Is it worth changing a production process just because it is, well, kinda gross? Case in point, argan oil. Argan oil is a traditional Moroccan beauty product made from argan nuts and used on the skin and hair. It apparently is poised to become an in-vogue product world-wide. Nearly 90% of production is now exported and sales in the US have been growing. Kiehl’s, a high-end New York retailer, has been offering argan-based products since 2006.
So what’s the issue? In a word, poop. More specifically, goat poop.
Global Post had a recent article, whose title pretty much says it all: Is your beauty oil made from goat turds? Not anymore (Mar 30). Here is the description of how the process use to work.
It used to be that goats would climb up into the gnarled trees dotting the nearby hills. It once was the case that they ate the pecan-sized argan nuts, digesting the soft outer peel. Previously, the animals defecated the now-peeled nuts onto the ground. In the past, the local women followed behind, gathering kernels to crack, roast and grind into the highly sought-after, labor-intensive oil.
Goats in trees. A crazy thought.
So what does the process look like now?
The women peel skin from each nut, smash it open with a stone, then pick the inner almond-sized kernels from among the broken shells. For cooking oil, the kernels are roasted over fire. For the cosmetic stuff, they skip to the next step, stone-grinding the nuts into a thick paste which — at Tiguegmine — the women then roll into orange-size lumps, from which they later hand-wring each golden drop.
“It takes a lot of time,” [Naima] Elattaoui [of the Tiguemine Argan Cooperative] said. “And a lot of strength.”
To put these numbers in perspective, the article claims it takes 130 nuts to produce a liter of oil and you need two tree to get 130 nuts.
Clearly this is a hard way to make a living. And I can appreciate that some consumers may be grossed out by the thought of using a product that has been through a goat. Having said that, I am not sure why the consumer should feel better that some women in Morocco had to do additional work to produce their beauty products. Presumably, the Moroccans settled on goat-based harvesting because it was less onerous to pick through goat dung then to do all the work themselves. Why isn’t the “natural” goat process seen as better than forcing someone in a developing country to do grueling work?
I see two additional points that go with this. First, I would guess that much of what we put on or in our bodies involves chemicals and processing that is as toxic or more than a goat’s gut. Second, there is evidence that some people will actually pay a premium for a product that has been through an animal’s intestine. Kopi luwak is usually said to be the most expensive coffee in the world. It is made from beans recovered from the what the Asian Palm Civet has left behind. If it works for coffee, why not argan nuts?