Soft drinks are dumb. There, I said it. Soft drinks – and by that I mean soda, pop, whatever you call the pre-made, bubbly beverages that are a common default at food service providers, parties, and the like, and not all drinks that are “soft” as in not containing alcohol – exist for such a convoluted series of reasons which people tend to be ignorant of, and I think that if society were to be more knowledgeable on the whole landscape of the beverage world, lives would be improved for various reasons. If one fully takes into account the history of the beverage and how it got to its current form, the reported health drawbacks, and the alternatives and their various benefits and upsides, there is very little reason to drink soda.
Briefly, this is how soft drinks came about:
In the 1800s, people were experimenting with drugs, both real and fake, a lot. This gave rise patent medicines, various things marketed for their sure remedy of various things, while having little to no positive effect. Sure, I’ll buy a bottle of your “snake oil” to solve my toothache, my wife’s hysteria, and my itchy skin, why not?
We, in western society, also had, thanks to the growing global nature of the trade economy, easier access to a wider range of drugs. Where Europe previously had experience with alcohol for ages, and for a few hundred years, caffeine, now people had access to a wider range of the exotic, and the makers of tonics were having a heyday.
This led to drinks like Vin Mariani coca wine, a blend of wine and coca leaves, which contain cocaine, and later, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, which added cola leaves and thus a third drug, caffeine. Now doesn’t that sound like a good time?
As tastes changed, and alcohol prohibition started becoming a thing, Pemberton reformulated his drink without the alcohol, and other alcohol-free drinks started appearing on the market, frequently sold on tap at pharmacies. (Call-back to the patent medicine craze right there.) Eventually, Pemberton’s Coca-Cola dropped the coca, and was just a sweet, bubbly drink with caffeine, similar to what one can buy in the store now.
The twenty-first century has brought with it its own trends and fancies, making for a stronger demand for sugar-free drinks. While the classic beverages of the last few decades are still around, it seems like the “zero” options are getting more preference in the marketing and research-and-development departments. This is evident in products like Diet Coke’s series of flavor variations, while the classic Coke rarely getting any special treatment of that type.
So we went from having drinks with cocaine, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, and now, a century-and-a-half later, have a drink that’s somewhat marketed with the same appeal, but only having one of the four “active” ingredients.
Our current soft drinks have fake sugars, fake colours, fake bubbles, fake flavours, and when purchased at certain places, like the fast-food drive-through, everything’s diluted even more. Because of all of this, it seems to me that the satisfaction of the beverages has diminished to such a miniscule level that we have to drink more and more of them to be satisfied.
Another angle is health. A least in the past, part of the reason these elixirs were sold and drake was the health benefits, whether real or not. Now our soft drinks have zero health benefits, and in some cases, like the over-consumption of sugar, actual health drawbacks.
Our current drinks are a mediocre blend of chemicals that taste and look decent, with a strange history of medical fakery and legal restrictions. What are the alternatives?
For starters, there’s beer. Mankind has been brewing and drinking beer for millennia. When clean water was hard to come by, there was beer. When a beverage was served at the dinner table to a family, there was beer. In the modern world, what’s marketed as beer tends to have more of a consistent amount of alcohol, but there’s also drinks like shandy that are low-alcohol and in some cultures, acceptable for the younger crowd as well. The flavours and colours in beer come from real ingredients, and in many cases, the carbonation is created by the fermentation process. Not that those are must-have things, there’s something about drinking something that’s “real” that is satisfying. There are also other fermented drinks that are less alcoholic, like kombucha, kvass, and kefir that are kid-friendly, tasty, and easy to make at home.
For non-fermented and non-alcoholic drinks, there’s a whole group of under-appreciated beverages that frequently grouped with soft drinks, though are very different. There’s Italian soda, made by adding a flavoured syrup to carbonated water (very similar to a soft drink, depending on the type of syrup, but still a separate entity from the convoluted history of pop), flavoured carbonated water (still factory-made and all that, but at least it’s something tasty with less weird stuff in it), and carbonated water with fruit juice, which is a delicious and reasonably-healthy option.
I think my biggest issue with soft drinks is that they are treated as the default beverage in so many cases. There is a world of delicious beverages out there. We don’t have to always drink Pepsi.