Bottled water: Part 1

Posted on September 11, 2007 by Steve

The owners of the San Pellegrino brand would have you believe that Leonardo da Vinci visited the Italian town of that name to taste its now-famous water. This sounded to me like the kind of gilt-by-association used by Molskine, claiming that Hemingway used their products -- an endorsement which turns out to be "not the absolute truth."

Hunting for evidence of the Leonardo - San Pellegrino connection involved the amusing process of registering at Italian-langugae e-Leo to peruse original manuscripts. I felt like a character in an Eco novel puzzling out the "Sfoglia i manoscritti." It was both fruitless and fascinating. But the internet had more to offer.

Searches for "bottled water" returned several blogs linking to an exposé in FastCompany magazine about the huge growth in the water market, mentioning Pellegrino but focusing on Fiji water. In fact, it's a well-researched and balanced article, but latter-day Malthusians can't be bothered to read the whole thing; the result is a lot of hand-wringing:

"What’s a conscientious gal to do? Confess on a blog? Will that wash away my carbon footprint?"

"I don't want to be the ranting environmental wacko ... how spoiled a nation we are ... I'm not saying we should completely ban bottled water...."

So what's the issue?

The key quote seems to be this:
"And in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji."

This irony must not stand! But people, relax a bit. How does the purchase in Baltimore of some Fijian water really affect the Fijians and their ability to get safe water? There are some clues in the article:

"The plant employs 200 islanders--set to increase to 250 this year--most with just a sixth- or eighth-grade education. Even the entry-level jobs pay twice the informal minimum wage."

"This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases."

"The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages."

Seems crystal clear to me.
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Posted by Tony | September 12, 2007 | 09:30:44

Didn't know you read any Italian, Steve! Re: the rest -- right on point, though hardly ground-breaking. I wish more of the protesters that snarl up traffic in Foggy Bottom twice a year read these kinds of articles, or better, went to Fiji to see for themselves.

And when did Fiji become more hip than Voss?

Posted by Steve | September 12, 2007 | 10:41:53

Just enough to be able to suss "Hai dimenticato la password?" from context. The digitized manuscripts are searchable, but I couldn't find any variation of "Pellegrino" in the codices they have indexed.

It took me days to locate a bottle of Fiji; I'd never heard of Voss. Chic indeed -- it looks like a perfume!

Posted by Tony | September 12, 2007 | 12:31:45

Posted by Conscientious Gal | September 12, 2007 | 22:52:58

Ciao Steven,

Peccato che tu non abbia capito il spirito del mio "blog entry". Avrei dovuto scriverlo in italiano!

You misunderstand my hand wringing. It reflects the environmental, not economic, impact of choosing bottled water. I read the whole article - but like you, just decided to pick a nugget that interests me and roll with it. :)

Yours in capitalism,

Conscientious gal

Posted by Steve | September 13, 2007 | 16:56:52

Ciao Lisetta,

Had you written in Italian, doubtless I would have missed not only the spirit of your post but the entry itself!

You're right, I did focus on the interesting situation of Fijians and the water being extracted from under their feet. And it was the Living Green folks who did most of the hand-wringing over emissions from shipping and the apparent travesty of "using up" (as the article put it) water by rinsing glass bottles.

I'll take up the environmental factor in "Bottled water: Part 2."

Grazie per il commento.


Posted by Darian | January 10, 2008 | 16:32:03

The Salvadoran lad that keeps the entrance to Building 20 in Rosslyn, Virgnia clean has lost a good 30 pounds over the past half year. I watched him shrink to a Prince. How? Ay drinking four liters water ever day. Ees heezy! Ju try! That was input one. Input two was the European discovery that some of the coloring agents in our soft drinks are carcinogenic. My gray matter sorted this out and came up with mixing equal parts of Pellegrino or Fuji with tap water, lots of it. I'm on my way. Ees heezy, man!

Posted by beowulf | February 11, 2008 | 23:33:45

Are you saying our Janitorial Engineer lost 30 pounds in 6 months simply by drinking 4L of water daily? This seems too easy, not to mention potentially as unhealthy as the carcinogens in Diet Coke.

I am intrigued, though.

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