As I gaze through the glass-front cooler at the rows of plastic bottles, the polite young cashier breaks the silence with a simple request: “What would you like to drink?” She probably wonders what’s taking me so long. It had taken me no time to place my food order — “pizza half-cheese (for the kids), half-anchovies (for me).” I can’t seem to find my tongue. I’m flustered by the ramifications of my choice. I know what’s there: soda, which I dislike; juice, which doesn’t go with my meal; and, bottled water, which infuriates me for its incredible waste and doesn’t taste half as good as most of our local water sources. I’m instinctively irritated by frivolous and irresponsible waste. “Wealth porn” is how one writer summed it up. The idea of a couple of dollars for a bottle of water is an affront to my senses, especially when most of us have plenty of great fresh water right at our faucets. The production and disposal of all those bottles, even if they are recycled, is a colossal squander of resources. Previously, when faced with this dilemma, my cheapness overrode my healthiness. I chose soda, but as a teacher I have watched with disgust how our younger generation eats and drinks. I’ve tried to teach youngsters jacked up on Jolt or when they have just crashed after a soda sugar-high. I’ve followed the deceptive flow of bottled water. Dasani, a bottled water made by Coca-Cola, comes not from mountain springs, but usually from municipal water utilities. In New Hampshire, Dasani gets its water from the Manchester Water Works, which is the state’s largest public water system. So essentially, it is urban tap water. It starts as tap water, but it then goes through an eight-step process, which sounds more like a decontamination process used on wastewater. The factory where this complicated process begins is called on Dasani’s Web site, a “state of the art multiple barrier water treatment system.” It is there where “reverse osmosis technology removes impurities,” then the water goes to another department, where “materialization of the water” occurs, and then important materials like magnesium sulfate, potassium, chloride and salt are added “to provide Dasani’s pure, fresh taste.” Next, is the “final disinfection of the water,” which means “water is ozonated.” (Does anyone know what ‘ozonated’ means? It agitates my computer’s ‘spell check’ device.) Then, of course, the water is put into plastic bottles and some of it is driven the 93 miles north to Littleton’s Main Street and placed in a constantly refrigerated glass-front cooler at the Gold House Pizza, where a patient waitress awaits my drink order. Finally, I blurt out, “I’d really like a glass of tap water.” She obliges without a word, and I rant and rave about the sins of soda and bottled water. She kindly but blankly listens, and then I add, “I’m not being cheap. I’m willing to pay for the tap water.” As I eat my pizza and drink my tasty water, I ponder the potential of it all. Could selling local, refreshing, mountain tap water could become one of the hottest and most profitable restaurant trends? Best of all the money stays right here, like the two dollars that I left on the counter.
Jeff Woodburn of Dalton is a teacher, writer and restaurateur.