“What’s your favorite beverage?” my friend asked me one day. We were sitting on a curb outside of a small concert space in hipster-territory Williamsburg, New York. “Water,” I replied. “That’s such a David Xia answer,” he chuckled.
At that time, I didn’t know how crucial water was both as a beverage and a natural resource in the future. Not until I just finished reading Tom Standage’s A History Of The World In Six Glasses. This book, which has long been on my reading list, recounts a fascinating and compelling history of six monumentally important drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.
These drinks contributed to agriculture, sparked wars, spawned innovation, devastated countries, and created fortunes. I’ll never look at a cup of coffee in the same way again.
The book’s epilogue examines the next history-shaping beverage – water. So much of the last six important drinks’ rise were a result of the difficulty of finding safe drinking water. The preparation of and the natural substances in tea and alcohol often made non-potable water safe to drink. Today, we understand what drinkable fresh water is, but Standage writes that there is still a huge gulf between the developed and developing worlds.
“Sales of bottled water are booming,” writes Standage. “The global bottled-water industry had revenues of around forty-six billion dollars in 2003, and consumption of bottled water is growing by 11 percent a year, faster than for any other drink.”
After learning that bottled water is not necessarily safe or healthier than tap water, I’ve become a firm believer in the faucet. What’s wrong with tap? In some cases, it’s even better. Before reading Standage’s book, I’d heard about studies that debunked the health/nutritional myths of bottled water. One study published in the Archives of Family Medicine found that a quarter of a selected group of bottled water samples had significantly higher levels of bacteria than Cleveland, Ohio tap water.
I used to believe that my precious bottled water reached my lips directly from a rustic spring tucked deep within an evergreen forest. After all, the bottle did say “spring water” and even had a picture of said spring. According to Standage, “America’s two leading bottled-water brands, Aquafina and Dasani, are derived from municipal water supplies.”
It’s ironic that we in developed nations drink the most bottled water even though we have the best access to safe tap water. So, ultimately, bottled water is a lifestyle statement. Meanwhile, for those in the developing world, “access to water remains a matter of life or death.”
A fifth of the world’s population, or around 1.2 billion people, currently lack reliable access to safe drinking water. The World Health ORganization estimates that 80 percent of all illness in the world is due to waterborne diseases…There are about four bilion cases of diarrhea a year, resulting in 1.8 million deaths, 90 percent of them among children under five…According to the United Nations, one of the main reasons girls do not go to school in sub-Saharan Africa is that they have to spend so much time fetching water from distant wells and carrying it home.
So what can I as a consumer do? Well, for one, stop buying bottled water. But this doesn’t help people who don’t have potable water. Aquafina and Dasani would get my vote if they were to donate a percentage of their revenues to funding clean water projects in these developing areas. They’d get my money if I knew every drop of unnecessary water I bought helped someone else out there not die from diarrhea.