The 'Shroom:Issue 154/Critic Corner
New year, new you! Welcome to 2020! If your resolution is to read more of The 'Shroom, then you came to the right place! While you're here, welcome our new Director Hooded Pitohui (talk) and Sub-Director Roserade (talk). They have some ideas to give us, as well as a special issue schedule, so look forward to that and feel free to help or participate in whatever way you can!
To help start Critic Corner off on the right foot (no offense to the left foot, you're my favorite 😘), I have changed the organization of this page slightly following a suggestion from Doomhiker (talk), and condensed review and opinion pieces into the same category for those little summary headers below. The purpose of this change was mostly to push my regularly enormous section down to the bottom, while lifting smaller sections up towards the top, to allow readers and prospective writers to better see that smaller sections are possible, wanted, and needed! Feel free to give any feedback on this, which is our bread and butter here at Critic Corner, and nothing is ever set in stone.
Thank you all again for making Half-Baked Reviews Critic Corner's Section of the Month!! Be sure to give your love to all of our sections here, and give a shout out to our writers whether in chat or in their forum threads dedicated to their sections. Be sure to vote vote vote!
As always, If you would like to help Critic Corner, we always have openings for more writers! You are free to write for sections such as Character Review and Movie Review, or really anything you'd like to do! There's no pressure to have a huge section; they can be shorter and concise! The application process is very simple, starting with reading the Sign Up page, and sending your application to LudwigVon, our Stats Manager on the forum. Any idea you have is welcome, and if you have any questions or need help signing up, please feel free to reach out to myself or other 'Shroom peeps!
Section of the Month
Welcome, all, to your first Book Review of the decade! This one is a good one, trust me.
If you've been reading with me for a awhile, you know that my favorite superhero of all time is Batman. And if you're a dedicated reader, you know that my favorite piece of Batman media is the graphic novel adaptation of the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm classic Mad Love, which showcases Harley Quinn's journey from unassuming university student to the Joker's arm candy. There are a lot of other great stories in that collection, but the title story has a lot going for it: it's got Paul Dini's writing matched up with Bruce Timm's fantastic art. But now, DC has given us one more piece of Mad Love media: a novelization, courtesy of Dini himself and writer Pat Cadigan. Let's take a look at the book and see if it's as good as it's source material.
Mad Love begins with a robbery. A group of criminals try to burglarize a nightclub but find the safe is empty and the feds have decided to raid the club that night. Following that failed attempt, they get revenge on the guy who screwed them out of that payday- Slick Nick Quinzel, father to one Harleen Quinzel. At just seven, Harley watches her dad get beat up by the crooks, scorned on by the police, and locked up in jail. She runs away from the police station right into a hostage situation, where she has to outwit more mooks and escape through Coney Island at night. She manages to find her mother and they get away, but Harleen swears revenge on the mobsters who beat up her daddy, tried to kill her mommy, and almost put her into a pedophile's care.
And that's just the first fifty pages of this monster.
Mad Love offers a look into Harley's mind as she goes from a little girl in Brooklyn (yes, real Brooklyn, we'll get to that later) to a Gotham University student to a doctor at Arkham. It's a fascinating story, where you can really see her mental state going down the rabbit hole of the Joker's persuasion and bad influences. One of my favorite concepts from the book is dealing with Batman. Harley isn't from Gotham originally, so she fails to see the appeal of Batman. In her words, he's a criminal who beats up other criminals. It's a concept that DC has played with forever- what sets Batman above all of these psychopaths that he beats up and throws in jail? Here, it's stated several times- Harley is an outsider, so she doesn't understand all that Batman does for Gotham.
If you've read the original Mad Love, you'll begin to see the plot coming together- all the points come in- Harley's gymnastic scholarship, the roses, and even the dentist's office. Don't want to spoil it, but if you've read the comic, you know what I mean.
I mentioned we'd get to this part, and here we are. The real-world tie-in. Harley comes from Brooklyn, she goes to Coney Island with her father, and yet Gotham City exists. It's a little weird, to be honest. I'd really be getting into the story and then there's a mention of Twitter or YouTube, and it's just weird. It feels like they took the easiest route out, having the ties to the real world that are convenient while ignoring the stuff that doesn't really work. I feel like it wouldn't be too much to give Harley her tough-cookie Brooklyn accent through a fictional place in the DC universe, and maybe make up some kind of fake social media sites if needed. Just my two cents.
Mad Love is a look into Harley Quinn's mind as her mental state degrades during her residency at Arkham. If you liked the comic original, I would give this book a recommendation, however, if you're gunning for Batman, I'd steer away. This is a story about Harley first and everyone else second. If you're game for that, go right ahead and enjoy!
That's it for this month, readers! See you next time!
Hot Pot Reviews
Hello my dear readers, and welcome back to another Hot Pot Reviews. You may have noticed I was gone for November - blame real life getting extremely hectic. But what matters is we’re back now, and do I have quite the treat for you today! I was originally going to pick one book to review here today, but I couldn’t decide which one. So I decided to up the ante a little and give some short and sweet reviews over some of the books I read throughout 2019. Without further ado, let’s get to it!
I’m almost certain that this book was the first one I read out of all of these, and that was an excellent decision. This girl named Claire is in love with a TV show called Demon Heart and actively participates in the fandom for it - mainly with writing fanfiction. She gets the chance to go to a panel for the show at her nearest Comic-Con, and meets another fan of the show, Tess, as well as some of the show’s actors. However, things take a turn for the worse at the panel during a Q&A session, where Forest, who plays Demon Heart’s main character, near vehemently denies that his character would ever be gay, and this moment goes viral. To attempt to fix their image with their LGBTQ+ fans, the show’s producers decide to take Claire on the rest of their convention circuit, where she not only keeps running into Tess, but is also butting heads with Forest over her fanworks.
...yeah this book is kind of a roller coaster. But that’s honestly a perfect fit for this book, considering what it’s about. That aside, I think my favorite part about this book is how accurately it portrays the fandom culture. Even the littlest thing can generate insane amounts of activity within a certain fandom, something that’s proven when Demon Heart’s producers announce Claire going on the rest of the con tour and social media goes absolutely nuts over it. Another thing I really like is how much I can relate to Claire’s character - she can’t talk about her nerdy interests at school because no one else would know what she was talking about. Back in late elementary to early middle school, I never really had anyone to talk about some of my more niche interests either. Seeing that development in the book was a nice little touch, and it really made my heart smile.
If you’ve ever been deeply involved in fandom culture, be it for your favorite book, movie , TV show, or what have you, I highly recommend that you read this book.
To All the Boys I Loved Before
I’m the type of person where if I see a movie based on a book, I have to go read the book at some point. And that was exactly what ran through my mind when I saw this movie on Netflix with some friends during spring break. If you’re someone who hasn’t seen it, it’s about a girl named Lara Jean who wrote love letters to all her crushes when she was crushing on them and kept them in a box, until they all get mysteriously sent to the boys they are addressed to. Because of this, she ends up in a fake relationship with one of the letter recipients, Peter, who, coincidentally, just broke up with his last girlfriend.
From what I remember, there were a few differences between the book and the movie, but that’s just natural with any adaptation. Anyways, I thought this book was overall super sweet and very realistic in regards to the fake relationship aspect. Lara Jean and Peter understandably have many qualms and misunderstandings with each other about certain parts of the fake relationship, and that creates a lot of tension between the two. You can never really pinpoint a guess on where those two are going to go next in that relationship, and it’s really interesting to see. Something else really interesting is the dynamic between Lara Jean and the rest of her family. Her two sisters (one of which is abroad for college) and her dad really do care about her, and seeing their reactions to Lara Jean’s “relationship” with Peter is quite amusing. The sisters, of course, do have their normal bickering moments like any other siblings would (for example, when Lara Jean’s older sister comes home for Christmas and finds out her two younger sisters have already done a lot of their Christmas traditions without her), and moments like that make these sisters an excellent example of what having siblings is like, from someone who doesn’t have any.
My one main issue with this is how it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, but I guess that’s why there’s two books after this one. Not quite as important as the rest but still worth mentioning, my copy came with a bunch of cookie recipes that they actually make during the events of the book, which I thought was a really nice touch.
Picture Us in the Light
This book definitely wins the “captured my heart from page one” award here. So, Danny Cheng is an aspiring artist who’s been accepted into his dream school, RISD. However, he may potentially have to be without his best friend, Harry Wong. On top of this, however, Danny realizes his parents are hiding some dark secrets about their past. When he tries to uncover this, everything his parents have built up begins to slowly crumble away, and Danny is left with some difficult decisions. All the meanwhile, Danny, Harry, and the rest of their friends are left with deciding what to do in order to honor a friend’s death as the one year anniversary of it happening quickly approaches.
The thing I really love about this book is the diversity. All of the main characters are of Asian descent, and a good number of supporting characters are as well. It’s extremely refreshing to be able to have and enjoy a book that’s full of characters that are usually a minority in most other books, TV shows, movies, etc. Additionally, there’s a bit of LGBTQ+ subplot in here - you almost have to squint to see it because it’s not made obvious at first - but that’s what makes it excellent representation. The sexualities of the characters involved aren’t make-or-break if that subplot is gone - you could take that bit out and it still wouldn’t affect the rest of the plot. It’s just two characters who end up in a relationship, and small representation like that is super important because it shows that just because someone is gay or trans or anything else, a story about them doesn’t have to revolve solely around that fact. They can simply just be who they are within that story.Representation stuff aside, I love the interactions between all the high school-aged characters in this book. They remind me so much of some of the interactions between me and my friends in school, and seeing how real some of their stresses are (mainly with college applications and AP classes) was a really nice touch for me.
Honestly I wish I could say more about this book without spoiling it, but if I did, then I would be robbing you the experience of a truly beautiful book by doing so. Please go read this book if you are able to, it’s genuinely one of the best things I’ve read.
Out of all the books here, this is without a doubt the one I was most excited to read. This book is the long-awaited (depending on who you ask, at least) sequel to Carry On, which came out back in 2015. One of my friends loaned me her copy of Carry On a few years back, and I instantly fell in love. I’ve been patiently waiting for the sequel ever since, and now that it’s finally out, it was pretty damn well worth the wait. For those that don’t have any clue what the heck I’m talking about, Carry On is essentially a love letter to the Harry Potter series, seeing as how it’s also set in a magic school and they both have somewhat similar plots. Definitely don’t quote me on that because I never read Harry Potter. Wayward Son, meanwhile, steps away from some of that and sees our main characters (Simon, Baz, and Penny) setting off on a road trip across America after graduation. They’re mainly going to see a friend in California but stop in Chicago first so that Penny can see her boyfriend. It’s worth mentioning now that these three are originally from England, so they severely underestimate how long it takes to drive from Chicago to California. Antics ensue, monsters are fought, and both friends and enemies are made.
Probably my favorite part of Wayward Son is how realistic the descriptions of all the places our lovely trio pass through are. Understandably, the writer lives In America, so it doesn’t surprise me how much she knows about many of the locations mentioned. What’s more impressive is how well she manages to write about these locations from the perspectives of people who haven’t even been there before. You’ve got some famous places such as Las Vegas, San Diego, and even freaking CARHENGE, and then of course the most charming detail to me was the specific mention of the Cheesecake Factory in Des Moines, Iowa, a place I myself have been to many times now. Inner me is never going to get over that.
Something else I quite enjoyed were a lot of the will it / won’t it moments that happen with several characters throughout the book. Moments like these are honestly something I love for in books, because I always like coming up with theories of how something will end as I’m reading. Thankfully for me and my crazy mind, this book has plenty of those moments. I couldn’t remember a super-predictable moment in this entire book. My main complaint here is how abruptly the book ended, but it all but confirmed that there would be a third book, so I can’t be too mad.
The Jackaby Series
This one’s kind of cheating since I read the first book back in 2015, not long after it was published, but I never got around to reading the other three books until 2019 so we’re including it in this. Anyways, this book series is kind of a bizarre combination between BBC’s Sherlock and Doctor Who. The lovely Abigail Rook leaves her home in England for America and arrives in the small town of New Fiddleham, where she ends up the assistant to the rather eccentric R.F. Jackaby. Very early on, Miss Rook learns that Jackaby has a gift that allows him to see and detect the supernatural, which easily gets the two of them into some bizarre and frankly, quite dangerous situations. Such situations include trying to catch a supernatural serial killer, chasing after a dangerous shape-shifting monster, travelling to the freaking underworld to try and solve a murder mystery, and trying to overthrow the king of all evil supernatural beings. It’s very bizarre but it also gets very intense at times.
Okay, I honestly love the entire concept this series has to offer. Some people might think it’s kind of overdone at this point (at least in other media, anyways) but I love it a lot. I also love the relationships between the characters. Jackaby and Abigail have one of the finest mentor/student relationships I’ve ever seen, and beyond that, an excellent friendship. This series definitely has its wackier moments, but whenever there is a serious moment, it’s played off extremely well. Prime example (that I can’t name names for because spoilers): When character deaths occur in the fourth book and one the still living characters is absolutely distraught over them. I think the only complaint I really have is how certain things are left unanswered at the end of the series. Or at least if they WERE answered, I certainly don’t remember them. Either way, it’s something to keep in mind but if you love the bizarre and supernatural, then you absolutely should look into this series.
Alternative Milks - Part 2
ElmhurstElmhurst Walnut Milk 2 years ago now, and now I’m back to review a few more. In case you’re a traitor who doesn’t click my links I courteously curate to enhance your reading experience, here’s a select quote from my last review that helps fluff up this one with information I was going to restate anyways: “(...) no thickeners, emulsifiers, or stabilizers like guar gum, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, or gellan gum. The company itself [was] apparently somewhat local to me, being just under an hour away [from where I used to live], and prides itself in having a goal of sustainability, creating a healthier product for not only people but the environment as well, with packaging designed to create a smaller carbon footprint and a process that eliminates hazardous chemicals, help prevent loss of forests and ecosystems, protecting water quality and old-growth forests, and even requires its company and sources of materials to engage in the community and protect customary rights of indigenous people. WOWZERS that’s a lot of stuff that basically no other company acknowledges, especially the community aspect since a lot of vegan and vegetarian brands and practitioners stomp all over native lands and people.” Also of note is their process page which has some nice minimalistic illustrations showing their patented milking process that absolutely does not sound like anything more than what anyone else does. They are also non-GMO, free of artificial colors, flavors, and fillers, gluten-free, and vegan, but it is notable that they are not organic. Each of these was $5.29 for 32oz, at least at the time of purchase, but I got them on sale at like 2/$8 with a $2 off coupon. Lately I’ve been seeing them at 2/$5 just standard price. Elmhurst is a tangible example of the current state of the dairy market and customers’ desires, starting out as Elmhurst Dairy in 1925 selling, well, dairy milk, complete with a cow farm right in New York City. By 2016, its final plant closed, citing that the years of its economic viability were long behind them, and by 2017 rebranded as Elmhurst Milked, focusing now on plant-based milks, viewing sustainability and health of households all across America (and likely their own pocketbooks) as the future. I say good on them for showing that corporations, no matter how old, can be flexible not only to seasonal trends, but to technological advancements in sustainability, working with the environment instead of stubbornly and dangerously opposing it.
Similar phenomenon as the Cashew, except a little more noticeably nutty. Kind of a smooth feel; noticing a trend with Elmhurst that there’s no grittiness. It’s not bad but I just don’t feel fulfilled or satisfied with it.
Milked Peanuts w/ Dutch Chocolate
Feels smooth, and definitely smells like chocolate peanut butter, but I’m not really getting any Dutch chocolate flavor out of this. With chocolate peanut butter being my favorite flavor combo, I was pretty pumped for this, and I was left a little disappointed. I don’t know, I guesssss it did taste like peanuts, but just not in any sweet appetizing kinda way, and I guessss it tasted like chocolate, but like that awful flavorless unsweetened baking chocolate. It didn’t really keep me interested in having more to drink, and I ended up throwing about half of it away when I remembered it was still in the fridge for about two weeks after it expired. I do appreciate that they tried this combo, though, I don’t remember seeing anyone else do it.
Good luck trying this one, though, as I may have been the last person to have done it. Elmhurst discontinued its whole line of peanut milks, including this one, back in May 2019. As evident by how much alternative milk I've tried, and it only really scratching the surface, the market is crowded and competition is high. With this being new and uncharted territory, this could be the banshee scream heralding doom as tastes and preferences begin to settle.
All three of these clocked in the same point total in the same categories, saving me space by allowing me to post this once:
Milkadamia has had a lot of press, talking big about how they’re some monumental industry-shaking Aussie company, but most of them centering on their goal and focus of regenerative farming. Not satisfied with just lessening negative impacts or use, regenerative farming intends on restoring the soil, boosting biodiversity, and protecting the permanence of this gain, which also aids the environment further by drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil. It’s also helpful that macadamias aren’t an irrigation-intensive crop.
In some articles that the Milkadamia CEO has written, as well as their slogan, they have declared “Moo is moot”, taking a hardline stance that dairy milk is obsolete and unnecessary. I take a little bit of an issue with this common stance in this field, that dairy isn’t necessary, that humans aren’t calfs who need to suck on a cow’s bosom, but how many other things in life aren’t necessary? I don’t want to slippery slope this too much but it’s a pretty steep logical path to take to cut something out that is not necessary; where do you draw the line before you become a cartoon-tier Buddhist monk? So, time for me to go through these and rant about stuff. Sometimes dairy just can’t be replaced if you’re following a careful recipe; the chemistry of any kind of non-dairy milk will be different, and may interact differently. It’s enough of a concern over whether to use Dutch process cocoa or natural cocoa as their pH levels are different enough to significantly alter entire baked goods; anything simple like that can affect the true intention of a dish. While I do say that, one may levy the idea of helping to decrease the methane levels by phasing out dairy cattle over a wholly authentic recipe, but I’m sure somewhere in there there’s a compromise that won’t lead to the complete destruction of our planet over a selfish desire for bona fide creaminess. I agree with and support the notion that the dairy industry has a significant contributing hand to the continued destruction of our atmosphere and planet, and do so with power won by brute political lobbying, deception, and manipulative PR, but humans drinking milk is not “unnatural”. A quote from a good article addressing this situation that you should read says, when addressing the statement that drinking milk is unnatural, “I would submit that the natural world does not operate with intention, nor is it all that attached to a plan. In fact, some of Nature’s greatest hits are the result of random errors and unintended consequences. Nature also doesn’t care about right or wrong, or whether something is fair or ethical or cruel. All nature "cares" about is what works.” A population of humans thousands of years ago developed lactase persistence into adulthood, and that was nature, that was a natural process. Arsenic is a naturally occuring mineral. Clinging to “natural” is a fallacy. “If you are willing to switch on a light after the sun goes down, use an alarm clock to wake you up, get in a jet plane and catapult yourself across three or four time zones in a few hours, run long distances without anything chasing you, or take a vitamin pill, then you’re doing quite a few things that are arguably a lot less natural than drinking milk.”
In their 5th bullet point, Jim Richard CEO of Milkadamia brings up Compassion, that we’ll never see a video of a farmer torturing a macadamia nut. He’s lucky that macadamia nuts are grown in areas flush with water resources because you can bet I was ready to hop on that Vegan Isn’t Cruelty-Free train and bring up how almonds are sucking California dry again. Forgive me for using a Bored Panda link, but the others were either Daily Mail, a militant vegan group, or sourced PETA, and I think a content aggregator with fishy crediting problems is the lesser of evils. The claim that we are the only species to drink the milk of another species is a common vegan perspective. It’s literally false, but I concede that the exceptions are rare, but still contend that we’re also the only species to possess profound enough cognitive abilities to develop complex speech and language, symbolic abstract thinking, and the entire premise of some of us being able to contemplate the complexity of the situation and assess whether we should be drinking milk. Perhaps the reason we’re (one of) the only species that drinks the milk of others is due to the fact that we’re simply capable of doing so, and should other animals suddenly be bestowed the ability to milk others or suckle into adulthood without depriving their parents of nutrients to survive, that they would not make waste and quickly jump on the opportunity. We drink milk because we can, and unto that is human.
Number 6 is the claim that animal-based milk only comes in regular, chocolate, and skim, and thus plant milk is better as it can allegedly come in a wider range, which is a bold claim from a company with a full line that’s just sweetened, unsweetened, and vanilla (and fudge if you count the creamer); it is just complete nonsense and honestly loses respect from me. I’m not a fan of a company purporting to be changing the world for the better doing so by peddling misconceptions, misdirections, falsehoods, and flat lies. What better world are we making if we continue to process it through what’s not true, especially when there’s more than enough accurate and verifiable reasons to make the switch? My rating is a reluctant 2 for Health & Ethics because it’s absolutely unacceptable for them to be just as manipulative and shilling disinformation, which I feel is worth a 1 immediately on its own, but I can’t deny that their more prominent push for regenerative farming is an atypical positive outlook on the environment and a method through which we can right wrongs. Just stick to the regenerative farming spiel and yammer on about how clever your wispy package design is as those are things that can actually stick to solid ground.
Now, onto actually trying the physical products, which I got for $3.99 on sale, originally $4.79 for a 32 fl oz bottle.
Sweetenedsomething that does not hold Europe back; even though the practice is long gone, or limited to specialty services to satisfy the gimmick, the feeling persists. Plus, cold crisp milk is just the best, there’s no other way to have it. I suspect that the concept hasn’t caught on as well because the brands and types of milk that are UHT pasteurized and aseptically packed tend to be majority alternative milks--the nuts, seeds, legumes, whatever--and the discerning customer who gravitates that way has a higher chance of being the same one who’s paranoid about pasteurization destroying nutrients; despite the fact that it literally doesn’t, except for eliminating vitamin C which you can just get elsewhere as no real functioning person gets all of their nutrients from one choice item each day.
This is probably the grayest one out of any I've tried yet. Smooth, but has more of a fuller feel than the others. I mean, it still feels pretty similar to the other nut milks in that they feel kinda whipped, but this one tasted just a tinge more nutty and felt more milky. Definitely a lot less sediment and nonsense than the other more noble alternative milks, and as a result feels a lot more, I don’t know, clean? Pure? Refreshing? Probably the most milk-like and most able to be an adequate milk replacement, at least on a textural and taste level.
Unsweetened Vanillanowhere to be seen in the ingredients list, only to be assumed in the “natural flavors”, an issue that got Blue Diamond Almond Breeze into a lot of trouble, right or wrong. It’s also nowhere to be tasted in the flavor. Opening the bottle up provides a quick whiff of vanilla, similar to blowing out a candle, but that’s about as far as it goes. The milk itself is very smooth, almost mouth-coating in a chocolate milk kinda way, but with its only flavor being stale water I really didn’t want it to have that quality. I almost wish raw milk drinkers were right in their exaggerated statements experienced hyperbolically that pasteurization cooks the milk and changes the flavor, because I really could’ve used some caramelization in this. Whatever vanilla is allegedly there does not make up for it being unsweetened. I don’t hate it, though; it wasn’t gritty, it didn’t taste foul, it was just boring.
I’m not sure of the mechanics of this, or why it does, but only after I poured it into some cereal did the nuttiness and vanilla flavor come out. In general, the unsweetened Milkadamia products seem less suited as a milk alternative for direct consumption, but they’re pretty alright when mixed with something else that milk otherwise would be.
Forager piqued my interest because it had a pretty minimalist bottle design and also looked like it actually had a good amount of liquid inside of it. $4.99 on sale for $3.99 for 48 fl oz, a full third of a gallon, which I then found for $3.79 at the next store I went to. Kinda pricey, but not really more so than any of the other brands that aren’t from behemoth companies. Forager Project has a pretty expansive portfolio of products, going from “cashewgurt”, to your regular old cashew milk, to flavored probiotic shakes, and even vegetable chips.
For this, I simply bought the Original Cashewmilk because as far as alternative milks go that’s, like, it. They also have an Unsweetened Cashewmilk, Unsweetened Coconut Cashewmilk, and Unsweetened Vanilla Coconut Cashewmilk, presumably realizing their trend and stopping before any more words can get tacked on and ruin their minimalist design. Vegan, BPA-free, Kosher, gluten-free, soy-free, lactose-free, gum-free, sweetened with dates instead of sugar, yadda yadda all of the regular stuff that these things rack up, except for one big one that caught my eye--no Non-GMO Project Verified logo. They did have something else, though, a Certified Organic by CCOF Non-GMO & More logo was on the back. To investigate, I went to their site and straight to their about us page, where they talk about how their goals since starting as a company in 2013 are to improve human and planet health, and list off a handful of organizations that focus on organics, sustainability, and the climate. The CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) site also has a ton of actually useful and relevant information on it, including what organic and GMOs even are, showing that slapping a Non-GMO Project Verified just isn’t enough to actually mean anything more than convincing yourself you’re doing good for the environment, and that organic is the extra 10+ steps further that actually makes a real difference. Another absence that I did keenly notice was that nowhere I could see on their site do they peddle in diet-trend pseudoscience or fear-based “if I can’t pronounce it it must be bad” chemical avoidance, and instead list some facts that support their plant-based environmentalist stance. There’s no carrageenan, but it’s not a hyped up focus and purpose of the product. There’s no erratic and haphazard attempt to appeal to every nook and cranny of the alternative food market. It’s a clear and focused position, and just what I want to see.
Organic Unsweetened Vanilla Coconut Cashewmilk
Well, you know what the say about assuming. Disappointingly thin, as if it’s just one part skim milk to two parts water. There’s a lot less sediment than the Original at first glass, but it’s also markedly saltier to the point that I felt my throat closing with how parched it made me. The vanilla flavor makes only the most fleeting cameo appearance, so little that it may as well have just stayed home and reduced the price of this by a whole dollar. That one rotating review near the bottom of their page saying “you wouldn’t know this wasn’t dairy!” is a bald-faced lie; the only way you wouldn’t know is if you just haven’t had any real milk in the first place. Go outside more, Michele from Seattle, I know your foodie hipster city is a prime location for genuine local milk alternatives, especially with there being nothing but farmland outside the eastern city limits.
After doing a bunch of research into all of this nut milk stuff, I came across several times The Cornucopia Institute, a food and farm watchdog group which “engages in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture.” They have this neat scorecard assessing the health and ethics of plant-based beverages, as well as scorecards for some other things and a bunch of reports. They seem pretty credible, at least enough to use them as a resource on some info and policies, except for their anti-carrageenan stance. Remember, kids, always verify the credibility of your sources and fact-check everything! At the top of this one particular scorecard are four items with perfect scores, from two different companies, and one that I’ve seen at Whole Foods on a sale that dampens my buyer’s remorse prevention alarm--Malk.
The company itself seems pretty simple, just being a humble venture of a family who all conveniently seemed to be already an expert or in the field of food, sale, and clean tech, that turned into a rising star business, with its intentions rooted in just having a milk alternative to avoid triggering a personal dairy allergy. Aside from those bios, there’s really not much other information given, or to be there in the first place. Their goal seems as simple as having an alternative milk product that’s as straightforward and clean as it can get.
Unsweetened Almond Malk
Straightforward it is; organic sprouted almonds, filtered water, himalayan salt, that’s it. I’m sure lots of other nut milks use sprouted nuts as all that means it that they were soaked in water for a bit beforehand, allowing them to germinate a little. This apparently unlocks greater nutritional potential, whatever that means; it could be a pretty nebulous and empty phrase, or the chemistry of the seed could change once it starts sprouting, so I guess the jury is out on that one in lieu of me researching this. Malk also has other flavors, including what seems to be a unique maple pecan flavor, but I opted not to diversify trying this product beyond the original due to its price. I got this on sale at Whole Foods for $4.49, originally $5.49, for a 28 fl oz bottle, which is just barely above 1/5 of a gallon, a whole 100 fl oz less. I guess that this really serves as the example of fillers existing to fluff up the quantity of a product while lowering the price. Looks a lot like milk, with nothing floating in it and a nice fresh white. The first sip is nice and smooth, with just a touch of creaminess. As I continue sipping it grows more watery and gritty; I can see why the bottle says to “shake super well” as I guess the almond meal settles quickly, proven true by there being noticeable brown sludge mixing in with the milk once I got low enough in my glass that tipping it to my mouth exposed the bottom. It didn’t really quench my thirst for long, and instead quickly made me feel parched and dehydrated. Looking at you, himalayan salt. I get that salt is added to help add taste and masquerade as a naturally lightly sweet and salty dairy milk, but is there really no other way to do it while keeping the organic cred? How about just not including it?
It goes surprisingly well with my cereal of choice, Frosted Mini Wheats. The nutty flavor persists and complements the cereal well. I miss the heavy creaminess of standard milk with this, but at least Malk provides something else in its place instead of just expensive water.
Three Trees Unsweetened Vanilla Bean Almond Milk
Up there on the top of Cornucopia’s list alongside Malk is Three Trees. It’s also at the top of the prince range, being $6.99 for a mere 28 fl oz. Luckily, I got it bogo at The Fresh Market to help lubricate my money-wasting decision. Original wasn’t an option; there wasn’t even a spot or tag for it on the shelf, just Vanilla Bean, Pistachio, and Black Sesame, so I got Vanilla Bean.in their faq, stating: “because we don't use any stabilizers or emulsifiers, our nut milks naturally separate, just like homemade. Over time the healthy fat may even form a layer of cream on top – similar to cream-top dairy milk. Your nut milk has not curdled – we promise! Shaking the bottle breaks up the cream into smaller pieces that dissolve into the milk so it’s not chunky, but you’ll still find some cream bits floating. These cream bits may look funny, but they taste great and are very heart-healthy.” Well, I wouldn’t say they taste great, they don’t taste like anything at all really, but they do look funny and resemble the textural quality of curdled milk well enough that it triggers an involuntary disgust reaction within me. What I’m wondering is why this is the only nut milk that has had fat separate. With the ingredients being merely filtered water, organic almonds, organic vanilla extract, and organic vanilla beans, the only thing the fat could’ve come from is the almonds, and no other almond milk has done this. Is their process different, somehow? Do they use different nuts than anyone else? Are they not truthful with their ingredient list? Either way their faq addresses some of the tougher questions posed to nut milks in a way that seems like genuine answers, so good on them for that. Tipping my glass carefully so the fat globules float upwards while I sip the chunk-free milk from the bottom, I can feel that it’s pretty watery; not in the Forager and Malk kinda way, but more clean, I guess? Still would prefer the fat to have not separated out because that would’ve given it a more satisfying creamy experience. It just feels flat, as does the taste. I appreciate that real vanilla is used, enough so that I can see it all settled in the bottom, but I don’t really taste it, likely due to the fact that it’s not just settled on the bottom. It’s basically caked. I’ve never shaken a bottle harder in my life than I have with this, and it’s still glued there.
Ultimately, I believe this product would be better the fresher it is, as sitting on a shelf does its damage.
A final note just to recap: GMOs are safe and good for you, carrageenan is just fine, and if any of these distress you on an individual itemized scale then go ahead and cut it out of your diet, but, just like the gluten-free sensation, there are no added health benefits to avoiding these unless you are literally actually for real allergic and have consulted your primary care doctor (or a few) to go over your thoughts and feelings on this. But, should you be bound by a well-researched safe diet, or some kind of health affliction, or personal morality and ethics, there exists out there every possible combination of ingredients and sourcing for a seemingly infinite amount of milks, and, should one not exist, there instead exists opportunity in our capitalist society for an aspiring entrepreneur. Maybe you? Go forth and milk things!
Take a guess what's up next month! I dairy you. 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!