Jewish World Review May 19, 2003 / 17 Iyar, 5763

Lloyd Garver

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Consumer Reports

Testing the water | As we head towards summer and people are getting more and more thirsty, I want to talk about the popularity of the fastest-growing beverage in today's modern world. This miracle drink has 0 calories, 0 sodium, 0 fat, and 0 carbohydrates, so no wonder it's becoming increasingly popular. The drink is called "water." Bottled water. The stuff that used to be for the rich and pretentious is now being lapped up like, well, like water. And I'm not talking about flavored water or bubbly water. I'm talking about Americans spending billions of dollars just to drink something that they could get out of their tap.

Everyone who has seen "Erin Brockovich" knows that not all water is safe (and that not everybody should wear a push-up bra). However, assuming that the water in your area is not poisonous, why buy the bottled stuff? There is the assumption by the consumer (and the impression by the advertiser) that somehow bottled water is healthier for us than regular water or other drinks. Considering that the most popular bottled waters are sold by Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and Nestle, it's hard to think of them as health foods.

The various brands try to appear as healthy as possible. Descriptions on their bottles include, "spring water," "pure spring water," "natural spring water," "mountain spring," "natural artesian water," "crystal fresh," "naturally filtered," and "purified drinking water." And at least one label boasts my favorite label slogan -- "arsenic free." Is this bottle just telling me that it contains no arsenic, or is it also implying that those without this disclaimer may be loaded with arsenic? I mean, Krispy Kreme doesn't label its donut boxes, "Plutonium free."

There is a huge range in price and snobbishness among bottled waters. In case you haven't gotten your copy of "Beverage Digest" lately, let me remind you that no less of an authority than its editor and publisher, John D. Sicher, says they are all basically the same and "all hydrate equally well." The most popular brand of water is Pepsi Cola's Aquafina. And the most amazing thing to me is that this bottled water actually costs more than Pepsi! So, it's conceivable that the following conversation could take place: "Want some water?" "No, I don't want to spend that much. I'll just have a Pepsi." Evidently, when it comes to water, the higher the price, the more people buy.

People are very proprietary about their favorite brands, claiming that theirs tastes best and helps keep them in good shape. Bottled waters can cause all kinds of arguments - and not only about taste or health. My neighbor was recently buying some Evian in the grocery store when another customer chided him for not buying American products at this time. Then the angry "patriot" drove away in his Porsche.

When it comes to water, I don't have a very discriminating taste. Yesterday, I bought eight different brands of water -- varying in price from 34 cents to about $2. I conducted a blind taste test, and even included tap water. They all tasted pretty much the same to me. Maybe I should have had a sip of wine in between each taste to cleanse my palate. I know that some people -- maybe even most people -- are better than I am at distinguishing the different brands, but is all this clear liquid worth the hype and money? If you tell me that your favorite brand tastes better than all the rest and makes you feel healthier than the others, I believe you.

But I can't help thinking that those in the bottled water business are laughing at us consumers and thinking that we're suckers -- especially when you consider what Evian spelled backwards spells.

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JWR contributor Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.


05/13/03: New car hell
05/05/03: Bed and breakfast bewilderment
04/28/03: Sexy? That's a laugh!
04/10/03: When 'all A's' isn't good enough
04/04/03: A kibosh on complaining
03/13/03: Cut those billionaires some slack
03/05/03: Will they ever run out of celebs? The pols hope not!
02/26/03: Unfortunately, we can hear you now
02/19/03: Just say what you mean

© 2003, Lloyd Garver