The Coke Machine by Michael Blanding

9093151Nonfiction — audiobook. Read by George K. Wilson. Tantor Media, 2010. 13 hours, 3 minutes. Library copy.

I am horribly addicted to Coca Cola. I can easily down six or seven cans (or, their equivalent at a restaurant) without batting an eye, which obviously places me in the “heavy user” category by The Coca Cola Company.

I have tried many times over the past six years to kick the habit going cold turkey for ten weeks or ten months until I convince myself that my birthday or graduation or general stress or the fact that I do not smoke or drink means I should be able to have a can of Coke. Of course, one leads to one a day and then one a day leads to a can of Coke with my morning snack, my lunch, my dinner, and before bed. (And then I wonder why I can’t fall asleep.)

I know Coca Cola is bad for me; I have read multiple books arguing against the product based solely on health. But I still struggle not to reach for the product at every turn, and I had hoped in picking up this book that Blanding would offer an argument to help compel me to pick the habit once and for all. Unfortunately, the book relies on a narrative constructed for the filmiest strings and failed to convince me that Coke is worse for anything but my own personal health.

Blanding’s argument takes a three prong approach: Coca-Cola’s use of advertising to promote its unhealthy product, the relationship with its bottlers and links to paramilitary groups in Colombia, and water in both the bottled form and the production of its flagship products. The first prong was the most interesting and the most convincing, although I was largely familiar with the history of Coca-Cola and its use of advertisement. Clearly, utilizing Santa and adorable polar bears are going to teach children that the product is good for them because the associate good with those images.

But my interest during this section was piqued as Blanding detailed the ironclad, exclusive contracts public schools districts signed with Coca Cola in the United States. We had vending machines for Coca Cola products in my public middle school and public high school with varying access rules (i.e. only on afterschool in middle school) and the argument was that selling these products help cash strapped schools finance their students education. However, Blanding cites multiple examples and combs through several contracts to show how untrue this claim is.

The last two prongs, especially the sections on the death of union leaders in South America, are where the argument begins to fall apart. Blanding attempts to draw a direct line where one does not exist, and I found it difficult to follow his logic as he argued that Coca Cola was responsible for a manager of its bottling plant (which is a separate entity from the flagship corporation) fighting against a union in such despicable ways. I mean, no company wants to encourage their workers to unionize but that does not mean they are circling internal memos instructing their managers to kill union organizers. Fire them, yes, but I doubt kill them. Blanding readily admits that his proof is weak, that other companies in Colombia engaged in far worse tactics.

Bottled water is a crock; the product is rarely cleaner than tap water and provides no added benefits. In fact, the plastic bottles contribute to the trashing of our environment and require massive amounts of energy inputs including oil to produce. However, I have read more convincing and detailed arguments against bottled water than the one presented in this book, which read like an addition to stretch out a tired argument. There was nothing new or groundbreaking within the text about this particular product of the Coca Cola Company or about the company in general.

I listened to the audiobook read by George K. Wilson, whose monotone voice failed to make the subject matter more interesting or engaging. Even the chapters on Colombia’s civil war and the violence there were read in the same tone as the legal examination of Coca Cola’s contracts with public schools.

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