Recently, I’ve been seeing many advertisements, in print and online, for a drink called Vita Coco, a brand of coconut water that urges people to “hydrate naturally”. I have to admit that my reaction to these advertisements was not very open-minded – at least, not at first. I scoffed at the idea that buying pre-packaged coconut water out of a refrigerated and artificially-lit display case at a convenience store could be regarded as natural. And what’s with all this talk about “hydrating”? When I was a kid, we would just say that we were thirsty and needed to get a drink. No one talked about hydration.
Of course, these were just my impressions. I realized that I needed the insight of an expert to understand the subject properly, so I went to the University of Northeasthampton, where I was directed to Professor Joaquin Jinta, the chairman of the school’s Museum of Early Consumer Archaeology. Professor Jinta directly addressed my suspicions, and shared with me some interesting facts I hadn’t been aware of.
Jinta’s impatience with my questions was thinly masked. “It’s not your fault, I suppose,” he said. “You’ve been raised with organic farms and fruit stands, led to believe that the Water Cycle just happens, so that the rain falls out of the sky. People of your generation don’t even really know where it comes from. I’ll bet that you’ve never even been to a rain factory.”
I was forced to admit that I never had. The professor reached up onto his shelves and pulled down a huge reference book that looked as if it had been well-used over the years. Its title: The Natural Ecology Of Convenience Foods. He quickly turned to a page with photographs of beautiful, huge trees, covered with shiny, glossy fruits – Vita Coco packages.
“Vita Coco is pure coconut water,” Professor Jinta explained, “not that processed garbage you get out of so-called ‘coconuts’, which are actually adulterated with fibers and all manner of phytochemicals. Coconuts were a gimmick invented in the 1950s by Proctor and Gamble’s advertising team, to convince kids to drink their coconut water.”
The professor showed me a natural world of consumer products that I had never thought of before. “The Vita Coco trees are native to Paramus, New Jersey,” he said, “where they grew in majestic groves, arranged in orderly, natural straight lines. Well, that was before European settlers came in and planted forests of mixed deciduous trees, mostly maples, in order to provide firewood, and places to keep their stocks of deer, rabbits, and pet flying squirrels. Native American populations, which had lived in harmony with the Vita Coco ecosystems, with their Beer Nuts, Pringles ferns, and Mountain Dew rivers, have never recovered from this colonial assault.”
“When the Jamestown Colony was founded, a squirrel could run all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River without ever leaving a parking lot. Now, what do you see? Forests, swamps, and prairies are sprawling across the landscape. In some places, you can travel for miles without seeing a parking lot.”
“Just think of what those original English colonists went through. They were completely unprepared. Sure, they knew how to milk a cow or plant wheat, but did they know how to make a Jello mold or apply for a shoppers’ club discount card? In our digs at the original site, we have yet to find one single cell phone. It’s no wonder many people didn’t make it through the first winter.”
It turns out that most water is reconstituted from concentrate. “Condensation” is what the PR firms hired by the water industry called it. And those “drinks” of cool water we had to “quench our thirst” when I was a kid? People never used to talk like that, it turns out. The “glass of water” was devised as part of a marketing campaign during World War II, when Vita Coco supplies were being rationed.