The 'Shroom:Issue 153/Critic Corner
The end of the year is here, and it sure doesn't feel like it now that I live somewhere that doesn't snow! This is the month where everyone has dumped a holiday to get it all in before time is up. So, grab your hot chocolate, gather your family and friends, and say good bye to 2019 the best way you can: reading reviews here in Critic Corner!!!
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Section of the Month
Alternative Milks - Part 1Our friend Tamar is back to pay her rent with wild embellishments and snooty abuse of a thesaurus and analogies, where she needed a prop stylist, food stylist, and professional photographer to take the world’s most unintentionally disgusting photo of a selection of milks. You’re in Vogue, cool it with the elementary-level HDR effects. After she meanders her way through the history of alternative milks, all while place- and name-dropping high profile contacts just to let the reader know that she’s the Carrie Bradshaw of Whole Foods, she finally gets to remarking on the milks she tried, sourcing the bulk of the labor onto captive houseguests just to simmer it to a fine reduction of one or two dainty sentences each. As you could probably expect, her favorite is the most expensive and exclusive one of the bunch: camel milk. Alas, I cannot fault her for being bourgee, as my snide commentary comes partially out of lifestyle envy. Oh, what I would give to buy a full set of matching kitchenware from Williams-Sonoma.
As I am reviewing an incredible amount of items, I have no choice but to split this into a two-parter to make all of this time, energy, and effort worth its fill of space. Additionally, I’ve opted to include some kind of rough numerical gauge to help quantify all of these on some kind of internal scale that makes this all relatively easier to compare and digest. This is entirely subjective to my own whims, feelings, and experience, but I felt that I had to do something to set everything into context. I’m not a milk sommelier so I’m not going to follow the standard criteria of color, aroma, mouthfeel, flavor, and aftertaste. Instead, I’ll be using more broad categories that I stressed about way too much over that I feel are more relevant to the kind of review I’m doing and extends to the actual marketing and branding of the product as real people who actually buy things do pay attention to that somewhat. In order for there to be a somewhat relatable control point to compare, I have rated simple everyday regular store brand 2% cow’s milk on this scale. You must understand that I can drink an entire gallon of that within just two days, and have been the champion of a milk drinking contest before, so I like me some 2% milk.
I’ll reiterate to emphasize, this is entirely subjective and vulnerable to shifting moods and feelings, as well as subject to whatever information I have available to me. This is just meant to be internally contextualizing since there’s a lot! If you want me to explain a number better, go right ahead and message me in chat and I’ll gladly talk more about milk.
Taste - The quality of its flavor
Most, if not all, of their impressively minute variations of products have 50% more calcium than dairy milk, which the back states is their 45% Daily Value compared to a lowfat dairy milk average of 30%, which upon checking my several brands of 2% milk I have in my fridge checks out. Dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, carrageenan-free, no saturated fat, cholesterol-free, and no artificial-colors or flavors, as well as a Non-GMO Project Verified emblem. All sounds well and dandy, I guess. Carrageenan is a filler coming naturally from red seaweed that I’ve personally gone through an orientation against for work where they mixed some up with water until it formed a gel and were like “try it”. Of course, no one did because it looks gross and goopy, but that’s an unfair situation since it’s never presented in that form, aside from the fact that it’s just some seaweed gel and wouldn’t be appetizing on its own in the first place. There’s some science that some peeps’ gastrointestinal system get irritated from it, so, eh, worth putting the notice on there for the people looking for it, but I’m just not a fan of fear-mongering and pseudoscience to push a false agenda. Check out this article that does a lot better job of explaining what carrageenan is, what it’s used for, just how many items it’s used in that you just wouldn’t be aware of otherwise, how it’s totally fine to consume, and how the only way your stomach is going to feel upset over carrageenan is it getting into nervous knots after panicking unsourced claims on a health food blog than I could because it’s a full article instead of me being afraid to write too much in a run-on sentence in a paragraph that’s probably larger than it really should be. Speaking of, the Non-GMO thing is a whole bunch of fear-mongering nothing and really doesn’t mean anything. GMOs as a concept isn't bad, and that’s a fact that you can’t argue against, and is a technique that humans have employed and developed since our inception as a species. There is no one single overarching master GMO; they are all individual and any issue with one of them, such as purported negative environmental impact, irritation of allergies, and adverse health effects, are all case-by-case and may apply to one but not another. Lucky for you readers, I don’t intend on repeating this with each and every item I review, so feel free to reference this paragraph and do your own critical research using valid and verified sources should you want further information, or just find me in chat and I’ll talk your head off about it!!
Silk products in their entirety are not organic, having switched from that to conventional, which made a lot of people pretty grumpy. There’s a bunch of confusing vocabulary out there from organic, all-natural, natural, they’re all different, but USDA certified organic foods “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.” Given that, it’s possible that just one thing prevents this from being certified, so it’s a soft pass given what else they acknowledge. They do seem to be on top of sustainability, at least according to their website. This page acknowledges that cows fart a lot, and that’s what’s killing the planet, and that by simply not being a dairy milk product renders them more environmentally-friendly, and they’re not wrong! But, since nothing can ever be pure and good, the almond and alternative milk craze has been contributing to California’s droughts, lessened biodiversity, and declining honeybee populations.
This retails at my store for $3.40 for a half gallon, but I got it for 2/$5 on sale, and regularly has $1 off coupons available.
Dark Chocolate Almondmilk
Unsweetened Vanilla AlmondmilkLinking to their product listing again as they post all of the nutrition and ingredients right on their site for anyone to peruse.
Affordability seems to be the main feature of Silk products. Thanks corporate conglomerate acquisition!
Publix Unsweetened Vanilla Almond MilkSustainable Forestry Initiative, but I’m still giving it a 2 for Health & Ethics because I work for this company and know just how much they throw out that they really don’t have to, don’t donate nearly as much food as they could, and what they do donate is money to politicians who actively work to rip apart any environmental program or positive action all in the name of profit, which also leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste.
$2.99 for a half gallon.
Califia Farms Unsweetened Almondmilk
As a bonus, check out all of the peeps on Influenster for Califia Farms Unsweetened Almondmilk and just how wrong they are about their choice. Count all of the people self-identified as restricted to organic diets and still saying this is their favorite. Look at all of the people saying they love this one in particular because there’s no added junk to it despite the fact that there literally is and that there’s other items in the market and probably displayed in the cooler directly next to this one that has ingredients that are literally only nuts and water. All of the people who said they bought this one because they liked the package are valid.
$4.09 for 48oz.
The one I chose was almond milk, made with just a handful of ingredients: distilled water, organic raw (unpasteurized) valencia (marcona) almonds (from Spain!), organic coconut palm sugar, and himalayan salt. Marcona almonds (from Spain!) are different than California almonds that are typically around America in that they’re less woody, and more buttery and sweet, and is a pretty respectable selection for making this milk because, reminder, almond farming in California is contributing significantly to wildfires and soil destruction, as well as it just being a more practical nut to use in this situation. The Facebook page has information boasting that just one cup contains 40% Vitamin E, whatever that means, and naturally has calcium, iron, and potassium--minerals that I’m aware come from the coconut sugar entirely. Positioning itself as the alternative to the alternative, bemoaning carrageenan as toxic, using the word “chemicals” as a generic scare tactic, I can’t say that I’m exactly thrilled. What it doesn’t say is that it’s also naturally higher in calories (which isn’t a problem, but you know), and, while this guy and people like him are proponents of decrying dairy milk for human consumption as we’re not calfs, avoids acknowledging that we also don’t have the four-chambered stomach and enlarged colon to make eating that raw plant material efficient. While perusing his Facebook page, personal and business, I came to find out that he’s an anti-vaxxer peddling chemtrail theories, a disgusting descent into pseudoscience and falsehoods that do just as much (and arguably more) damage to our health and culture than what going through all of this effort to make expensive almond milk is worth.
How does it taste, though? What do you mean you came here for a food review and not a lecture?? It tastes like an incredibly watered down Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino. The texture is really smooth, but again, more watery than creamy. My brother said it smells and tastes like the watery mayo stuff at the bottom of a tuna salad.
As an addendum, I was looking for raw milk in particular--straight from the cow without pasteurization or anything--and did find a place about 40 minutes away from me that had it. I chickened out at the last moment for several reasons that compounded: only available in half gallons which felt like more than I would need, pretty expensive, short expiration of like 3 days, a big warning label saying “NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION”. I just didn’t really feel like paying so much for a large amount of a product that I will only use a little of all so I can come here and give you a review of just how much of the toilet bowl I’ve filled with what’s left of my body after bacteria ravage it, all while giving money and legitimacy to a food trend that’s misguided at best and dangerous at worst. I don’t know, dudes, even lending legitimacy to this and agreeing with the shaky “studies” that say pasteurization removes vital nutrients, why can’t you just like...eat other stuff, too? Stuff that does have those nutrients? Your body can only process a finite amount of nutrients a day before it just gets bypassed and filtered out anyways. Just drink regular milk with its alleged lack of nutrition and then just go eat something else that has it, it’s not hard. As my man Tom here states, “(...) if you’re interested in added nutrients, why not just pop a vitamin pill?” Be sure to give that article a read for some other hot takes on almond milk.
I opted to get the Mayan Cocoa variety, leaving behind the only other two options that were Unsweetened and Cafe au lait, because I knew that the presence of chocolate would at least buffer any potential rotten flavor I was fearing from something that looked the way it did. It’s very grainy, and separates substantially suspiciously speedily. It tastes like nuts, yeah, but like when peanut butter separates from the oil. There’s no bad aftertaste, though, that I get with other nut milks (mylks? melks? malks?), and is otherwise milky aside from some subtle grittiness. It also tasted a lot better after I forgot about/neglected it in my fridge until two days before expiration when I chugged it in a spoilage panic. The ingredients are just filtered water, California almonds, raw local honey, and a teeny bit of organic mayan cocoa, himalayan pink sea salt, and fermented Lactococcus lactis.the rest of their story and reasons for turning away from dairy sounds pretty genuine. Their homepage even addresses each of the usual factors that someone decides to switch off of dairy milk individually rather than trying to tackle all of them compounded at once and entering loony-bin territory. Like, I don’t know, dude, to me this seems like an actual genuine attempt at an ALTERNATIVE milk rather than some pseudoscience snake oil potion conspiracy nut money grab. I’m interested in what this unique process for a longer shelf life is, perhaps the fermented Lactococcus lactis which could’ve been the first official state microbe, the honor falling to Wisconsin. Unfortunately, their state senate failed to vote on the measure, and by the next election the composition flipped from Democrat to Republican; I’m CONFIDENT that this is what doomed those stick-up-the-butt donkeys and subsequently condemned this whole country to utter (udder?) devastation. Totally Nuts! being pretty alright aside, at $10, I would NOT say it’s worth it unless you physically have a need for this particular selection of benefits, namely the longer shelf life. It being a product local to Central Florida, I can’t really expect too many of you guys to come across this barring any errant family vacation to Disney coupled with the rare event of actually leaving the mouse’s grasp and venturing outside of Lake Buena Vista, so I guess this is just to raise awareness and reach our your feelers for exploring local farmers, cuisine, foodmakers, and products to see what unique things you have available that perhaps no one else does, or to see what your area does best.
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Almondmilk
As a company I’m not really easily finding any bad juju that really sticks, unless you count just the general ecological impact of almond harvesting as well as their tendency to use thickeners, gums, sweeteners, and just simply aren’t organic. They’ve got that nebulous Non-GMO Project Verified logo slapped on, so to many people that’s good enough. They all pretty much seem to be a “good” or “excellent” source of potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, and E, pretty standard fare for the more marketable alternative milks. In the US all Blue Diamond Almond Breeze products have removed all carrageenan, but outside of the US it remains an ingredient. If you’re not looking for a one-stop Earth-saving beverage, and just need something that doesn’t turn your lactose intolerant stomach inside out, then you’ve probably come across Almond Breeze. It helps that they’re relatively cheap, with them often going on sale for 2/$6 a half gallon.
The company and this brand specifically have been the target of several class action lawsuits. One such claim is that the product misleads consumers that it contains actual vanilla and not just unspecified natural flavors. This one bewilders me because it claims that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for vanilla as it’s a popular and expensive spice, but on the other hand, like...it’s vanilla, the poster child of boring flavors. I am aware of the complexity of vanilla’s flavors, but one cannot deny that it has been relegated to the plain boring white original flavor of every kind of product imaginable. Additionally, this lawsuit claims that they would not have paid as much as they did or purchased it at all had they known it wasn’t actual natural vanilla flavoring. Absolute nonsense. It’s a $3 half gallon of big brand almond milk, get over yourself. If you wanted to pull that kind of nonsense at least pick one of the more gourmet-appealing brands and catch them on their empty gimmick. There’s also another lawsuit moaning about how they claim to be almond milk, but dare not to be made primarily from almonds and instead are just a percentage. Like, wow, really, captain genius just learned that almond milk isn’t just 100% pure smashed up almonds and do, in fact, need to be watered down to create the milky consistency. Wow! I guess lesson learned to not try to be sly with labeling, or to at least be as specific as possible, because somewhere out there is some opportunistic fuddy-duddy looking to hyper-inflate their offense and inconvenience just to make a fuss. If you’ve ever been a customer, die. None of this will affect my own Health & Ethics scoring because I think it’s just a bunch of pedantic baloney, but on an objective scale it is proper and proactive to be diligent about product labeling, because companies really do try to pull some slick stuff.
Hypnotically silky; smooth, creamy, milky, all of those extra chemicals are doing their job. Feels suspiciously like regular chocolate milk, but tastes a little bit sweeter, if not somewhat fruity. If not for just a faint LaCroix-esque nuttiness to it, I would just assume that this was regular chocolate milk. I almost chugged half of it while sitting at a red light on my way home from buying it.
Blended with REAL Bananas
Noticeably viscous, did not splash when pouring. Pretty smooth and thick when drinking, more along the lines of Pepto-Bismol rather than milk, which is kind of just jarring, really. The consistency alone assures me that their statement of real bananas being blended in is accurate and true. The banana flavor is present and up front more than the almond flavor, so it just comes off as an almond banana smoothie that’s free of clumps and particulate matter, and therefore definitely does not serve as a milk replacement or even an alternative. It tastes a lot better after it’s been forgotten in the back of the fridge and has started to approach freezing temps, as the almost-earthy banana flavor is muted.
HorchataHorchata, specifically Horchata de arroz, is a Mexican drink made from rice ground up and mixed with water (basically rice milk), flavored with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes other nuts or seeds, such as almonds. What I know it as, though, is a tasty milky sweet thing that is fantastic when mixed with rum. Imagine my absolute pleasure just walking through the store on a vacation to Buffalo and seeing there’s a horchata almond milk. Almond Breeze’s version is flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, and then has some preservatives and thickeners mixed in that will surely make the more refined alternative milk drinkers repulsed. The funny thing is that horchata is already dairy, soy, lactose, gluten-free, and vegan, so all of the legwork is already done. It’s surprising that this is a new product for an almond milk company, unless for some reason there was legal red tape. One quart for $2.69, which I got on sale for $2.29, really can’t be beat. Looking forward to when its sale moves into the Florida market.
Holy crap I reviewed a lot of stuff and wrote a bunch of words about it! To make my time and money spent worth the coverage span, as well as making reading this something that’s actually digestible to readers who are almost certainly not in the target audience for this type of article, I will be finishing this up next month. See you then!
Tune in next month for Milk 2! Also, tell me what to review next! You can tell me to do can also be movies, shows, physical actions, trying new foods, music, literally anything and I’ll cover it eventually if it’s not too ridiculous. Just send me a message here on my talk page or PM it to me on the forum. Don't like what I have to say? That's fine, and probably bound to happen because I've been told about how much people like Super Mario 64 and how they feel about any criticism of it! We at Critic Corner will welcome your alternate review of it as a new section for the next issue!
Last month's review might've been a little unfitting, given how November is hardly the time for Halloween films, but for this edition I did actually manage to get to a cinema to see something almost as thematic. Frozen was a massive hit when it arrived in cinemas in 2013, the soundtrack was stuck in your head for years, there was Olaf merchandise as far as the world could see, and everyone wanted Disney over Pixar. Frozen II, while good, will not capture any of that magic – except for Olaf merchandise, expect to see tonnes and tonnes of Olaf merchandise. And don't be expecting just Olaf merchandise, there's a Fire Lizard as well that everyone will be wanting to buy plushes of
Our main gang of Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf are all back, and the start of the film showing how they've living their lives since the events of the first film are still surprisingly magical to watch, I felt that unlike most films setting up the story, the beginning really wasn't dragging. And it kept that pace up spectacularly well for the rest of the film, nothing felt to be rushed or drawing on too long, and it was clear from the crowd around me that many people were entertained.
The acting and animation is also top-notch, the emotion in all of the characters is clear, and honestly the animation even puts real life to shame. These things are all incredible, although the main plot twist can be seen a mile-off, but honestly it doesn't really put a dampener onto things.
The humour is also pretty consistent. It doesn't take away from any of the important emotional bits of the film – and boy is there one really emotional scene – and for the most part it really hits the mark. I just wish they would've picked a lane with Olaf, who veers from between the loveable stuff we had from him in the first film, to existential questions that are only somewhat amusing because of how they really shouldn't be coming out of Olaf's mouth given his intelligence.
But Frozen II is not perfect. Outside Elsa, Anna and Olaf there's barely any actual characterisation. Kristoff is planning to propose to Anna, but gets separated from her during the adventure in the enchanted forest. However, as the film focuses so much on Elsa and Anna trying to save the day, there were parts of the film that I genuinely forgot Kristoff and Sven were characters in it. Likewise on new characters, with the main offenders being Ryder and Honeymaren. They do nothing that couldn't have been accomplished by someone else, and barely exist for about two scenes. And I wish they'd done more with Iduna and Yelena as those characters could've been really interesting as opposed to forgettable.
Another minor criticism is the soundtrack. Where the first one was so incredible, this one really couldn't live up to it. There are some songs, like Into the Unknown that feel like it could capture the original magic, but most of the songs are incredibly forgettable, bar Into the Unknown and Show Yourself, the only two songs I have some vague recollection – and I mean vague in every sense of the word – was something at the beginning and Sven singing about being lost. Other than that, I'd have to check the Wikipedia soundtrack to double-check, and I'd probably need to hear the song again before fully believing it existed.
Also, we needed more scenes with the merchant, instead of just a couple. And we needed him in a speaking role as well. Justice for Oaken!
Overall, Frozen II is a pretty enjoyable film, and definitely worth a watch. But if you're expecting something that will hit you like Frozen did, then expect to be disappointed. This is the usual sequel fare, in which it's a decent film, but nowhere close to the original.