Columns » Hightower

Why not 'drink local'?

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In a triumph of marketing over reasoning, the bottled-water industry has turned us into conspicuously silly consumers.

Controlled by a handful of global conglomerates (such as Coca-Cola and Nestl), the water industry has created the fantasy that if it's in a bottle, it's purer than what comes out of the tap. But wait the EPA stringently regulates public water systems, requiring tests several times a day for bacteria and other contaminants, and these test results are public information. Corporate bottlers, on the other hand, are overseen by the more lackadaisical FDA, which requires them to test their water sources only once a week, and the results are kept secret by the corporations.

One group that is beginning to rebel is one you might not expect: upscale restaurants. Such places profit handsomely from offering Perrier, San Pellegrino, Fiji or other designer waters, paying a dollar or two for each bottle and selling them for eight or ten bucks. Yet Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and Del Posto in New York City are among the pioneers who are bypassing this profit center, substituting free filtered tap water or house-made sparkling water also drawn from the tap.

Why would they do this? Because they are part of a growing sustainable food movement that prides itself on using local, seasonal ingredients for menu items. Think about it: In terms of energy, environment and sustainability, it makes no sense to load cargo ships with millions of bottles of water, haul them thousands of miles to our shores, truck them hundreds of miles to our restaurants, then chuck the bottles into our overloaded landfills when the local, public water system supplies perfectly good water at the turn of a faucet.

Just as it makes economic and environmental sense to "eat local," it also makes sense to "drink local."

Jim Hightower is the author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. For more, visit jimhightower.com.

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