The news that Pepsi was bringing back Aspartame and dumping Sucralose was met with great merriment in our house. I still remember the anguished look on my daughter's face years ago when she took a sip of reformulated Pepsi, wrinkled her nose and said, "Dad, what is this?" It's as if one chemical with a pleasant-sounding trade name has been substituted for another.
"Give me that can," I said. Looks the same; pheukeloytenonimicalites are still advised that it contains pheukeloytenonimica; has caffeine; still mostly water, and … whaaaa? They've dumped Aspartame? This will not stand. We're an Aspartame family and we've always been an Aspartame family — well, unless we're using Truvia, or Stevia, or Struvia, or Splenda or Trenda — and we're just going to have to switch colas.
There was a silence, as if a thunderclap had just struck. Which it had, actually, so I had to repeat myself.
"I said we're switching colas."
I might as well have said we're leaving the Upper Missouri Lutheran Synod for the Southern Missouri Lutheran Synod. The world had been turned upside down. Dad had lost it. Next thing you know, we'll throw out the Heinz ketchup and go over to Hunt's.
"We're going to be Coke people?" Daughter asked. "Will I have to change schools?"
OK, that's a slight exaggeration. Truth is, I never noticed the change in sweeteners, and I have no brand loyalty at all. My cola preference is based entirely on which one's on sale. I live for the day when an industry rep is standing in the soda aisle, tracking customer behavior, and I get to say something like: "No need to pay that much for Dr Pepper when Mr. Pibb is on sale." They would bite off their tongue because they wanted to scream, "They're not the same!" But they are, inasmuch as they're non-colas with some prune extract or root of cassis or eye of newt or whatever.
Same with the lemon-lime category: all the same. Boring. If the industry rep asked why I didn't buy 7-Up, I could say, "My mother gave me 7-Up when I had the heaves. I still remember the bottle: 'You Like It. It Likes You.' I didn't like it. Therefore I assumed it didn't like me. No, I will always associate your product with being in bed, nauseated, with newspapers on the floor and a bucket a few feet away. But mostly because Sierra Mist is cheaper this week. Next week, who knows."
We're not big soda drinkers, anyway. I enjoy a can of zero-calorie pop after lunch now and then; never have the full-calorie stuff, since something in the back of my mind says High Fructose Corn Syrup is the Devil's Plasma. I don't know why you would drink 130 calories when you could have zero. But if I had to choose a brand, it would be Coke, because of Santa and World War II ads. No, belay that; I would choose Pepsi, because of its stylish '60s ads that positioned it as the beverage of stylish people who Think Young. No, hold on; there's something about those small-batch locally made colas that say, "I want to be different and non-mainstream, and it's either this or waxing my mustache tips and riding a unicycle."
But that's when I think about it all, which I don't. Most folks don't. News reports say that some people rebelled against the substitution of Aspartame for Sucralose, and Pepsi sales suffered accordingly. As if we're talking about fine French wine here. "Monsieur, you have passed off this Chateau Pied-du-Grenouille as appellation controllee from the north side of the river. It is obviously from the south. I can taste the difference. Pistols, at dawn."
Perhaps the reason sales went down had less to do with the sweetener switch than the growing anti-pop sentiment. If you host a party of kids today and the parents are present, and you shout "Who wants Coca-Cola?" you'll get looks as if you said "king-sized Winstons for everyone!" But if you handed out, say, the popular new water drink — Bai Antioxidant Infusian Brasilia Blueberry — everyone would be happy. Gather 'round, children, and be infused.
Let's read the label. "Brasilia, Brazil — sounds fancy, right? Exotic. Adventurous. Romantic, even." Really? It's a sterile, outdated modernist city they had to clear a rain forest to build. Like my other favorite, Sobe LifeWater (so much better than DeathWater, let me tell you), it has erythritol, which sounds like something you put in your car's coolant system. It's actually a pretty good sweetener, and it doesn't give you hectic bowels like some, doesn't turn into Diabetes Fluid and doesn't have a cohort of people on the internet insisting that it causes autism in houseplants if you pour it over the geraniums.
Bai and LifeWater, however, are not fizzy, and we still crave the bite of the bubbles. That's why LaCroix is now the hottest cold drink in the country. What was once something you picked up at Target before a party because, jeez, some people just want water, is now the socially hip thing to quaff. I like it, even though the flavors seem like suggestions. Yes, it's mango flavored, but I think the mango-to-can ratio is something less than 1:1. More like someone walked around the bottling floor with a mango and waved it in the air.
At some point there will be another hot cool fluid we are expected to drink, and we can look down on the people who still drink the old stuff even though the Instagram star who pushed it isn't as cool as the new Instagram star who drinks Barium Smoothies or whatever comes next. Meanwhile, some people will still drink Pepsi or Coke, unaware they're behind the times.
They drink it because they just like it, that's all. Hah! Imagine that.