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The Most Coveted Stuff
An Odd Note on Hydration Politics
© 2012 James LaFond
Recently I trained with a new fighter, Adam, a college student just returned from a vacation in Fiji. He had many interesting facts and impressions to relate about his visit. The thing that had shocked him the most was the fact that Fijians drink nasty heavily chlorinated water. This immediately resonated with me—retail food geek extraordinaire—as I always make certain to include Fiji water in any water lineup I set, preferably at eye-level. It is good tasting artesian water from a tropical paradise after all.
I inquired as to why one must drink nasty tap water when on Fiji. He explained that an American owns the water rights to the springs in Fiji and reserves it all for export. This immediately reminded me of Michael Scheuer’s point in his book Imperial Hubris [reviewed in this blog] about why Americans are hated worldwide by so many people we do not even know exist. Upon further reflection I considered the ages old politics of water.
Below I offer my meager store of knowledge, in the hopes that you might have something to add, either fact or opinion, via the comment feature at the base of the article.
One of the first things I learned in the Cub Scouts was that, when camping by a river or stream, one draws drinking water from upstream, washes downstream, and urinates and defecates all the way downstream. This made more sense to me than most things taught to us children. I could not help but wonder, however, about those poor folks downstream doing the same thing to safeguard their water supply.
Early civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia were at the mercy of the rivers that watered their crops. The politics, religion and literature of these societies reflected this profound dependence. The arid and poorly watered lands between these two centers gave rise to societies beset by water issues, still reflected in religious prohibitions against raising water intensive livestock. At least one modern war has been fought over pig grease and our deli counters still honor the ancient water-conscious Middle Eastern ethicists to this day.
Before the deforestation of Eastern North America most travel, commerce and warfare was conducted along rivers in portable canoes that could be hauled to the next headwater. Walking over forested mountains and foothills was a huge pain-in-the-ass.
Much of modern agriculture is dependent on water pumped up from aquifers, which are significantly depleted and are not renewable on an historical scale.
In 1981, the smallest section in any grocer’s catalog was bottled water, non-carbonated, with two entrees: distilled gallons; and alpine spring water in a liter bottle. This entire lineup was jammed into the sparkling water section, and occupied ¼ of 1 vertical foot in the soft drink aisle. Today, 32 years later, bottled water lineups typically run 36 feet: 144 times the frontage previously allocated one employee generation ago. Also, the single most important ‘price-position item’ in a supermarket is no longer milk or bread, but 24-packs of bottled water. No supermarket person in the mid 1980s, when gallons of spring water began to be shelved for sale, thought it would amount to anything. We all laughed, “Who the hell is going to pay for something that is free?”
Us, that’s who.
Anthropologist Jorja Leap on LA Gangs
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