Alan and I are not bottled-water people. In fact, in general, I disapprove of the product. I think it’s a perfect example of an American willingness to buy anything, really, that comes with smart marketing.

A glass of water — Mom’s hard-hearted counter-suggestion for when you begged for a Coke, lest you die of thirst — is one of the America’s great nickel bargains. No, penny bargains, and maybe not even that much. You get a glass and open the tap. If you want it colder, add ice cubes. If you need to take water somewhere, fill a bottle. Technology has given us Lexan, a true miracle plastic that’s glass, but better — doesn’t break, doesn’t transfer plastic taste. A glance at the selection at Target reveals you get your choice of color, size and mouth styles.

I will stipulate a few things that may affect your desire for bottled water: One, that municipal water supplies vary widely in quality. My sister’s house in the suburbs of Columbus dispenses the worst water ever, reeking of sulfur and general ickiness. They got into the Brita thing for a while, which requires special equipment and diligence in terms of monitoring the filter quality and buying more. Two, that the world is a hotter place these days, especially in summer, and people may be thirstier as a result. But. I also want you to stipulate something for me.

That is, that bottled-water plants are a real environmental issue here in Michigan. Ice Mountain set up a plant in a depressed area up north to tap and bottle the groundwater. Local politicians love them because they bring their favorite campaign issue (jobs, even at crappy wages). Of course northern Michigan has abundant groundwater close to the surface why? Because it’s frequently swampy, which means that when you start taking a lot out you lower the level of the aquifer, which affects everything from stream quality to, ultimately, the Great Lakes. We’re all connected after all. But there I go, sounding like a wooly-headed environmentalist again.

We can all agree that hydration is important, can’t we? Sure we can. Stipulated. And one more thing: I buy about a case of the stuff a year. It comes in handy when we have people out on the boat, and we get thirsty. Guests don’t want to share our Lexan bottles. We always offer beer first, but some fuddy-duddies don’t like to start drinking at noon. And Alan insists we buy Dasani or Aquafina, which are bottled by Coke and Pepsi, and generally come from municipal supplies.

But all that said, I still think that bottled water is a big fat shuck. Of course it’s important to stay hydrated, at which point I’ll point you toward the kitchen tap. But really, do we all need to carry water with us at all times? Did our parents do that? Were they dropping like flies of dehydration? No. Reread the scene in “Gone With the Wind” where Melanie has her baby during the siege of Atlanta, on a blistering hot Georgia summer day. You can learn so much about how people coped before air conditioning. The room is kept shaded and Scarlett spends lots of time fanning Melly as she labors. She also wrings out a cloth and places it on her forehead, occasionally sending a slave out to the pump for more water. I’m sure she drank some, too, but at no point did she say, “Melly, you have to drink something. It’s important to stay hydrated.”

Here’s sometimes Alan says, usually when he’s reading a “helpful” newspaper article that, like so many of them these days, assumes its readers are total morons:

“Where would we be without newspapers to remind people to wear sunscreen?”

I ask you: Where would we be without newspapers to remind people to drink water?

Today’s Freep lets us know that school sports practices are starting up, and yes, it’s important to stay hydrated:

But how do you tell if you’re drinking enough? What should you drink? What are the signs of a heat-related illness? We asked local experts. Here’s what they had to say.

Can you guess what they had to say? Of course you can. Drink lots of water. Don’t overdo. Listen to your body. And stay away from salt tablets.

The stories always say this; apparently gobbling salt tablets was considered a remedy for thirst and dehydration back in the Gilded Age. I guess the idea was that sweat was salty and a person needed to replace lost salts. An old reporter at the Journal Gazette once said the newsroom air conditioning system consisted of a drinking fountain and a bottle of salt tablets. But I will confess, I have never seen a bottle of salt tablets in my life. Have you? Where do you buy them? What are the brand names? In what section of the local CVS do they reside? Now there’s a story: Hang out next to the salt tablets for a day and see who buys them. Then warn customers of their dangers!

(I should ask Professor Google before I write this stuff. I guess you can find them somewhere.)

Today it’s supposed to be beautiful, a break from the heat and humidity, a rare day below 80. A glance outside informs me the weatherman did not lie. I plan to go out and enjoy it. I will carry a bottle of water. Because it’s important to stay hydrated.

Posted at 8:46 am in Popculch |

18 responses to “H2O.”

  1. MichaelG said on August 8, 2006 at 9:23 am

    In the Army. In jump school at Fr. Benning GA. they would run us fully clothed through outdoor showers every hour and make us drink water and take a salt tab. Called ‘um “no sweat pills”. We took them in Vietnam as well. One time coming home from the ‘Nam there was a guy who had a bottle of them in his shaving kit. The customs people asked him what they were. “My no sweat pills”, he said. They grilled him for hours and tested the pills before letting him go. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen salt tabs since I left the Army.

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  2. Dorothy said on August 8, 2006 at 9:51 am

    It’s bad enough that bottled water is sold, period. But at outdoor events (festivals, music concerts, etc.) I am perpetually pissed off that they charge $3 or so for a SINGLE BOTTLE. How can so many people be hoodwinked into believing we need to have bottled water? Sheesh.

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  3. Mindy said on August 8, 2006 at 9:59 am

    I’m more of a bottled water kind of guy than I’m willing to admit, but mostly because of the taste. Water doesn’t come out of the tap at my mother’s house – it’s pure bleach. Tastes awful and makes the worst coffee in her area code. I have a case of bottled water in her garage fridge so I can withstand the assault of cigarette smoke during a long visit. The bleach also kills the good bacteria in the digestive system, or so I’ve read.

    But I’m with you on the absurdity of buying water in bottles even though I have it on hand. A cheap filtering gizmo that crossed my path takes the pain out of paying for it. Ninety bucks including a carafe to filter a thousand gallons. Makes tap water taste better than the bottled kind. My tap water is okay but filtering it is worth the hassle and produces better coffee than any Starbuck’s offering.

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  4. brian stouder said on August 8, 2006 at 10:03 am

    I think it’s a perfect example of an American willingness to buy anything, really, that comes with smart marketing.

    An entertaining documentary (?) recently ran on IFC called The Slasher, about a manic mid-40’s fellow who constantly jets away from his young (mid-20’s?) California wife and daughter, to car lots all over the country to run 3 day clearance sale ‘events’. (In the show, they focus on a trip to a lot in Memphis, right at the end of the runway where FedEx jets constantly cycle in and out)

    One of his associates, a hired-gun used car salesman (probably not far north of 30 years old) muses that if a typical American drives past a pile of horse shit with a sign that says it costs a million dollars every day for a year – and then one day sees that the price has been slashed to twenty bucks, he’ll buy it!

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  5. colleen said on August 8, 2006 at 10:04 am

    Gotta admit, I’m a bottled water fan….just don’t like the taste of what comes outta the tap.

    Anyway….I don’t know what the weather people were like up there in the D during the heatwave, but down here, they had their Blizzard Hysteria going as Heat Hysteria. “OMIGOD, it’s July and it’s….HOT!”

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  6. mary said on August 8, 2006 at 10:54 am

    My father owned a lumber yard, and in the summer the guys working in the yard unloading freight cars used to take salt tablets. I remember my brothers, who started out at the yard unloading freight cars, carrying the tablets in their lunch boxes.

    On the bottled water issue: I just bought a new fridge that dispenses filtered cold water. What a treat. It also dispenses crushed ice, something I had no idea I needed so badly. This has led to the creation of this summer’s beverage of choice. It’s a mixture of Trader Joe’s black raspberry lemonade, crushed ice, club soda and a squeeze of lime. Trust me on this one. It’s wonderful. It replaces last year’s beverage: iced red zinger tea, lemon zinger tea, and apple juice (a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.)

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  7. brian stouder said on August 8, 2006 at 11:03 am

    can’t decide if I like the barefoot contessa – but on the other hand, if I tune past and she’s on, I watch her show. Paula Dean is the cake-taker, though. She’s the only person I’ve ever seen who uses a stick of butter to fry her bacon

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  8. mary said on August 8, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Then she’ll put the bacon on a sandwich and add mayonaisse. On buttered bread.

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  9. Danny said on August 8, 2006 at 11:57 am

    Yeah, bottled water fan here too. The tap in San Diego sucks. My wife and I did our own blind taste tests a few years back and we both knew which was the tap before it even got into our mouths. It was the chlorine smell.

    Plus, in So Cal, it is always good to have bottled water on hand for an emergency. It is actually good to do this anywhere you live. Just this weekend, we got a boil water warning in my area and they even shut down all of the restaurants for a day and a half. A water main had broken and somehow the tap had become polluted with choloform bacteria (not specifically e-coli, but a cousin).

    And Mary and Brian are right about Paula Dean. She is a big fan of the neglected food groups such as the whipped group, the congealed group and the chocotastic group.

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  10. kathy t said on August 8, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    Hope I’m not wandering into a crowd that categorically hates Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” but they had a hilarious episode in which a bottled water sommelier presented diners with fancy shmancy selections from various obscure unpolluted sources of the finest waters in the universe or something. And the customers tasted, and they found it good! They could savor subtle flavor differences between one bottle and the next! Cut to waiter in back of restaurant busily filling fancy shmancy bottles with water from the hose.

    In other news, even the notable Bill Bryson, long-term Englishman, ‘came a cropper when it came to using that phrase. Or maybe it was his editor fixed it.

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  11. Kath said on August 8, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    I worked in the fields as a kid detasseling corn and we were given salt tablets. Now everyone drinks Gatorade or other sports drinks — which are essentially Koolaid with salt and–in some cases–caffeine. When going on long bike rides in hot weather, I prefer to get my salt from nature’s perfect food: sour cream and onion potato chips.

    The thing I hate most about single-serving bottled water is the waste created by all those empty plastic bottles. I probably saw a dozen or more lying near the roadside on my bike into work today.

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  12. sammy said on August 8, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    I think the salt tablets idea became widespread because it was pushed by the military in WWII, etc.

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  13. Christopher Clausen said on August 8, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    No one offers anyone water in “Gone with the Wind” because most water was undrinkable then. Also breaking into the scene to talk about drinking anything else probably wouldn’t have read as well.

    People do need to be told what to do when it gets HOTTER THAN NORMAL in the Midwest (I’m originally from Wisconsin.) When the heat wave hit Chicago in 1995, more than 485 people died from heat-related illnesses.

    As for portability and emergencies, I’ve lived on the Texas Gulf Coast for more than 13 years and having lots of these stuffed in cloth shopping bag in a closet to fill from the tap for the next storm beats buying jugs of water.

    As for salt tablets, they’re pushed by doctors to prevent the need for IV’s of saline solution or when IVs aren’t available. Gatoraide and its ilk generally are good substitutes for ‘athletes’ and the rest of us should we think water, a balanced diet and multivitamin won’t cover us.

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  14. Bob said on August 8, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Baling hay the way we did it fifty-odd years ago had to be some of the hottest work in the midwest, next to working in a foundry or rolling mill. Our Case baler used wire instead of twine to tie the bales, and two guys rode the baler in a cloud of dust, one on either side, to feed the wires through between the bales and twist the ends together by hand. The dust stuck to their sweat, and after a short time you couldn’t see anything but their eyes. We always carried a big bottle of salt tablets on the baler, right next to the water jug.

    On a good day, I got to stack bales on the wagon behind the baler. More often, I was the one who ended up stacking in the hayloft of a barn with a tin roof and few or no windows. That was my reward for being the only one on the crew who could do that for a day without getting sick from the heat.

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  15. nancy said on August 8, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Whenever you talk about farming back in the day, Bob, I understand perfectly why everyone was so hot to leave the farm.

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  16. vince said on August 8, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    I set up a consumer jury last fall of 10 people to blind taste test 7 bottled waters and 3 tap waters. (We’re on the Oregon/Washington border and our tap water’s known to be good.)
    Many of the participants were die-hard bottled water drinkers.

    They all thought they could correctly peg not only which were bottled and which were tap, but many thought they knew “their” brand.

    Boy were they fooled.
    7 of the 10 picked the same water as their favorite: Portland Tap.
    2nd place went to: Vancouver, Washington Tap.

    And Dasani and Aquafina scored lower than many of the other bottled waters, though Fuji scored the worst of all.

    So don’t think all bottled waters are the same; the taste can vary widely.
    If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with decent water, consider too that bottled costs about 4000 times more than tap.

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  17. Maureen said on August 9, 2006 at 1:42 am

    Here in San Diego, my first impression of a newly transplanted Coloradan (sp) was “She drinks water out of the tap!” By the time the mighty Colorado gets to the border, it is undrinkable.

    My guilty pleasure is Penta water. It is the best I have ever tasted, and I could pick it out of a dozen waters in a blind test. Swear.

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  18. Danny said on August 9, 2006 at 10:44 am

    Mo, I totally agree with you about the tap here in San Diego. Don’t know why they can’t get it right. I’ll have to try Penta. We drink Arrowhead. I probably down a half gallon a day or more.

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