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Something About Soda

January 24, 2013

One thing that I always keep on hand at home is a stash of Pepsi Throwback. This may be surprising to some people, or maybe not.

If Coke was still made with cane sugar, or if I could get the kosher for Passover coke in cans, or if the Mexican Coke wasn’t so darn expensive, I would keep that on hand instead. For a while there was a plant somewhere in the US that was producing a Dr. Pepper Throwback, and that was my soda of choice when I could find it.

My soda consumption isn’t driven by taste preference. Instead, it takes its cues from my avoidance of High Fructose Corn Syrup. That said, I do make an occasional exception for Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, especially when I’m eating corned beef or pastrami. I know the corn refiners say that HFCS is the same thing as sugar. But if that’s the case, how come you can’t buy it at the grocery store to sweeten your morning coffee?

Regardless of the sweetener used however, soda finds itself under attack.

On one hand, I think that’s great. Soda is public enemy number one in the fight against obesity. And for far too long soda companies that have been pushing nasty sweeteners on the people of the world. But as a food lover, this is dangerous territory.

I am a soda drinker, and I am not obese.

Those who will say that soda is nothing but empty calories will say the same thing about candy. But I wholeheartedly reject the notion of empty calories for anything that brings pleasure into the world. Refined sugars may not be healthy, but neither is dining at Alain Ducasse. Nor for that matter is going around and sampling five different kinds of fried cheese.

These are splurges. They are treats. Some people can’t afford steak and cigars, so they make do with hamburgers and cigarettes.

Uh oh, I said the cigarette word.

I am going to draw a line there because cigarettes are more than just unhealthy, they are also intensely physically addictive (some say more so than heroin). And I believe that to be an important distinction.

Potato chips may be habit forming. Soda is too. Far too many people sit down to eat their food and without giving it a second thought will order a soda, drink it down, and lose track of the free refills poured over the course of the meal. Amazingly, some will then move on to dessert.

There is a problem with soda to be sure. Somehow it lost its status as a special treat. Probably we can track that back historically from when it made the jump from being a handmade beverage sold at soda fountains to a portable can that could be enjoyed on the go.

Do more people need to start seriously reconsidering their soda habit? Absolutely.
Should people be encouraged to drink more water? Certainly.
Is it a good idea to ban extra large sodas? Please don’t.

Sometimes you want a large soda. Let’s say you have a large popcorn at a movie theater. Are you going to have to buy two small sodas to wash that down? Or let’s say you are making a long drive at night and can’t stomach the thought of coffee, yet could use a little pick-me-up. Perhaps you are a romantic and think it would be cute to share a soda with your sweetie, sipping from two straws cheek-to-cheek.

Or let’s just say you are in the mood to get completely bloated with soda, just for no reason at all.

Tax it just as you would something else with public health implications. Arbitrate claims that producers make that are misleading. Provide incentives for businesses to eliminate soda machines from their premisses. Educate consumer on the harm that daily soda consumption can have on your health.

I refuse to believe that a soda made from sucrose cannot be part of a healthy diet, if it is treated by consumers the same as “liquid candy” and not a form of hydration.

Because if the government comes after soda as a “fructose delivery device” then candy may be next. Or maybe ice cream. French fries are terrible for you too. And a heap of refined white flour, smothered in cheese and sodium? Pizza is in peril.

It sounds remote, I know. Maybe even a little bit hysterical. But it started with trans fat bans. And I hate trans fats as much as I hate HFCS. Still, I don’t think trans fats should be banned either. I think they should be very clearly labeled, with none of the current shenanigans permitting their use while allowing the claim of “No Trans Fat” just so long as the quantity per serving is less than half a gram.

Thank you, government, for the thought, but no thanks. Coke, thank you for this awful piece of corporate communications. You are not blameless in all of this. Take your lumps and lets move forward. Internet video remixers, I appreciate your hard work and your cleverness in turning Coke’s own video around on themselves. However, your message is still just as much propaganda as the original. Center for Science in the Public Interest, your video is great too, but you need to loosen up a little bit.

There is a distinction that needs to be made in the soda debate that seems to be conspicuously absent. The problem isn’t soda itself. It’s moderate to heavy users of soda.

Not that the manufacturers are off the hook. They are still responsible for their marketing, their encouragement of excessive consumption, their placement of product in schools, and their use of an ingredient that may prove to be more dangerous than table sugar (despite previous claims to the contrary).

I’m not trying to undermine the problem. But it seems like the awareness of soda’s shortcomings is on the rise. I believe that is a major factor in the declining soda sales in the U.S. Let’s keep up the good work, and let’s encourage our legislatures to hold off on banning those little things that can bring a little bit of pleasure into the world.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 24, 2013 10:55 am

    Your new font is hard to read.

  2. January 24, 2013 1:21 pm

    Pepsi Throwback is the best soda ever — they should just switch their recipe to that (and ditch the HFCS) and get it over with. That said, I don’t really drink soda, either, just when a rare craving strikes. But I do appreciate the giant sodas’ availability, ’cause my husband often uses them on the way back on a long drive, ’cause he doesn’t like coffee — the super-size Coke (always Coke, ’cause it’s more sugary, or at least it tastes like it is) has helped me on a few long, late drives, too.

  3. January 24, 2013 1:49 pm

    I have friends in Pennsylvania that swear the Coke factory in the Lehigh Valley makes coke with all natural sugar.

    The problem with sodas made with real sugar is they have damn near 50 grams of sugar per 12oz serving! that’s nuts! 200+ calories.

    I rarely drink soda and when I do I’ll opt for something made with splenda (sucrose) instead of Aspartame. That stuff scares the hell out of me.

    Have you considered homebrewing your own soda? It’s really easy to make and you can do it with the kids. Just go to either of the homebrew stores in the area and they’ll have the kits and equipment. You can order it online too, but I’m not sure if you can get champagne yeast online. It takes less than hour to make a gallon batch including sanitizing and cleanup. The soda is usually read to drink in a week. Plus you can play with the flavors. And some hardcore soda homebrewers use all natural spices and roots for root beer and sasparilla and birch beer.

  4. January 24, 2013 2:30 pm

    The Mexican Coke is great to serve at parties. I find that compared to the HFCS, the cane sugar tastes sweeter, so you drink less of it. That’s my take at least. I have to restrain myself whenever I stock up.

  5. January 24, 2013 6:55 pm

    What are you going to defend next, plastic bags? (that was a question)

    Whenever I am tempted to have a soda, I try to substitute an IPA or single malt scotch that has the same amount of calories, tastes better, and doesn’t rot my teeth. That said (and as a born Dallasite, where the stuff was perfected), Diet Dr. Pepper and its big brother Dr. Pepper Ten aren’t half bad.

  6. January 26, 2013 2:36 am

    Pepsi Throwback is great… just seems to be hit-or-miss to find. It isn’t so much of a nutritional issue for me, but one of taste – I like the flavor of real sugar as opposed to that of high-fructose corn sugar.

    I love Mexican Coke, and get it anytime I can – I sometimes wonder why it isn’t the standard here. Perhaps a Mexican ban on HFCS, as in many European countries, or the corn subsidies we in the U.S. so generously extend?

  7. Cori permalink
    February 1, 2013 6:09 pm

    Thank you for helping me feel not-so-shitty about the one to two glasses of soda per week that I limit myself to. I have tried to cut it out completely but couldn’t and have come to this sometimes-guilt-laced “compromise” with myself. Perhaps now I can loosen up.

    BTW, Five Guys has the most outstanding selection of fountain-dispensed Coke anywhere around.

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