Diet Coke has fallen victim to the latest faux health craze which is that of infusing beverages with supplements. I first noticed this latest “improvement” when I was shopping at Target a week or so ago. A mother and her two young teen daughters stood transfixed in front of the display. A favorite addiction of the semi-calorie conscious was now healthy as well as fat-free. Who could resist such a siren call? Target had cleverly set up the display with single serving bottles to promote sampling. After all just one 16 ounce bottle was not much of a commitment, was it?
I remember my first brush with Diet Coke. It was in the student union at Iowa in the fall of 1982. I was a freshman. Diet sodas, in my opinion, were to be devoutly shunned. They recalled forced dieting of days past when I had been systematically starved, weighed and shamed by a variety of the well-meaning from pediatric professionals to the plump next door neighbor whose lawn I mowed. She would bring me this foul tasting diet soda whose grape-fruity saccharin aftertaste could not be improved with any amount of ice.
My first encounter with Diet Coke left an equally foul aftertaste though not in my mouth. I had stopped to grab a croissant and a Coke between classes and the very skinny girl behind the counter asked me if I wouldn’t rather have a Diet Coke. Maybe it was her job to push this new product but I remember she practically glowed with the celestial light of the born again when she extolled the wonders of NutraSweet. If only I had been older and wiser, I would have recognized the Stepford glaze reflecting the fluorescent lighting for the demonic possession it was. Instead, I declined, a bit contemptuously, and told her I didn’t think I needed to drink diet. What was the point after all? In my own experience diet drinks were more an indicator of fat rather than a way to take fat off. But the look she gave me was nearly as scathing. Clearly she viewed me as being in need of a sugar intervention.
I drank regular Coke that day and for a few weeks longer. It was the subtle pressure of my thinner friends that eventually coerced a conversion out of me. So although I escaped university without “acquiring a taste” for beer or coffee, I graduated with a B.A. in English and a Diet Coke dependency.
Not quite twenty-five years later, I am Diet Coke free. The aspartame aftertaste is once again evident to my palate and even the occasional sip curls my tongue. I was amused by the vitamin additives in what is essentially a questionably chemical laden drink. The artificial sweetener is not good for a person’s system regardless of what the FDA might believe. They, after all, were under the leadership of Donald Rumsfeld when they granted the okay for aspartame in absence of any finished studies or research on its effectiveness. The sodium content alone is reason enough not to drink it anyway, but add to that the fact that recent studies have found a link between weight gain and the drinking of diet sodas and you have made a convincing argument for one to “just say no”.
It’s not easy to avoid the artificial when it comes to food and drink. When millions of chickens and thousands of pigs can consume what amounts to plastic in their feed and still be deemed safe for human consumption and when it costs more to purchase organic food products than its preservative-laden counterparts, what hope do we really have? I suppose we can settle for vitamin additives in our Diet Coke rather than demand clean water to drink but in the longer run are we better off for having done so?