Move Over Joe Camel Big tobacco used a camel figure to con kids. Coca Cola now uses a cool cow to do the same. By John Borowski
Coca-Cola doesn’t need Joe Camel. They have a cool cow figure with shades adorning their “Swerve” drink—and it will only be sold in schools.
Purveyors of liquid candy will use any gimmick to invade our public schools. “Swerve”, in its 11-ounce can, contains 52% milk and is artificially flavored with sucralose, a man-made chlorinated compound. 600 times sweeter than table sugar, this compound only had 19 studies done on it by the year 2000. Considering that pesticides are often made using chlorinated compounds, health advocates are worried. You should be too. As a teacher of children in an American school, I am deeply concerned.
It’s an elaborate con. Coca-Cola has now become an official sponsor of the national PTA, and Coke’s vice president, John Downs, now holds a seat on the PTA’s board. Stunningly, this gives Coca Cola interests full voting rights! The PTA, our well regarded children’s health advocate, is a Trojan Horse, having enlisted itself as a lobbying springboard for this corporation with its dreams of flooding schools with their products, health concerns be damned.
These Coca-Cola culprits have contracts with at least 6,000 of the nation’s 14,000 public school districts to sell its sugar & chemical drinks to children who are not prepared to make important dietary decisions for themselves. This is the same Coca-Cola that pays the Boy & Girls Clubs of America $60 million a year to ensure that only coke is sold in their 2,000 facilities nationwide. Coca-Cola has been instrumental in lobbying against the World Health Organization’s guidelines stating that it is not healthy for humans to ingest sugar as 10% of their diets.
Parents must be overjoyed. Their kids can now get a cool “milk dude” together with chlorinated sweeteners and twice the sodium of Coca Cola classic. Kids can alternate between “Swerve” and regular Coca-Cola while corporate charlatans gloat all the way to the bank.
What is not humorous is that we are inundating and saturating our children with caffeine, phosphoric acid and massive amounts of sugar and sweet tasting chlorine chemicals. The legacy will be the sickest generation of children in modern US History. Little is known about the health effects of chlorinated Sucralose and here we are, marketing it (only) in schools! Our schools should be a laboratory for learning, not a laboratory using our children as live guinea pigs for this kind of garbage.
Coca-Cola’s “Swerve” cow is now trying to overtake the infamous “Joe Camel” cartoon character, with all the same deceit and malfeasance that the tobacco industry produced for 50 years. Coke knows that the ticket to reaching kids is repetition of message. Should that trusted teacher stay mute as kids drink sugary caffeine water and artificially chlorinated pseudo milk drinks, then the corporation wins and our kids lose.
Some educational purists and visionaries will echo Tracey Cooper, a Colorado Springs school district advertising manager. When asked about having “Burger King buses” in their school district (adorned with Burger King’s logo), Ms. Cooper replied, “In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to do this.” Considering that school is one of the most monumental and crucial habit forming times in our children’s lives, we should not go begging for such crumbs off corporate board office tables. The strings attached to those crumbs bind our children ever more tightly to the addictive patterns that keep these craven corporations alive.
To paraphrase Ms. Cooper, in a perfect world, adults safeguard children, and now is time to act. Call the National PTA on their toll-free line (800-307-4782), and ask them to advocate for kids, not soda pop corporations. Demand that they drop Coca-Cola bigwig John Downs off their board. Write Coca-Cola at their corporate office in Atlanta, Georgia (PO Box 1734), 30301. Tell them to get out of our schools. Ask them why they would provide a “milk drink” sweetened with a chlorine product. Ask your local pediatrician to submit a letter to your school district advising against the sale of pop and sweetened milk substitutes. Ask that doctor to join ranks with the American Academy of Pediatrics that recently issued a statement against the sale of soda pop to school children.
Give your kids real milk. Give them water or try soy-milk products. Make sweets a rare treat. Give Coca-cola and Swerve the boot from our schools.
John F. Borowski is a marine and environmental science teacher in Salem, Oregon. His pieces have appeared in the Utne Reader, NY Times, Counterpunch and many other sites. He can be reached at [email protected]