It is often said that you shouldn’t eat something that animals won’t eat. Soybeans immediately come to mind in this category as animals instinctively won’t eat it unless it is ground up into food that they normally would eat. Many processed foods also fit this category. People often notice that if they have processed food like cold cereal (think Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs and the like) alongside say crackers in their cabinets, the crackers will be eaten, but the extruded cereal will remain untouched.
So as it goes, one of my homesteading projects is making soap. It was something I became interested in about 20 years ago, but never really got the opportunity to start doing it until I moved into my own house about 10 years ago.
Anyway, the type of soap I make isn’t the melt n’ pour glycerin type, but the hard core, old fashioned pioneer stuff. I generally start with a lard or tallow (beef fat) base, sometimes mixed with palm or coconut oil, water and lye (a caustic chemical derived from wood ashes). That is the basic soap recipe. Then I add some essential oils and different food items lying around such as cornmeal (for a good scrubbing soap), oatmeal (for a soothing soap), rum and spices (for a manly soap) etc.
I was keeping some of my cured soap (soap that is at least one month old) in plastic boxes with no lid in my closet. This is usually not recommended as the scents can become dulled over time as they are exposed to air. What I didn’t expect, however, is that it attracted a mouse!
My husband went to grab a bar of soap the other night and holy crap! There was mouse poop in the box (a lot of it!) and tooth marks in all the soap. And I’m not talking just some tiny hints of tooth marks. These mice went to town!
As ticked off as I was that I needed to throw out my soap, I was quite flattered to see that my soap is considered food by animals even though it went through the processing in lye. Some soap marketers will try to scare you away from homemade soap saying it is too alkaline for the skin. Some nutrition buffs will try to scare you from it because “if you can’t eat it, why would you put it on your skin?”
Well, I do lard and tallow even if I don’t eat lye. And I don’t use canola oil or soy which don’t give the best results for soap anyway and I don’t eat them because they are slow-acting poisons, not food. In my view, humans have been making soap from lye and animal fat for centuries. And if they weren’t clipped by some sanitation-related disease, then these same individuals often lived to 90 or 100. They weren’t poisoned by their soap. And based on my experience with the mouse, I’d say that my soap is indeed food! (Although I don’t anticipate eating it any time soon!)