When I was an exchange student to France in 1983-1984 bottled water was simply not “done” in the US. Other than Perrier, which was “fancy water,” I had never seen such a thing.
My French host family bought 6-packs of liter-sized bottles of water at the local “hypermarket” (also new to me then, similar to today’s Super Walmart, but nothing like that existed in the US at the time). This is what we drank at home. We never drank out of a tap. The thought of such a thing horrified them! I think I really confirmed their belief that Americans were culinary barbarians when I confessed that tap water was the only kind we drank in my home.
The French were very particular about their water. Each person had their favorite, and disliked the others. My French family bought Volvic. I thought they were all kind of crazy to think that water actually had a flavor until, by the end of the year, I could tell the difference too! Rather like wine, I now realize that not all water is the same.
I confess to being a Volvic person myself. I think that Evian is an acceptable substitute, but that Vittel (another popular brand in France) tastes like chalk. I really think that I could successfully identify at least these three, maybe more, in a blind tasting.
Here, I drink tap water. If I am out and about and have no water with me, I buy a bottle of whatever is cheapest at the gas station. Why don’t I use a drinking fountain, or ask for a cup (or better yet, keep a reusable cup in my car) and fill it at the sink? I don’t know. I guess I have succumbed to the brainwashing that bottled water is pure and somehow better. It even looks better in those pretty blue tinted bottles with cool and refreshing little droplets depicted on the label. Really, I think it is simply the convenience. But why has filling a cup suddenly become “inconvenient?”
Tonight I learned something new (I love it when that happens). The two leading brands of bottled water in the US (the two combined make up 24% of the US market), Dasani (Coke) and Aquafina (Pepsi), actually “purify” local tap water and bottle it locally so as to save on shipping costs. Local tap water across the US is really pretty pure already. I know that there are those who would argue with that statement, but I wonder how much of a difference you would find in a chemical analysis of local tap water and local Dasani?
Anyhow, when we buy Dasani or Aquafina, we are buying tap water like the kind we get from our tap for free (or almost free depending on where you live). I guess we can credit Coke and Pepsi with reducing their carbon footprint by not bothering to ship water across the country or around the world, but I suspect that their motivation was more their profit margin that their “greenness.”
I learned this in an NPR interview (Bottled Water: A Symbol of US Commerce, Culture) with Charles Fishman, author of an article published in Fast Company magazine about the bottled water industry. His article is entitled “Message in a Bottle.”
In his article, Mr. Fishman calls bottled water “the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel.”
Other interesting stats from the interview:
– Bottled water was introduced to the US from France in the 1980’s by Perrier and Evian.
– Americans spent $15 billion last year on bottled water.
– Americans buy about 1 billion bottles of water per week.
– Think about the fossil fuels that are used in transporting all that very heavy water!
– Although the plastic bottles are recyclable, over 70% of water bottles are not recycled.
I found this story fascinating, and quite timely for me personally. I recently experimented with buying these cute little half-pint bottles of water to throw in the car for the kids if we were on our way somewhere. Well, unfortunately the cute little bottles were way more of a hit than I had intended. What happened was that the children helped themselves to the little bottles and I found them everywhere, indoors and out, usually with just one or two sips gone.
Bye-bye cute little bottles of water! They are potentially handy, but I find that they are wasteful, promote littering, encourage laziness (on the part of the kids and myself), and send a message that disposability is fine.
Who knew that there was so much to be said about something as simple as drinking water!
Listen to the interview here. Read the article here.
Thanks to morguefile.com and photographer ostephy for this photo.