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School soda { October 21 2002 }

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Published on Monday, October 21, 2002 by
Commercialism in a Can
by John F. Borowski

I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore. Why? Because, over 5,000 schools in the United States have contracts to sell soda pop and candy from vending machines and fast food in school cafeterias. I urge parents, teachers, legislators, and students to stand up to corporate venders of type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and empty calories, and tell them, ‘our children are not for sale.’

My cue comes from a movie, a movie that is over 25 years old, but could be a profile of this very moment in America.

In Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay, Network, a fictional newsman, turned anti-television prophet, beckons the general public, ‘to turn off your television sets, turn them off and leave them off.’ Sickened by a society that had lost its’ moral compass, he insists that consumerism and media monopolies have created a population of viewers resembling empty, cynical drones. Corporate America seeks to shape our culture, our habits, our diets and our future.

The most powerful scene comes when this newscaster directs his television audience to open their windows, and scream, ‘I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.’ Apparently, this cleansing release of anger, would jumpstart a citizenry that had forgotten that the health of a society depends on the citizenship of its’ populous. And the youngest in our society are watching us right now, as Coca-cola and Pepsi invade their public spaces, what will the elders of society do?

Coke and Pepsi are vying for the buying power of our children, and the schools are their vehicles for profit. This prospect of money to schools is seducing school boards and blinding adults to the realities of these ‘deals with the devil.’ Sadly, my own school district has a Pepsi contract.

Just a few years ago, a consortium of three Colorado school districts approved a 10- year, $27.7 million exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. Only one of the boards’ 17 members voted against this contract. Over 200 school districts nationwide have signed exclusive grant contracts with soft drink companies.

Is society letting legislators off the hook? Don’t worry about funding schools let corporate America fill the void, as they build brand loyalty in the littlest of consumers. Isn’t education about being a pillar of democracy, learning life skills and fulfilling dreams? Our collusion with beverage ‘giants’ seems to reinforce the shrill ideal that success is measured by wealth, by acquisition of stuff, and that profit at any cost is good. As if health comes second to cash.

The statistics speak for themselves: in 1970, annual consumption of soda was 22.4 gallons, by 1998 it was 56.1 gallons per capita. Today, the average North American consumes 53 teaspoons of sugar a day! Excess sugar in children’s diets, is linked to the rise in type-2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and kidney stones. One 12- ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar, while a 64- ounce Big Gulp, provides the equivalent of 48 teaspoons! Interesting note, during World War II, when sugar consumption dropped the outbreak of diabetes dropped sharply also. So, there is hope.

Earlier this year, to stem criticism, Coca-Cola, announced that it would ‘back off’ the number of contracts with schools. But, this promise is another smoke screen by those who seek to use the captive audiences in schools, for quarterly profits. Some of Coke’s bottlers are still signing exclusive contracts with high schools. Since March of this year, Coke’s largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., which is 40% owned by Coke, has struck several big school contracts. One deal was a five- year, $1.77 million pact with 35 schools in Sarasota, Florida.

The nature of these ‘educational deals’ is plain. Schools, under funded and economically hurting, go begging to ‘corporate heroes’ for help. I applaud corporate donations: without strings. Schools hold children, not widgets for mass production. The true nature of Coca-Cola is revealed in John Robbin’s ‘The Food Revolution’. In this wonderful book, one that all students should read, he quotes Coca-Cola, CEO, Donald Keough, when discussing the potential soda market in the third word. “When I think of Indonesia- a country on the Equator with 180 million people, a median age of 18, and with a Moslem ban on alcohol,” he says, “ I feel I know what heaven looks like.”

Actually, heaven is a group of parents who storm their collective board of education meetings, and demand that the Coke and Pepsi deals be reneged. Students should learn the facts about soda in Health classes and then, exercise their rights, to say no to vending machines in their schools.

Tonight, I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore. I am writing a check, from my tax refund to my daughter’s grade school, to help with supplies. Make the promise I made to my daughters, I will not drink another can of soda pop, because, role models should practice what they preach. Plus, I will live a healthier life, and so will my children.

Loving care, setting parameters of trust and learning, and defending the health of children, does not come from a vending machine. It comes from the heart, and Coke and Pepsi, can never buy or sell that.

John F. Borowski, environmental science of 24 years, lives in Philomath, Oregon. or 541-929-5224. He has had pieces recently in the UTNE Reader, NY Times, Z Magazine, PR Watch and VegSource.

Anti obesity groups ban regular soda from schools
California sues coke for alleged lead content
Coke recalls bottled water dasani after cancer risk { March 20 2004 }
Cola wars schools { March 23 1999 }
Diet soda and regular soda cause heart disease { July 24 2007 }
Group wants health warnings on soda
Lausd expels soda deals
Peddlers of diabetes { July 20 2004 }
School programs discouraging soft drinks { April 22 2004 }
School soda { October 21 2002 }
Schools junk food { February 27 2001 }
Sodas raise cancer risk
Soft drinks have high levels cancer chemical { March 2 2006 }
Soft facts { February 27 2001 }
Study links sugary drinks to teenagers weight { March 7 2006 }

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