Friday, September 29, 2006

Not a drop of sense.

I suspect that regular readers of this blog have at least a passing familiarity with the mordantly hilarious Penn & Teller Showtime series, Bullshit. In the intro to SHAM, I quote from their episode on New Age gurus.

Another P&T segment tackled--and skewered*--the bottled-water craze. They do as good a job as I've seen of demonstrating how pretentious and ultimately silly are those who extol the taste and health benefits of bottled water. In one memorable scene they persuade a fancy restaurant to participate in a good-natured sting where they send out a "water steward" who hands diners a water menu and informs them that they've been selected to participate in a taste-test of assorted varieties. With great dignity and aplomb, the steward brings out the samples chosen by the handful of couples shown, who treat each swig of H20 exactly as if it were fine wine: sniffing the bouquet, swirling it around their palates, and finally describing it in language more befitting a five-figure vintage Bordeaux.


What they don't know is that behind the restaurant, out among the trash bins, stands the maniacally grinning Teller...filling each of the distinctively labeled bottles from the same garden hose.

Well, though I'm sure some of you already knew this--I should have, but didn't--P&T's madcap skit has come to life, big-time. Today, any number of tony restaurants do indeed offer complete water menus. And let me be clear here, I'm not just talking about a few assorted bottles tacked on to the usual list of beverages, but a whole separate menu with its own embossed cover. These restaurants train their wait-staff to make a fairly big deal out of the selection of an appropriate water for each meal, coordinating it with the choice of an entree as one normally would, again, with wine. Needless to say, the analogy doesn't end there: The patrons end up paying what they once would've paid for a nice glass of wine. What's more, the pressure on all diners to order from the water menu--rather than requesting "a glass of ordinary tap water, please"--can be intense.


I know that strictly speaking this is not a case for the SHAM blotter...but the principle clearly applies. The water connoisseurs expect benefits, thus they swear by those benefits, even when the benefits are imaginary (or, at best, absurdly overstated). The bottled-water industry and its allies on restaurant row cater to this latter-day growth market by cheerfully providing an illusory service at whatever price traffic will bear. It's a covenant of free-market stupidity between the mindless and the mercenary.

All I know is, I'm going to visit such a restaurant soon, and if I see a guy out back with a hose....

* Can you skewer water?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steve- I'm a bottled water drinker for some years now so I'm none too pleased with having a STUPID label hung on me but, I guess I can also see your point. I have to admit the article about bottled water industry and the many aspects that suggest fraud is an eye opener.
-Carl

Cosmic Connie said...

I get a big kick out of Penn and Teller. But...The Rev and I drink bottled water. It's not because we're snooty (we buy the cheapest spring water we can find, usually at Dollar General or some such place). And I would like to think we are not stupid either. However, our tap water smells like bleach and tastes worse. We have been assured by the city of Houston that our water is perfectly safe; that's not our concern. It's the taste. We do have a filter on the kitchen faucet that helps a little, and we use tap water to make ice, since we don't have an automatic ice maker. But I defy even Penn and Teller to drink our unfiltered tap water and say it tastes like normal water. (Well, Teller wouldn't say anything, but Penn would. :-))

Cosmic Connie said...

I get a big kick out of Penn and Teller, and, like Carl, I understand the points made in this post. But...The Rev and I drink bottled water too. It's not because we're snooty (we buy the cheapest spring water we can find, usually at Dollar General or some such place). And I would like to think we are not stupid either. However, our tap water smells like bleach and tastes worse. We have been assured by the city of Houston that our water is perfectly safe; that's not our concern. It's the taste. We do have a filter on the kitchen faucet that helps a little, and we use tap water to make ice, since we don't have an automatic ice maker. But I dare even Penn and Teller to drink our unfiltered tap water and say its taste is tolerable. (Well, Teller wouldn't say anything, but Penn would. :-))

Steve Salerno said...

Carl/CosCon: OK. I grant that I was a bit too black-and-white in my post (and let me be clear that in saying that, I'm not giving any quarter to our anonymous SHAM guru from the previous thread; this is an issue unto itself). Blogs are deadly to nuance. Unless you want to sit down and compose a 4800-word post (which, I'm assured, almost nobody but its author and his mother bothers to read all the way through), you can't cover all of the eventualities and variables. But I can assure you that in writing what I wrote, I did not mean to attack (a) people who buy bottled water because their regular drinking water tastes like yak, or even (b) those who simply enjoy the convenience of having a bottle of water at the table, with them on a bike ride, etc. I was aiming my barbs more at the industry that has tried to elevate bottled water to a status symbol--and, it follows, at a specific class of consumers who thinks that drinking "the right" water makes them look oh-so-cool and urbane, or who think that by demonstrating their willingness to pay $7 for a bottle of what they can easily get for free (or nearly so), they are displaying their pedigrees for all to see.

Having said that, I must also say that just about all of the research I've seen shows no difference (no positive difference, that is) between tap water and bottled water. For many years, New York City tap water was famously considered the best-tasting water in the U.S. And there have been MANY studies and exposes that show possibly unhealthy--and certainly undesirable--amounts of particulate matter and even known carcinogens in bottled water. (Click on the link to the article at the top of the original post for more detail on this.) Also, if you saw the P&T segment, you learned that many bottled water companies--even some of the elites--play VERY fast-and-loose with the facts surrounding the origins of their beverages. People who buy (and I'm making up the name) "Pristine Mountain Waterfall" bottled water have a right to expect that their water comes from a pristine mountain waterfall, not from an urban waste-management facility. But hey, bottom line? To each his own. I'm reminded of the guy who called in during a radio show I was doing in Ohio. "It's my money," he fumed into the phone, "and if I want to waste it on things that don't work, that's my business!" I can't argue with you there....

Cosmic Connie said...

I guess I did get your point, Steve; I was just blowing off steam, so to speak, about the general opinion, expressed by many other folks, that all people who drink bottled water are status-seeking nitwits.

I do agree that the whole "status water" industry is pretty ludicrous. I'll stick with my 25-cents-a-bottle Canadian spring water from Dollar General. Even if it really comes from a waste-management facility in Podunk, Arkansas, it tastes better than the swill that comes from our tap. And so far the Rev and I haven't been in any restaurants where we've been pressured to order designer waters....

On a related note, water in general is pretty hot among the mystical crowd, what with the book by that Japanese researcher, Dr. Masaru Emoto, "The Hidden Messages In Water." Dr. M., a Doctor of Alternative Medicine, was featured in "What The Bleep Do We Know." And there are all kinds of new-age merchants who are hawking various products to "purify" water and "raise its vibrations."

Anything to make a buck...

Anonymous said...

I, another regular reader of your blog, also unapologetically drink bottled water. That's because I live in the country and have a well, and while my ultraviolet filter kills off all the water greeblies, it does nothing to remove the ton of nitrites, nitrates and the like that run off from all the surrounding farms. I think I'll take my chances with "Divine Springs."

As for Connie's last comment, isn't "raising the vibrations" of water ultimately what that ever-popular "alternative treatment," homeopathy, is all about? One of the final holdovers from the days of the alchemists...