no thirst for Nestle

Nestlé "Pure Life" plastic bottle, minus the water

A couple months ago, walking along Southeast 7th Avenue, I passed a defunct flyer on a restaurant-pub window announcing a June protest against Nestlé's attempts to bottle spring water on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. Then right in the next block, discarded in the grass next to a sidewalk tree, lay an empty eight-ounce bottle of Nestlé water, branded "Pure Life." I've been meaning to write about Nestlé for months, and though I don't believe in signs, it felt like a sign, one I've kept in my thrifted wire-basket inbox tray as a reminder, till now.

Nestlé proclaims itself "the world's leading nutrition, health[,] and wellness company." But that's not what comes to my mind when I hear the brand name. Because of their decades-old marketing campaign aimed at children, whenever I hear the word Nestlé, I think of that white cartoon rabbit hawking chocolate milk. But Nestlé, just like Coke and Pepsi, is now selling not just sugared milk or soda but the very source of life. I've discussed water issues before, and maybe because of my name (Brooke/brook) and because water is my favorite beverage, I take offense to the corporate selling of the stuff we're made of. Water should no more be sold on the private market and profited on by shareholders than air. Both should be human rights. And unlike what many of us have slowly been indoctrinated by advertisers to believe, tap water is as safe if not safer than bottled water, especially when much of the pricey bottled stuff is actually just tap water in disguise, only with the addition of leaching carcinogenic plastic molecules. The Pure Life label reads: "Source: Southern Pacific Spring, Cabazon, CA. Purified using reverse osmosis or distillation and enhanced with a balance of minerals for taste." But try not to think about that plastic you're tasting. Yum. Oh, how effective those marketers have been, despite the rise in the last 10 years of reusable metal bottles, the discards of which fill a shelf at every Goodwill.

About a month ago, I was on break at my new job during training in Tigard, filling up my stainless-steel bottle at the water fountain between the restrooms, when one of the trainers walked by and stopped, her face showing worry lines.

"Oh! Did you know there's filtered water in the break room?"

"No, I didn't know, but it's no problem," I laughed. "I've lived in places where you couldn't drink the tap water. People here don't know how good they have it."

"Well, but there was a sewage scare a while back in Tigard. Some old pipes leaked."

"Oh. Huh."

And then the conversation turned to the places I'd lived and where I'd grown up and whom we knew in common (small world!). But the point is, Portlanders don't know how good they have it when it comes to their water. I grew up drinking pristine well water in Southern Oregon, outside the municipal supply, and which was even better than town water because it was neither chlorinated nor fluoridated and surely contained fewer pharmaceuticals. But then I lived and traveled in Europe and Asia, where the tap water ran in shades of yellow and brown, and locals told me to avoid the tap for obvious reasons. (And let me just state that forgetting to drink water because you're not used to buying and hauling water home on foot can create highly uncomfortable bladder and kidney problems.) Even in the California Bay Area, the water needed to be filtered to improve the taste. But that was all before I wised up and moved back to my home state where the tap runs clear.

reservoir notice board, Mt. Tabor, Portland

While a friend and I strolled around Mt. Tabor a couple weeks ago, I snapped a few shots of one of the old EPA-targeted open reservoirs, filled with Bull Run water. The signs on the black, pointed wrought iron threatened arrest and contained more exclamation points than any official sign I've ever seen: "Anyone throwing objects of any kind into this reservoir shall be subject to arrest under provisions of section 16.1353 City of Portland Police Code. This is your drinking water! ! !" Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph the cavernous dry reservoir we also passed, now-infamous for being drained after some drunk guy got caught urinating in it last year, eight million gallons of drinking water worth nearly $33,000 wasted because no one wants to drink infinitesimal parts per million of human pee, if she can help it.

notice, Mt. Tabor Reservoir

But back to Nestlé, this week I signed the Food & Water Watch petition to Governor Kitzhaber, requesting him to stop the Nestlé bottling plans for the Cascade Locks. And now, finally, I can recycle that silly, baby-sized plastic bottle full of air.    

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