Modern life is complicated. But if you’re lucky, your drinking water is not.
You turn on the tap, and it’s there: Drinkable, and not a threat to your health nor a burden to your body to collect and carry and store. Not everyone shares this privilege.
But for some people—people whose lives are characterized by the type of wealth where basic needs are so easily met they become somewhat of a bore—that is not enough. Enter “raw water,” the latest trend to capture the imagination of affluent urbanites with rampant status anxiety.
The controversy started with a New York Times article, as so many cultural chasms these day do. The spring water—which is untreated, unfiltered, and unsterilized—is being sold by discerning urban grocers for $36.99 for 2.5 gallons. There are several brands, including Live Water in Oregon and Tourmaline Spring in Maine, which package, market, and transport what otherwise costs “just a penny per gallon” to buy.
Raw water’s proponents—who include Doug Evans, founder of the new-defunct and disgraced company Juicero, a red flag if ever I heard one—argue that the water we drink is “dead,” stripped of the probiotics that make it nourishing. Live Water’s founder, Mukhande Singh, even expressed to the Times that fluoride, which has been added to the water supply since the 1950s, is a mind control drug.
So first, let’s get the facts out of the way. The fact-checking website Snopes noted the raft of claims about Live Water’s benefits, which echo that of other raw water companies, “are based on wholesale misreadings of scientific papers and principles that, even if interpreted correctly, would offer no relevance to—let alone proof of—raw water’s probiotic potential.”
More worrisome: Even if the claims did have merit, the risks associated with drinking untreated water are of the rather serious variety. Think cholera, E. coli, hepatitis, parasites, and giardia and you’ve got the right idea. Indeed, though the microbiome may be a promising field of health study, it strikes me that improving one’s gut health at the risk of contracting cholera is not a sensible trade-off.
Perhaps the more operative question—beyond “huh?’—is why. Why do affluent humans seem to repeatedly look for ways to spend their money on “improvements” of basic things that don’t need improving? The question is particularly vexing when there are no shortage of actual civic and environmental problems that really need addressing.
After all, we’ve been here before. Our cultural elite have eschewed chewing for Soylent, eating for fasting, taking a break from work for biohacking, the fruits of agriculture for paleo diets, moderate forms of movement for Crossfit, and vaccinations for I’m not quite sure what. Somehow those with the cushiest lives have come to believe that the ideal time to be a human was when one’s likelihood of dying from death, disease, hardship, poverty, and physical deterioration was much, much higher.
Now, that’s not to say that the modern way of life doesn’t have its flaws. We eat too much processed food, we spend too much time sitting in chairs, we are needlessly plowing our earth with waste, we work too much, and we don’t talk about our feelings enough. These problems all need to be fixed, but the answer to late capitalism’s failings is not an overcorrection to a pre-historic time when life was nasty, brutish and short. Particularly when the profit-motivated nature of those corrections mean that only the very richest in our society can afford them (and the mark-ups are truly stratospheric). Bougie cavemen are not making the world better—they are making their own lives better.
Modern philosopher Alain de Botton once wrote: “Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.”
The people yearning for a new type of water may believe they are doing what’s best for their bodies, and that is their right. But they shouldn’t kid themselves that it will fix their problems; it is merely a symptom of them.
They are not paying for water—they are paying for packaging that makes them feel good.