$66 billion dollars a year. That’s what American’s spend on carbonated drinks every year. Well, according to this at least. (Notice it’s an addiction center website–I find that funny/interesting/disturbing/comical/questionable).

Another interesting factoid: from 1970 to 1990, “the supply of low-fat milk rose from 5.8 to 15.5 gallons..but that of soft drinks rose from 24.3 to 53 gallons.” Food Politics, Marion Nestle, page 9.

I started looking into the negative health effects of soda, and ahoy, there’s quite a few of them. Including, but not limited to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Obesity (“…for each additional soda consumed, the risk of obesity increases 1.6 times”)
  • Bone loss
  • Hypokalemia

Why am I writing about soda? When Jeff and I moved into our apartment back in 2008, we stopped buying soda because we realized we didn’t need to spend money on that. Ever since then, we consume mostly water and beer. And iced tea on occasion. It works out well. We save a few bucks, which allows us to buy more beer. But I digress.

After a while of not having soda at home, I realized that when we’d go out to eat, I didn’t feel like drinking soda. It was too sweet, and sounded less than appetizing. This made me realize how prevalent soda is everywhere, and how few alternatives there really are.

I was made more aware of this when I discovered Native Foods, and their non-soda beverages. It was disturbing to realize how weird it was that Native Foods didn’t have soda (instead they have delicious lavender lemonade, watermelon fresca, and native iced idea). So this got me thinking: how did this relationship develop between food establishments (especially fast food) and the soda industry, to the point that they go hand in hand?

Another food establishment that got me thinking about this, in a somewhat different manner, is In n Out’s policy regarding bottled water. The policy is that they don’t sell any. I found that really interesting, and pretty admirable. What does this have to do with soda? Well, it has more to do with the soda industry, since Dasani is owned by Coca Cola, and Aquafina is owned by PepsiCo. Interesting and long discussion on the promotion of bottled water versus tap water here.

Both of these got me wondering how this all got started, and how we ended up drinking as much soda and bottled water as we do.

Let’s start with a little history.

Carbonated drinks were sold commercially before the 19th century as tonic or “medicine,” and it wasn’t until someone started adding fruit syrups to it that soft drinks became popular. There’s also an interesting correlation between “soft” drinks and “hard” liquor, ha! It seems that soda became especially popular during the prohibition, where soft drinks were encouraged and promoted over hard liquor. Who knew?

You can find an interesting, and entertaining, history of soda fountains here. There’s also a time line and history of each major soda company (including my personal favorite, Dr. Pepper) that you can read here.

So, soda came, and it conquered.

It’s taken a special place in our culture. In an NPR article, a speaker states “I remember when I was a child, it was not considered appropriate to offer a soda with a meal on a regular basis, milk or water was the norm.” Ha!

The second segment of that NPR special talks about a student who was proud about having a healthy breakfast: a pineapple soda.

Huh.

Again, how did we get here?

Jeff has always been surprised by the legality of “lobbying.” So, you pay money to get what you want, even if it run against what’s good or in the best interest? Yep.

Food Politics has a whole chapter (chapter 9) devoted to lobbying efforts and soft drinks. It talks about how soft drink companies (mostly the Coca Cola company) pour tons of money into schools in exchange for exclusivity rights (aka “pouring rights”). Many schools are not in a position to turn down these financially lucrative offers, so what happens? “…soft drinks have replaced milk in the diets of many American children as well as adults…From 1985 to 1997, school districts decreased the amounts of milk they bought by nearly 30% and increased their purchase of carbonated sodas by an impressive 1,100%.” Nestle, 198-9; emphasis added.

The book has an interesting timeline of the history of regulations governing sales of soft drinks in elementary and secondary schools. For example, in 1970: amendments to 1996 Act ban sales of sodas in or near school cafeterias during mealtimes…then in 1972 another amendment permits sale during mealtimes if the proceeds benefit schools or school groups. Regulation authority is then transferred to the USDA, who tries unsuccessfully to clamp down even more and ban completely the sale of soda on school campuses. Every time they try to propose such amendments, the Coca Cola company and PepsiCo lobby against it. One bill introduction caused Coca-Cola to organize a letter-writing campaign “among school principles, superintendents, and coaches who feared losing revenues generated by vending machines.” Nestle, 208-9, 210.

Part of some state regulations include restrictions like “no water ices except those which contain fruit or fruit juices, shall be sold in any public school within the state.” So… “companies developed sweetened fruit ‘drinks’ that can be sold on lunch lines; these contain just barely enough juice (5%) to get around being defined as a food of minimal nutritional value.” Nestle, 212. Take THAT!

Food Politics focuses on lobbying only at the educational level, but I think that has longstanding implications: you get used to drinking soda at a young age, and probably continue to do so way past your formative educational years.

This website has some interesting, albeit outdated, information concerning campaign contributions and the Coca Cola company. The site breaks down campaign contributions by year, and by political party (up to 2003, $491,000 to Republican party committees and $8,850 to Democratic party committees–I find that interesting), as well as lobbying expenses.

“Congressional reluctance to favor children’s health above the rights of soft drink producers is a direct result of election laws that require legislators to obtain corporate funding for their campaigns. Like most corporations, soft drink companies donate funds to local and national candidates. More rational campaign financing laws might permit Congress to take positions based on public good rather than private greed.” Nestle, 217; emphasis added.

This influence on congress has far reaching implications.

The Coca Cola Company has been demonized in Latin America because of it’s influence on fighting local labor unions. There are sites dedicated to lobbying against the Coca Cola Company, suck as Killer Coke.

There’s also the issue of the environment. The Coca Cola Company seemed to be pretty bent out of shape when the Grand Canyon decided to ban plastic bottles from the park. Coca Cola has donated more than $13 billion to the parks, and the park started to second guess whether it really wanted to ban plastic bottles or not when Coca Cola representatives weren’t happy with the news. Hmmm. In the end, the park moved forward with its plans, but with some conditions.

Yikes, I kinda went all over the place on this one (this includes mixing issues such as soda health concerns and bottled water environmental concerns). I’m sure this could be a whole research paper on the subject, but hopefully these little tid bits of information are interesting to you. What it means to you is up to you. I still enjoy a Coke or Dr. Pepper on occasion, but I’m glad I stopped consuming as much of it as I used to.

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