It was just a couple weeks ago that I made a big hairy deal about the fact that the only part of self-sufficiency that interests me is the food. No knitting, no soap-making, no finish carpentry.
Today, I’m using home-made toothpaste.
There is a food connection, though, in the form of wintergreen. I’ve had some leaves steeping since last winter, and we’ve tried to use it in food but, as a flavoring, it has a serious drawback: it makes everything taste like toothpaste. So, for almost a year now, we’ve been wondering what to do with these two little jars of toothpaste flavoring. Kevin was the first to see it.
He started browsing the Internet for toothpaste recipes
Anyone who’s ever browsed the Internet for a recipe has to wonder why anyone’s worried about those explosive-making sites. Internet recipes, particularly from crackpot sources, are notoriously unreliable, and the proto-terrorist who reads online that he can make a bomb out of anchovies and deodorant is unlikely to get very far.
If you’re looking for a recipe for something straightforward – zucchini bread, say – you’ll probably do pretty well. But once you leave the well-trodden path and start looking for things like mortar, or dishwashing detergent, or deep-tissue massage oil, it gets a lot dicier.
Toothpaste recipes run the gamut, but most are some permutation of the same six ingredients: baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, salt, non-sugar sweetener, and flavoring. The only one of those we didn’t have in the house was glycerin, so we picked up a bottle at the local drugstore and Kevin went to work.
A little of this, a little of that, a taste, and a little more of the other thing. Mix it up with an absurdly tiny whisk that was intended to be decorative, and it was ready for its inaugural brush.
Kevin took the bowl into the bathroom and dipped his toothbrush in. He scooped up a daring grape-sized globule and started to brush. I watched carefully for his reaction. Nothing.
To understand what “nothing” means in this context, you have to understand my husband. He’s as tough as they come. He’s capable of withstanding pain and hardship – physical or emotional – that would have me running for the hills. The day he put a nail through his index finger with a nail gun while putting together a raised bed for our friend Linda he barely flinched. Then he pretended it was only a scratch, partly because he didn’t want Linda to feel bad and partly because he felt stupid for exercising insufficient care with a dangerous tool.
As he tested his toothpaste, he certainly would have nodded and smiled, or given the thumbs up, if he had liked the taste. But, if he hadn’t, nothing on god’s green earth would have induced him to make a face and spit it out, or even grimace in displeasure.
“How was it?” I asked, after he’d rinsed.
“It was OK,” he said. “A little too salty, but OK. You should try it.” He proffered the bowl to me.
I dipped my toothbrush in, and took a less daring, pea-sized globule. I started to brush.
Without a doubt, this was far and away the worst toothpaste I’d ever tried. The worst I’d ever heard of! It was nasty and salty and gritty and absolutely not something you wanted in your mouth. I brushed long enough to be able to say I did it, and then spat and rinsed. And rinsed some more.
Kevin’s going to tweak the recipe. Meanwhile, I’m sticking with Tom’s of Maine (fennel flavor).
This experience has reinforced my determination that, when it comes to self-sufficiency, I’m sticking to the edible. And I don’t think it’s just me and my priorities; it has to do with the nature of food itself. Food is fragile and perishable, and handling it, transporting it, and processing it in a factory somewhere is unlikely to do it any good.
The same can’t be said of soap, or furniture, or clothing. People with industrial-strength tools, and vast experience, and economies of scale, are invariably going to turn out better versions of those items than I can make myself. There are lots of things that factories do better than people. Sure, a proficient knitter can turn out beautiful things, but there are a lot of misbegotten socks between here and proficiency, and even the best knitter can’t knit me a new pair of Wellingtons.
Tom’s of Maine makes better toothpaste than I ever will, but I make better chili than Hormel ever can.
We won’t discuss my root beer.