11 June 2008

I am because we are

I have a cola problem. I like soft-drinks, my brunch of choice on a Sunday is a cappuccino and a glass of cola, but there is something inherently evil in most of them.

Everything was fine until one day in 2004 when I went along to see Mark Thomas in the Olympia doing a one-man show pretty much entirely on the subject of Coca-Cola. He said that he could have picked any major soft-drink company to highlight, but Coke seemed like an obvious choice. He took us through the history of Coke, including the alleged use of death-squads by its Columbian bottling company to eliminate trade-union activists and the creation of Fanta by its subsidiary in nazi Germany when the imports of Coke ingredients were halted by the US.

Since then there have been high profile cases in India with allegations of ground-water contamination and general pollution by bottling plants. The creation of Coke is water-intensive, in her campaign against the bottling industry Vandana Shiva has said that it takes over nine litres of water to make a single litre of Coke. In areas of extreme drought, particularly in India, water is diverted from subsistence farmers to bottling plants further adding to extreme rural poverty. Access to water is increasingly becoming one of the major hardships in the early 21st century, and Coke and other soft-drinks are playing a surprisingly large role.

All of this is not even taking into consideration the extreme health issues with them, with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the sweetener in Coke and Pepsi, now believed to be one of the leading causes of obesity in America, as fructose does not break down in the body as rapidly as other sugars. Interestingly enough HFCS accounts for 10% of the entire US corn crop, and has lead to the virtual destruction of the cane sugar, and sugar beet industries in the US. According to Raj Patel, in 'Stuffed and Starved', HFCS can be manufactured for between 9 and 12 cents per pound, and sold at 18 and 19 cents per pound, almost a 100% profit, in comparison to a US wholesale price of 29 cents/pound for sugar.

HFCS is an incredibly artificial, processed food; the corn is dried and dipped in sulphurous acid, the germ removed and heated with hydrochloric acid to make corn syrup. The fructose is then mixed with enzymes, distilled and concentrated to raise the sweetness. Its then diluted to bring it down to the 55% high fructose corn syrup as used by industry. All of this is done by one of three companies that control the whole HFCS market, a market that is heavily subsidised by the US government. Every US presidential candidate spends a lot of time in Iowa talking about biofuel, this is because of the vast amounts of money the corn industry lobbyists have. Their money goes to politicians, and in return the processing industry, not the small farmers but the manufactures of HFCS and biofuels, get billions of dollars in subsidies. These subsidies keep manufacturing costs lower than sugar beet or cane sugar processing, driving those industries out of business, thus leading to an increased dependency on HFCS in the US as the major sweetening agent in all parts of the food industry.

And in 1999 the average american consumed 64 pounds of HFCS over the course of the year.

So soft drinks are bad for me morally and physically, but I still love them. When I can I try and look for micro-brewed drinks, or organic or fair trade drinks from smaller brewers, but its rare to find them in restaurants though (Jo'burger in Rathmines notably stocks a few). So I was delighted to find one today that soothes both my thirst and inner geek, Ubuntu cola from Malawi; While unrelated to the OS it is Fair-trade, has no HFCS, and is not too bad on the taste buds.

If I could find some organic rum I would be the smuggest man in the world right now.

Links
Mark Thomas
Vandana Shiva on Soft-drinks in India
High Fructose Corn Syrup and obesity
Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved
Ubuntu Cola

1 Comments:

At 10:53 pm, Blogger Sarah said...

Despite being a large retail multiple, Sainsbury's do a lovely Organic Fairtrade Rum.

http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/food/foodandfeatures/sainsburys_food_ranges/organics/1_organic_range/organic_range.htm

I always have some in my press so you can try it the next time you come visit.

S

 

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