail). I finally settled on Lavanila’s Healthy Deodorant. It’s expensive, but it actually worked.

The expensive reign of Lavanila might be over. I’ve been using the Savvy Bohème sample for a few days, and I love it. I even did a comparison test for a day. (Such dedication!) It’s not cheap, but it’s still less than Lavanila, and I like the idea of buying from small business owners when I can. Bonus points for the 10th Doctor reference.

Natural Newborn: Bug Stopper Soap
As a city dweller, I don’t have much need for insect repellent. I’ll try it if we end up going to a concert or something in the park this summer, but that would mean remembering to lather up before we leave, and, well…It smells nice, though—like citronella, which I expected, but more lemony.

Nuti-Masu Life Ocean Salt
Apparently this salt is very popular in Japan (it comes exclusively from the water around Okinawa) and is just beginning to make headway over here. It’s a very fine, fluffy powder rather than granules or crystals, which is something I’d never seen before. The flavor is less aggressively salty than table or kosher salt, and I could see using it on something delicate like fish or in a salad dressing.

Natural Vitality: Energy 28
Last month’s box had a slightly different version of a Natural Vitality drink packet. That packet was essentially a liquid vitamin, whereas this formula is a “superfruit, veggie, and antioxidant blend.” I’ll probably add it to a smoothie just because it’s here, but this is one of those “can’t hurt but I’ll never seek it out” products. What is 200mg of a blend of fifteen different vegetables really going to do for me?

Soap Hope $5 off coupon
Soap Hope, an online retailer for an assortment of natural home and health products, describes itself as a “Peace Corps for money.” The company invests 100% of its profits in programs that benefit women in developing countries; after the money has spent a year “in service,” it’s returned and the next year’s profits are invested. Pretty neat. They carry well-known brands in addition to smaller companies, some of which I already use on a regular basis—I’ll probably start buying my BioKleen laundry detergent through them.

Conscious Box: May 2012, Part I

15 May

I finally jumped on the sample-box-by-mail trend. Those who follow makeup and beauty trends are probably familiar with Birchbox, but now the genre has expanded to include wine, art, gourmet food, and DIY (For the Makers is just about the best thing I’ve ever seen and I desperately want to sign up). I wasn’t particularly interested in Birchbox, and wine and gourmet food are things I know a fair amount about and feel comfortable experimenting with. Where I’m not so sure sure of myself is the organic, eco-friendly world. I have a few brands that I buy regularly–Method, Biokleen, Amy’s, Seventh Generation–but the labels “natural,” “green,” and “organic” are so flexible and depend on who’s doing the labeling. And, I hate to say it, but there’s just as much snake oil salesmanship going on in the granola market as in regular retail. And there is nothing so sad as getting excited about a new product and bringing it home only to find it’s inedible, smells to high heaven, or makes your house dirtier than it was when you began.

Enter Conscious Box, a monthly sample box filled with vetted products and a handful of coupons for that month’s manufacturers. I just received my first box, and so far I’m very satisfied. I’ve already identified a few things I’d like to purchase. I’ve also identified a few things I’m never going to purchase, which is part of my plan too.

Mayesa Cacao Original: This is a dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free based drink. Those are all “frees” I don’t need to go out of my way to avoid, so this is a product I never would have looked twice at. I had heard a bit about hemp protein as an alternative to soy or almond, but again, never gave it much thought. Honestly, I was surprised I enjoyed this so much. It has a very rich dark chocolate flavor with cinnamon undertones–it reminded me of mexican hot chocolate. 170 calories, 5g protein, and 3g fiber is a pretty good deal for this much chocolate flavor. I can see this helping me get through my 3pm slump, when I’m mostly likely to wander over to the vending machine or find my way to some godawful pastry at the student center.

Wembe Amazonian Soil Assai Soap: Those who know me know how much I love soap. I have far more opinions about soap than any normal person. As such, I was thrilled to see a whole bar of soap in my first CB. I was not so thrilled with the soap itself. But that’s not the soap’s fault–I just don’t care for the scent. I’ve been using it on my hands and I’m impressed by how moisturizing it is, so if I run across the brand again, I’d try another variety.

Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towel: This bamboo-fiber towel is designed to replace paper towels (1 roll is supposedly equal to 50 or 60 rolls of regular towel). Paper towels have been one of the hardest things for me to “green” in our home. Sponges sort of gross me out; rags aren’t very absorbent; microfiber cloths need to be washed regularly–I need something reusable but also something I won’t feel too bad about tossing if it gets really gross rather than doing a load of laundry. These bamboo towels are great. The cleaning I did with my sample towel would have used up many, many paper towels, and the towel is still intact and ready for another round.

Better Life Cool Calm Collected Lotion – Citrus Mint: Love it. The box also included a 10% off coupon for clean, and I definitely plan to use it. It’s light, not too greasy, and absorbs quickly. It’s just-about-everything-free. I smell the mint more than the citrus, which is a plus for me.

Dr. Tung’s Snap-on Toothbrush Sanitizers: These are little caps that fit over the brush’s bristles; I’ve used a similar product on my travel toothbrushes for years, but not any that claimed to sanitize with “disinfecting vapors of essential oils,” and certainly not any shaped like lion paws and with stickers of cartoon lions on the front. Do they sanitize? Who knows. But they will keep my brushes protected, and, really cartoon lions.

So these are the clear winners for me in my first foray into sample boxes. Part II–the non-winners, of which there were a few–to follow shortly.

On Going Vegetarian

30 Apr

We’ve done it. My little family has decided to try going vegetarian.* We don’t plan on being super strict about it; we’ll still end up eating meat for special occasion meals, when we’re eating at a friend’s home, or when we’re visiting my family in the Land of Fried Chicken. What I eat is my choice, and, life-threatening allergies aside (of which I am lucky to have none), I don’t think anyone should have to accommodate the personal decisions I make.

I also really, really, really love a good filet mignon about once a year.

In a way it’s a big relief. I have thousands of pages of cookbooks, and it’s been nice to revisit a few and simply be able to skip over entire chapters. Cutting down on options isn’t the worst thing when we’re struggling to get a dinner on the table. It will, however, mean learning some new kitchen skills. I have no idea how to approach a block of tofu, and I can see myself relying too heavily on pasta dishes. My husband and I do have different opinions on how often beans can make an appearance and how many pizza nights are reasonable, so we’re both going to have to be open-minded about trying recipes we otherwise would have ignored.

Our primary motivation for going vegetarian is health rather than ethics. I do think an overhaul of commercial agriculture and animal husbandry is…necessary, to put it mildly. But let’s call it like it is: not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe not even in my lifetime. Agribusiness has a stranglehold on our food supply, and cash-strapped families aren’t going to stop buying frozen Cargill beef patties anytime soon.

My husband and I are fortunate enough to live in a large city where farmer’s markets are a big deal, and we have what we call the Whole Foods Death Star just a 20 minute walk away. We can get humanely raised meat and seasonal local vegetables anytime we want. Ninety percent of our groceries come from Trader Joe’s–I know, I know, Joe has some skeletons in his closet too, but they don’t call it Whole Paycheck for nothing. Fish is tricky, what with the mercury and overfishing, but there are good resources to help identify the best options (Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, to name one.)

The bottom line is that my family could be pretty groovy carnivores. But even though we live a fairly low-impact life as it is–no car, recycle everything we can, laundry always on the cold cycle, green cleaning products, etc.–we can do better, and a primarily vegetarian lifestyle is just one more tiny step.

*lacto-ovo, which I consider legitimate vegetarianism, but I know many folks do not.