Sunday, January 10, 2010

Product review: "Throwback" Pepsi™


How long ago was it since I had a real Pepsi or a real Coke , or any other kind of soft drink for that matter? It must have been the early 1980s, but no later than 1986. When did the onslaught of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) begin? Under Reagan , when else would it have begun? Well, OK, as usual, it's not as simple as that. It took successive administrations of Republicans.

For close to an entire generation American soft drinks, and many other beverages, have had this garbage pumped into it, contributing to making many in that generation sick and obese. The soft drink corporations wanted to sell us more of their fizzy-liquids and there were incentives all over the place for corn farmers to implement corn syrup production for use as an all-purpose sweetener (of bottom lines). Note the next time trade agreements between the United States and other nations occur. The recriminations over subsidized American agricultural commodities are sound.

So began one part of this trend so that King corn could thrive at the taxpayer's expense:

Previously neglected because of low yields and bad coloring, HFCS became an industrial reality in the 1960s, when a xylose isomerase enzyme was successfully used to convert glucose into fructose at levels of 42% fructose and higher (Landis 86). That breakthrough, in conjunction with the fact that corn is both planted on nearly 80 million acres (Baker) and is subsidized in the USA (Hopkins), led to a huge gain in HFCS’s popularity because HFSC soon became cheaper than actual sugar. In fact, the “use of HFCS grew rapidly, from less than three million short tons in 1980 to almost 8 million short tons in 1995” (Forristal). Furthermore, “during the late 1990s, [the] use of sugar actually declined as it was eclipsed by HFCS… [And] today Americans consume more HFCS than sugar” (Forristal). ("HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: HISTORY, SPREAD, and CONSUMPTION," Cosmos Cluster 7, 25 July, 2009, UC Davis.edu, P.2)
The links to adult and even child diabetes and obesity are gradually coming in from academic studies and are sure to continue coming in; but just take a look around the social landscape. We've gotten fatter. The worst part of all of this is the sheer number of sources that Americans get HFCS from, but one of the most jam-packed ones is from soft drinks. The average American gets 200 calories-per-day from HFCS. No one ever accused Ronald Reagan's administration--or subsequent ones--correctly that they were against subsidies for large-scale farmers and agribusiness. Reagan was all for it. So was most of Congress during the 1980s, and selling to grain to the former Soviet Union didn't bother them either. Pork? Don't get me started.

Just a few years ago I was shopping at a local supermarket chain and lo-and-behold, in the Mexican foods section was a real find--Mexican Cokes. Who cares, right? Me! Other shoppers, other households, who remembered what soft drinks used to taste like previous to the 1980s! The truth is, the problems really began--as they often did--under Richard Nixon:

In 1973, Earl "Rusty" Butz, President Nixon's USDA chief, did away with the agricultural price supports introduced by the Roosevelt administration. These supports were intended to protect farmers' finances by limiting supply when bumper crops would have otherwise flooded the market and to avoid squeezing consumers by releasing the warehoused grain when crop yields were low and prices would naturally spike. Butz ginned up political support for the administration by encouraging farmers to plant "fencerow to fencerow" while the government provided them with subsidies to cover the difference between market prices and production costs.
Of course, growing "fencerow to fencerow" did exactly what one would expect: production exceeded demand, and prices took a dive. This didn't sit too well with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the nation's largest corn refiner.
Now, there's only so much corn one person can eat. ADM suddenly needed to figure out how to somehow stimulate sales of all that excess food. ("America's Crazed Corn Habit," Mises Institute, 12.22.2009)
Thanks again Dick! Indeed, we are "all Keynesians now," and so was Reagan! I could have told you that, and I'm not even remotely an economist.
The best part about those Mexican Cokes was that they were in glass-bottles, so icing them up wasn't going to be a problem, that taste was coming, and those coveted bottles didn't disappoint at all. Why? Because Mexico doesn't have the kinds of crop subsidies we do on corn, they don't put HFCS in everything for that and a variety of other reasons, they got it right. I bought-up as many of them as I could that summer, it was a real treat, and it ended quickly. The local bottler had them pulled, they're gone.
But how did throwback Pepsi taste to these buds? Coupled with the vintage packaging, it was like being rocketed back to better times--or at least better than now, the 1970s. I was literally taken aback at how familiar it tasted, I hadn't forgotten after decades of HFCS film on the surface of every soft drink (and the roof of my mouth), even in fruit juices! Childhood memories and images flooded into my brain after that first sip. It was truly refreshing in the best sense of the word. I could recall some blistering summer days that were punctuated with a Pepsi or a Coke, and they tasted so much better back then because they were made with cane sugar rather than HFCS.

I didn't notice as much of a change with their throwback Mountain Dew (before there was meth...), but the Pepsi was perfect, and the throwback packaging really takes me back to another America. Not necessarily a better one, but one before the fall of America to Reaganism and a slimmer public! Oh yeah, and early in 2009 it was found that mercury is often found in trace amounts in HFCS.




Biased, but in a reasoned sense (better to err on the side that HFCS's bad): http://www.highfructosecornsyrup.org/
"America's Crazed Corn Habit," Mises Institute, 12.22.2009: http://mises.org/daily/3934