Why We Have a Coke and a Smile

An article in Civil Eats today brought up a subject I've been trying to avoid: soda addiction. It's a subject covered in this blog before: why is it so hard to kick the soda habit? In my own case, soda addiction is something I really do struggle with. Since dietary restrictions keep me from drinking juice, regular soda, or any sweetened beverages, I'm always searching for a calorie-free beverage, preferably with bubbles. Burgeoning recycling bins led me to give up prepared soda in favor of Soda Club. This do-it-yourself soda kit eliminates waste and allows me to mix my own flavors or use their diet flavorings. All of the pleasure, none of the guilt, right? As Civil Eats pointed out, the proposed soda tax is getting a lot of attention because of the huge health costs associated with the diabetes and obesity epidemics.

This reminded me of the huge increase in soda's popularity that I've witnessed in my lifetime. Soda was a treat, not a staple for the fridge during my childhood. There wouldn't have even been need for a "fridge pack" of soda cans awhile ago. CNN says,

At the midpoint of the 20th century, Americans drank four times as much milk as soda pop. Today, the ratio is almost completely reversed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Then again, coffee has also attained a new level of importance in American culture: the $6 frothed cappuccino drinks and gourmet roasts along with the coffee shops on every corner point not only to the collective need for a buzz. They are signs of the ritualization of something that used to be a domestic commodity with more or less interchangeable tastes.

My own yearnings for coffee and soda seems to transcend slaking my thirst or even jolting me awake in the morning. An article I read recently about an Amherst professor's course on Consumption and Happiness gave me a hint as to why:

[Professor Barbezat] noted that a number of his students are often surprised that they can enter his class and generate a sense of happiness, seemingly on command. This is especially important for some students to realize, he said, considering that some associate “going to get a Coke” or consuming something tangible with being happy.

That's it. My (homemade) soda/coffee/tea break is a moment of self-care, a soothing punctuation to my day. This may seem to be in contrast to the caffeine content of the beverage, but it's not an uncommon perception, according to a New York Times article:

What does a Buddhist monk meditating in a soccer stadium during a
game have to do with Coca-Cola? Everything, says Gerald Zaltman,
a maverick marketing professor at the Harvard Business School.

Research has shown that Coke drinkers include "calm, solitude and relaxation" in their views of the product. Yet it shouldn't be necessary to go through the drink to get that peaceful feeling. Barbezet's students learn that meditation can circumvent the consumption of a product, but perhaps the goal isn't to get rid of all life's rituals. A shared cup of something brings people closer together. Consumed by oneself, however, that "solitude in a can" is kind of suspect. Why should one need "something" to be alone?

It's definitely something I'm going to think about, especially since summertime is a great time to work on my homemade iced tea recipes. In case I need any more incentive to rethink my soda consumption, I can always look back at this article listing the "10 diseases linked to soda." Yikes.

Tags: Beverage, Consumer, Consumption, Diet, Health, Recycle, Soda

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