Monday, October 18, 2010

Coca-Cola: the Controversy Continues

Mural in Guatemala, where Coke has been accused of union violence

ATLANTA - Atlanta was destroyed in the Civil War, and the mere fact that it came back stronger than ever is amazing, considering that other places simply disappeared. If you ever take a ride on quiet country highways in Georgia and South Carolina, stop at the historical markers that stand at places in the road where there is nothing to see but a vacant field -- sometimes an old wooden church is all that remains, sometimes a few scattered chimneys. Those historical markers tell the tale of towns that once stood there. A few months ago, the Culinary Historians of Atlanta had a picnic where the thriving town of Etowah once churned. Now it's a lakeside recreation area.  Nothing is left but the chimney from the old pig iron furnace that was the town's main industry.

But Atlanta was different.  One of the things that helped Atlanta's economy was the invention of an elixir called Coca-Cola. A pharmacist named John Pemberton first concocted the stuff in 1886. The company that was created to mass market the drink, which originally contained cocaine (the "coca" in "Coca-Cola") aggressively pursued profits, which was a good thing in the impoverished South. It made many families wealthy. They, in turn, donated dividends and even Coke stock to local institutions, which still benefit from the generosity the company shows to its shareholders. Some people even claim that Coca-Cola saved Atlanta single-handedly.

The Coca-Cola Company may be good to its executives and shareholders, but there is another side to the story. It has been accused of making Americans fat (the company invented high-fructose corn syrup in the 1980's), of polluting the water in Third World Countries, and of sanctioning acts of violence against workers trying to form unions in developing economies.

Now there's yet another in a long line of books about the company that accuses it of the worst crimes imaginable, including murder. Here is a link to a book review from Briefly, the reviewer, Daniel Fromson, who is also the producer of The Atlantic's food channel, states that the book is interesting and very readable. He also warns, however, that it is a little one-sided, against the corporate giant. 

The book is titled, The Coke Machine: the Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink. The author is Michael Blanding, a political writer who specializes in political exposes and travel.

The story of Coca-Cola and other giant profiteers that sell the food we rely on for health is informative to the culinary historian, in that the way people eat these days has changed from the times when people grew their own foodstuffs or purchased foods directly from farmers or small bakers. It is vital that we, as food-loving bipeds, stay informed so that every time we enter a supermarket we can make intelligent food-purchasing decisions.


Julie M. said...

That's really interesting about coca-cola. I may have to check out that book and see what they say; especially considering I live in the Southeast where the Civil War is definitely a part of the history.

I found your comment on my blog about eating the same food as Shakespearean times really interesting. I just listened to an NPR program a few mornings ago talking with a gentleman who cooked up a 12 course meal from the 1900's using only the equipment they had available at that time. It's so interesting how food has evolved (and not evolved in some cases) through the years.

Thanks so much for stopping by, I can tell I'm going to love reading your site!

Blogger said...

Do you love Pepsi or Coca-Cola?
PARTICIPATE IN THE POLL and you could win a prepaid VISA gift card!