My Father's Clouds - Commercialism in a Can by John Borowski
"I have a different vision of paradise. Heaven is a group of parents who storm their board of education meetings and demand that the Coke and Pepsi deals be reneged."
Over 5,000 schools in the United States have contracts to sell soda pop and candy from vending machines and fast food in school cafeterias. This fact isnÕt some passive observation of contemporary society, for it has immediate and far reaching consequences. I urge parents, teachers, legislators, and students to stand up to corporate venders of type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and empty calories, and tell them, "Our children are not for sale".
Corporate America seeks to shape our culture, our habits, our diets and our future. That is the imperative of corporate mindset.
Meanwhile, America's citizenry has forgotten that the health of our society depends on the modeling of citizenship. And the youngest in our society are watching us right now. As Coca-Cola and Pepsi invade their public spaces, what will we elders do?
Coke and Pepsi are vying for the buying power of our children, and schools are their vehicles for profit. But they have to pay to play and they do so through these contracts. The prospect of money to schools seduces school boards and blinds adults to the realities of these Deals with the Devil, and such deals have become pervasive and ubiquitous. Sadly, my own school has a Pepsi contract.
Just a few years ago, a consortium of three Colorado school districts approved a 10- year, $27.7 million exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. Disturbingly, only one of the board's 17 members voted against this contract. Over 200 school districts nationwide have signed exclusive grant contracts with soft drink companies.
Is society letting legislators off the hook? Don't worry about funding schools, let corporate America fill the void, as they build brand loyalty in the littlest of consumers. Isn't education about being a pillar of democracy, learning life skills and fulfilling dreams? Our collusion with beverage giants seems to reinforce the shrill ideal that success is measured by wealth, by acquisition of stuff, and that profit at any cost is good. Health comes second to cash.
The statistics speak volumes: in 1970, annual consumption of soda was 22.4 gallons. By 1998 it was 56.1 gallons per capita. Today, the average North American consumes 53 teaspoons of sugar a day! Excess sugar in children�s diets is linked to the rise in type-2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and kidney stones. One 12-ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar, while a 64 ounce Big Gulp provides the equivalent of 48 teaspoons! Interesting note: during World War II, when sugar consumption dropped , the outbreak of diabetes dropped sharply also. So, there is hope. But does that hope require a new war?
Earlier this year, to stem criticism, Coca-Cola, announced that it would "back off" the number of contracts with schools. But, this promise is another smoke screen by those who seek to use the captive audiences in schools for quarterly profits. Some of Coke's bottlers are still signing exclusive contracts with high schools. Since March of this year, Coke's largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., which is 40% owned by Coke, has struck several big school contracts. One deal was a five- year, $1.77 million pact with 35 schools in Sarasota, Florida. So the beat goes on.
The nature of these "educational deals" is plain. Schools, underfunded and economically hurting, go begging to corporate citizens for help. I applaud corporate donations, but without strings. Schools hold children, not widgets for mass production.
The true nature of Coca-Cola is revealed in John Robbin's "The Food Revolution". In this wonderful book, one that all students should read, he quotes Coca-Cola CEO, Donald Keough, when discussing the potential soda market in the third world. "When I think of Indonesia, a country on the Equator with 180 million people, a median age of 18, and with a Moslem ban on alcohol," he says, "I feel I know what heaven looks like".
I have a different vision of paradise. Heaven is a group of parents who storm their board of education meetings and demand that the Coke and Pepsi deals be reneged. Students should learn the facts about soda in Health classes and then exercise their rights to say NO to vending machines in their schools.
Tonight, I am writing a check to my daughter's grade school, to help with supplies. I urge you to make the promise I made to my daughters: I will not drink another can of soda pop, because role models should practice what they preach. Plus, I will live a healthier life, and so will my children.
Loving care, setting parameters of trust and learning, and defending the health of children, these do not come from a vending machine. They come from the heart, and Coke and Pepsi can never buy or sell that.
John Borowski is a teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Oregon.