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Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Water fad is bottled nonsense | In the car. At the park. On the street. At work. Across the land, like frat boys after an anchovy pizza party, Americans are guzzling $2 bottles of the last free thing on Earth: water.

Why? They're bored.

Oh, no one will admit that, of course. Ask the dude with the Dasani on his dashboard - excuse me, in his retractable 32-ounce cup holder - and he'll probably say something like, "I'm hydrating."

That's a fancy way of saying, "I'm replenishing my bodily fluids," which is a Dr. Strangelove way of saying, "I'm flushing the toxins out of my body," which is a New Age way of saying, "I'm thirsty, duh" - which is not only rude, it's really not the case.

Somehow most of us used to get from home to office without dropping dead of dehydration. Mothers managed to walk Junior without shriveling into mom jerky. A stroll through the mall did not require repeated swigs from a nipple-nozzled canteen. There was even a time when we'd drink water from the tap!

Those days are disappearing faster than a puddle of Poland Spring in the Sahara.

Tap water consumption has dropped 24% in the last 15 years, says John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest. Meantime, sales of bottled water have increased by double digits every year since the early 1990s. Bottled water is now a $6 billion business - and not because someone is poisoning the well.

Study after study has shown that bottled water is no better than most tap water. Some of the fastest-growing brands - including Coca-Cola's Dasani and PepsiCo's Aquafina - are simply municipal water pumped into regional bottling plants and passed through a microfilter.

So much for babbling brooks.

There's even growing skepticism about the bodily need for serious sloshing. "As for the obligatory six to eight glasses of water [a day], I don't think it's necessary," says Dr. Howard Woo, a urologist at the Oscher Clinic in New Orleans.

No, drinking bottled water is not really about health at all. It's about keeping busy.

"It's symptomatic of a cultural need to be occupied in as many ways as possible," says Lenny Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University. "'I'm going to try to do more than one chore at once,' and drinking water is a chore."

"Everyone's carrying water because it makes you lose weight and it flushes out toxins, and it's all probably B.S.," says Peter Shankman, a Manhattan bachelor and confirmed slurper. "But if I'm drinking water, it's like I'm doing something."

What the cell phone did for the ear and Palm Pilot did for the palm, bottled water is busy doing for the mouth: assuring multitasking Americans that yet another part of them is working at maximum capacity. All systems go!

Sure, that idea might be hard to swallow. But it was hard to swallow $2 water at first, too.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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