It was in the middle of the nineteenth century when Henry David Thoreau entered the woods to get back to the basics. His resulting book Walden has gripped or bored millions of readers since, and his plight to return to nature seems all the more relevant in this modern, industrial society. Thoreauvian sympathizers look for any way they can revert their lives to a simpler, more natural place, and purchasing pure bar soap is one of them.
Thoreau probably could’ve written five more collections of essays by spending a year in a Wal-Mart, most of the time carping about processed foods and products. Just about everything in an American home comes from a factory. Even if a shampoo boasts of natural ingredients like lavender, no one is so foolish to think lavender leaves were crushed in a mortar and sprinkled into the bottle. If the lavender wasn’t artificial to begin with, it might as well have been after a coughing machine puréed it in a vat of chemicals. That’s not a product returning to the basics; it just uses the basics to create something very complicated and very unnatural.
The world isn’t so bad as all that, though. Some companies really are striving to make everyday products from very natural ingredients—without diluting or altering them in the process. Like most hygienic supplies, soap is usually invented in a laboratory then mass-produced with conveyor belts and smog. Pure bar soap, however, uses fat as it base—how all soap used to be made—and infuses other plant-derived raw materials like oils from almonds or arnica. Nothing is altered or changed: it’s basic, and it’s earthy, and it’s one of the few things Thoreau would not have complained about if he found it on a shelf.