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Offbeat – 3 May 2012

The UN should take up access to soft drinks as a development priority. Universal access to soft drinks is a package that is stuffed with all of the goodies that proponents of development long for.

Welcome to first break. Look at the scrum of young ones over there. It’s not a school-yard brawl, though you can be forgiven for mistaking the mob for impromptu kiddie entertainment. Actually the tuck shop just opened. See Peter. See Jane. See Peter and Jane going for the soft drinks. See Peter and Jane zoom around the playground on a sugar buzz.
Soft drinks are a modern phenomenon. Once upon a time there were princes and princesses, fairy godmothers, knights in shinning armour and hopeful frogs hanging around in ponds. Back in those days, cool and refreshing meant a drink of water, once you scooped out the frog with the optimistic smile. There was milk which came out of cows, not factories. Now, it is quite possible to spend days at a time without water or milk passing over your lips.
You have to think about it consciously. “Now when last did I have an honest-to-goodness glass of non-bottled water from the fridge, or the tap? Was it yesterday or the day before that?”
Factor in coffee, tea, beer and wine and the results can be surprising.
Let’s stick to soft drinks. Technology comes and goes faster than a parcel drop-off at a dentist. Fashion magazine approval for fashion and personal grooming changes quarterly. And the latest heart-rending cause lasts only as long as it takes for journalists to find the next big story. Soft drinks seem to have a permanence and spread matched only by religion.
Take a breather with this marketing truism which camouflages itself as a joke.
You are staggering across a desert, a trackless waste filled with the skulls of camels on which are perched the obligatory vultures. By a sheer stroke of dumb luck, or cunning use of your GPS, you arrive a parched settlement, a couple of shanties made of creaky tin sheets, three half starved dogs and a population seven or eight suspicious inhabitants. How do you find the shop?
Look for the bright red sign.
This is so true that even if the sign writers can’t make it that far, the store owner will get a pot of paint and do the honours himself or herself just to prove the point that the shop is worthy of patronage and might even, one day in decades to come, have a freezer that is connected to electricity and keeps things cold.
The UN should take up access to soft drinks as a development priority. Universal access to soft drinks is a package that is stuffed with all of the goodies that proponents of development long for. It takes water and industrial processes to manufacture the things. It takes global trade to move syrup into countries that normally trade in arms and oil. Decent roads are needed to get the product to our little settlement, Electricity will keep the product cool on a permanent basis. And with all that in place, there obviously has to be enough disposable income to keep the whole enterprise afloat. That means local economies.
Multinational institutions could drop all those huge global development reports and replace them with lists of soft drinks per capita and soft drink sales aggregates as quantitative norms.
A quick scan of the columns of figures might point to the fact our little settlement only sold three bottles in six months and trigger the deployment of an army of merchandisers and soft drink subsidised development workers to ensure that the place is prosperous enough to sustain its projected sales figures.
The only problem I can see is the health angle. A global population living with a persistent sugar buzz might offend some of the purists. Perhaps the sugar-free, caffeine-free variants could be marketed as a family alternative. Or perhaps I am seeing obstacles where there aren’t any. We are, after all, a long way down that road.
Even without recognition of this notional development paradigm, it is obvious that human development and consumption of soft drinks are virtually synonymous.
Do your bit for development and the spread of civilisation. Buy a soft drink today. Just don’t forget that there is water in the tap.

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