Because we are human beings, with individual brains, we are all able to construct our own set of values and beliefs. And with that, because we are all different, you might agree with someone about one thing, but sit completely opposite from them when it comes to something else. There are big-ticket debates, such as politics and religion. And there are more insignificant debatable issues, such as whether you use credit cards or cash or if fries taste better dipped in ketchup or mayonnaise (and, in case you're wondering, it's mayo all the way, baby). We all have the right to our own thought and belief structure. This is what makes the world an interesting place to live.
You might be wondering where I am going with all of this, and how lard could possibly fall into one's belief system, but my reasoning behind using lard in my soapmaking process most definitely stems from my set of values. There are a couple of maybe more "surface" reasons that I use lard in my soap, one being that lard (rendered fat from pigs) and tallow (rendered fat from beef) make for lovely, white, hard bars of soap. Because lard and tallow are solid at room temperature, they result in a really long-lasting bar of soap in the shower, which is highly desirable. The lather from a bar made with lard is super creamy and silky, and very gentle and mild on our skin. Some might think it counterintuitive to use animal fat on your skin—that it might be oily and clog pores. However, it ends up being quite the opposite. The use of animal fats on skin is known to be not only super gentle, but also very moisturizing, with wonderful skin-conditioning benefits.
The word "lard" actually appears in our lists of ingredients because we feel it important to be extremely transparent and straightforward when it comes to what we put in our soap. The reality is, though, that you might be using soap with animal fat and not even fully realize it. Name brand soap, sold by big-box retailers, will often list animal fats in more vague terms; for instance, "sodium lardate" (lard soap) or "sodium tallowate" (tallow soap). And because these are super-large companies, producing a super-large amount of soap, they are likely sourcing their animal fat from super-large factory farms, where the animals were likely raised on large feedlots. Without knowing anything about these farms, we have no idea whether these animals were healthy or sick at the time of harvest.
The lard I use is special. I have walked the fields of the farm from where I source the pork and beef fat I purchase, and from which I render down to lard/tallow on my own, in my own kitchen. I have been face-to-face with the most beautiful pigs and piglets and gorgeous cows that you can picture in your mind. And they are raised on no-spray fields with plenty of room to roam and eat as nature intended. These are happy animals. And the fact that I can—and have—proven this by seeing the farm in action, time and time again, means so, so much to me.
Hillary and Worth, the farmers at the multi-generational Pine Trough Branch (PTB) Farm, are raising animals and growing vegetables, flowers, and mushrooms in a beyond-organic manner. There are no chemicals flying through the air; instead, there are bees and bugs all around, and Hillary has worked hard to allow nature figure out the balance of good bugs and bad bugs on its own. And their animals became Animal Welfare Approved in the spring of 2014. This is the highest standard in third-party certification for animal welfare in the United States, and they carry the AWA label on all of their meats.
Now, coming back to our personal belief systems, I have friends who are vegetarian or vegan, and that is a personal choice that I fully respect. And that is why I also offer some soaps that are made without the use of animal products. But use of palm oil (or palm kernel oil), the oil most soapmakers first turn to as an alternative to lard or tallow, comes with its own set of ethical issues. Palm oil is cheap, and is thus used fairly heavily in the food and cosmetics industries. However, it is cheap because of unsustainable harvesting practices—practices that are destroying rain forests, exploiting workers in foreign countries, and leaving endangered species, such as the orangutan, without their habitat. So when it comes to using palm oil, I also source wisely, from a supplier that is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an organization that supports sustainable palm oil production.
Because I do eat meat, I try to do so in a responsible manner. I cannot always control the meat I eat when I am at a restaurant or at someone else's home, but when I buy meat for my own family's consumption, I pay very close attention to where that meat is coming from and how it was raised. And I also believe in using as much of that animal as possible. And just as it thrills me to use the bones of an animal to make nourishing homemade stock, it makes me so happy that I can use the fat from an animal to produce an amazingly nourishing bar of soap.
(Photo credit: PTB Farm)