One of the songs on my forthcoming record is called simply “Coca-Cola.” Mark Pendergrast’s book For God, For Country and For Coca-Cola reveals that this is the most widely recognized group of syllables on the planet, except for OK, which holds onto the top spot for now, but perhaps not for long. Back in 1971, when I was 1 year old, Coca-Cola created one of the most famous commercials in history by suggesting it has the power to bring the world together in one long chain of peace and harmony:
What the ad plasters over is that Coke is known around the world not only for how well it goes with hamburgers, but also for various kinds of exploitation. The song looks at Coke’s labor record, which led union leaders in Latin America to call it “La Chispa de la Muerte,” or the Taste of Death. The song also looks at Coke’s contribution to the spread of commodity culture and diseases like obesity and diabetes. Coke has lobbied against public health measures in congress, and markets itself to children by offering grants to cash-strapped public schools on the condition that it allow Coke vending machines in their hallways, and a few other tricks besides:
One topic I didn’t get into in the lyrics to the song is how Coke steals groundwater resources from (typically poor) communities around the world to make its product. Andrew Levi-Hiller, who plays drums on the song, told us some pretty scathing stories about this while we were working on it in the studio. Not only does this help Coke by securing the raw materials needed to make their soft drinks, it puts pressure on poor people to buy Coca-Cola as their access to public and clean drinking water becomes tenuous at best.
“The Coca-Cola Company has been forced to abandon a $25 million newly built bottling plant in Mehdiganj, Varanasi, India as the result of a sustained campaign against the company’s plans. The groundwater conditions in the Mehdiganj area have gone from ‘safe’ category, when Coca-Cola began operations in June 1999 to ‘critical’ in 2009.”
” ‘It is absolutely reprehensible for a globally recognized company like Coca-Cola to seek further groundwater allowances from an area that has become acutely water-stressed, and that too in large part due to Coca-Cola’s mining of groundwater alone,’ said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center which has led the campaign to challenge the new plan.”
“Past campaigns forced Coca-Cola plants in Plachimada (Palakkad District), Kerala(2004) and Sinhachawar (Ballia District), Utter Pradesh (2008) to shut down. Protests against Coca-Cola from large demonstrations to small vigils continue throughout India over Coke’s practices that have turned “farmlands into wastelands” and “potable water into wastewater.” The Company’s toxic waste has polluted land and water, while its operations have drained out vast amounts of groundwater.”
“Also of great concern to health experts in India are Coke’s efforts to greatly increase the consumption of their soft drinks in India attempting to reach the per capita consumption in Mexico, which is 745 (8 oz. servings) the world’s highest, or that of the United States, which is 401 (8 oz. servings). India’s per capita consumption rate is 14 (8 oz. servings). Mexico and the United States are among the countries suffering with the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the world, particularly among children.”