#TIFF14 and #PepsiPopUp in #Toronto reloaded

Though it's not my first time writing about @PepsiCanada's event, I have taken advantage of it more than once, and this thing called conscience that I have yet to fully drown in alcohol keeps pushing me to give something back. The event is now over, but my t-shirt and gift certificates are still unrealized.

20140907-PepsiPopUp-cropSo if I already written on Twitter and elsewhere, why write again? Because in my last trip to the Pepsi Pop Up tent, I discovered they had fixed their photo booth, which I proceeded to use. After taking about 4 photos within less than a minute, it offered to email them to me as a collage, so I happily entered my email – one of the nicest ways to collect emails, I might add. And this was after having attended their cool free concerts in the previous days, having indulged in all the Pepsi I could drink and having won personalized T-shirts, Harveys burgers and $20 Guess gift certificates. All in all, an all blue experience.

And that is important, because while Pepsi has a strong association with color blue, Coke has positioned itself firmly in the “red” camp. It basically invented and marketed Christmas. It also managed to get US soldiers addicted to its drink during WWII, often in partnership with the US government. Yet red is also the color of communism, of which Coke is as far away from as possible. Long story short, Coca Cola has never agreed to share control of its recipe with anybody else, and some communist or nationalist governments required some sort of joint venture for anything produced within their border. Following Coca Cola’s refusal, Pepsi was able to make a number of deals with such governments, flooding those markets with their products under license, sometimes even in barter exchanges (wine or vodka for the Pepsi syrup). As such, Pepsi is “redder” than Coke, and to my mind, better represents the “red pill” option, especially when one considers how commercial and fake Christmas has become.

Coca-Cola-Recipe-FacsimileBut whereas we know that Pepsi started out as a “health drink”, Coke started out as a “cocaine” drink. True, back then cocaine wasn’t even illegal, and Coca Cola has supposedly removed the active cocaine component from their recipe 11 years before cocaine became illegal in USA, but the history of the drink helps explain the corporate culture and values. Here it is, in more detail (condenast-recipe):

You’ll notice that the formula for French Wine Coca, invented in 1884, is included here as well.  That’s because it is actually the forerunner of Coca-Cola.  Here’s the scoop on that. In the 1880s, Vin Mariani, a French wine with an infusion of coca leaf, was a world-famous drink, endorsed by the likes of Thomas Edison, Queen Victoria, and Pope Leo XIII.  So Pemberton’s French Wine Coca was just one of numerous imitators.  Then in 1885 Atlanta voted to go dry as of July 1, 1886.  Panicked, Pemberton modified his beverage to take out the wine, though he left the fluid extract of coca leaf.  He added kola nut, lime juice, citric acid, some caramel coloring, a number of interesting essential oils (vanilla, nutmeg, coriander, neroli, etc., combined with a negligible amount of alcohol), and a whole lot of sugar to sweeten the bitter taste.  Then he mixed an ounce of the syrup with five ounces of carbonated water over ice, and voila—Coca-Cola, introduced in May 1886.

(..) Then they took out the cocaine in 1903 (though the formula still contains decocainized coca leaf).  A few years later, as part of a settlement with the U. S. government, they cut the amount of caffeine in half.  In the 1980s, Coke in the US switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup.  At some point, phosphoric acid replaced citric acid.

Blind tastes repeatedly show that consumers prefer the Pepsi taste (or even New Coke), yet consumers continue to overwhelmingly spend their soft drink dollar on Coke Classic, succumbing to the humungous Coke advertising machine. In The Atlantic, the increased use of Coca Cola is credited with increasing cocaine use in the “negro” population, ultimately leading to the outlawing of cocaine in USA for racist reasons. In Alternet and Salon-Richardson, Coke Pendergast’s book is thusly criticized:

It’s no good that Coca-Cola did business with a Guatemalan bottler who allegedly hired death squads to murder employees trying to unionize. But that is all part of a larger pattern, a larger scandal – although there’s no conspiracy at all. The drive to increase profits and sales and market share at all cost is the company’s story, plain and simple. It took us from a 6.5-ounce drink only available at soda fountains to one available everywhere in sizes as large as 64 ounces.

Coca-Cola told us it wanted to teach the world to sing, but it’s far more likely it is giving the world diabetes. Today, a small Coke at McDonalds is 16 ounces. Pendergast, ever the balanced journalist presenting both sides, fails to definitely state that Coca-Cola is unhealthy. He generously points out that Coca-Cola creates jobs and donates to charity, even though he notes the company’s policy of “strategic philanthropy” – i.e. using “charitable” donations to gain access to valuable markets, particularly children.

Too much Coca Cola may result in death. This is what happened to Natasha Harris, a 31-year-old woman from New Zealand, who died after supposedly consuming 4 2L Coca Cola bottles daily for an extended period of time (wiki-coca-cola):

In the February 2010 death of a 31-year-old New Zealand woman, the coroner concluded "were it not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when she died and how she died"; Harris was found to have suffered from hypokalemia and "had an enlarged liver, and deposits of fat within the liver, which pathologist Dr Dan Mornin attributed to the consumption of 'excessive amounts of sugar'." Christopher Hodgkinson, the long-term partner of Harris, "estimated Natasha consumed four 2.25 litre bottles of Coke a day [and drank] no other beverage."

In the end, today’s recipes are not all that different. They all contain far too much sugar and caffeine, so the difference is given by personal preference. I came to taste Pepsi long before Coke, and can always identify it in blind tastes: it has less bite. Pepsi’s advertising campaigns also seem more inspired, more personal and more tasteful; in contrast, Coca Cola always assumes that impersonal TV commercials beat an attempt to establish a personal connection with their customers and sadly, this often happens. Just not for me.

I don’t drink soft drinks often, but when I do and I have a choice, I always prefer Pepsi, not just because of taste, childhood connections, less controversies and more inspired marketing, but also because they are the underdog.

A real soft drink is imperfect.

Sources / More info: z-pepsipopup, red pill v blue pill, wiki-coca-cola, cocaine-clapton, condenast-recipe, atlantic-cokeracism, salon-richardson, wiki-coke-recipe


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