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« Elsewhere | Main | Fact Attack »

April 28, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I've been drinking Volvic water a lot recently. Sometimes I think this is because Volvic is a really good-tasting bottled water. (Volvic is "drawn from deep inside the lush, green ancient volcanoes of the Auvergne in France.") I do seem to drink more water when the water in the fridge is Volvic. And The Wife, a fine cook with a sensitive and refined palate, likes calling Volvic "the vodka of bottled waters." So maybe Volvic really is a good water.

At other times, though, I wonder if I'm fooling myself. Online I've run across an NRDC report indicating that Volvic has a little too much, ahem, arsenic in it. And The Observer's William Leith thinks the whole bottled-water thing might be a case of mass self-hypnosis anyway.

Do you guys have favorite bottled waters? Do you ... believe in them?



posted by Michael at April 28, 2005


I like drinking city water from a tap. That hint of Chlorine appeals to my well developed palate.

Posted by: al on April 28, 2005 9:41 PM

I moved to a town in which the water was unpalatable, and so started drinking the water sold in gallon jugs at WalMart. It's okay. I use it for tea only--something I'm surprised isn't mentioned very often, because bad water turns poisonous when heated up, ruining tea. I'm surprised people seem to demand actual spring water, when distilling and then adding minerals is equilivent and probably superior.

Most annoying thing: Dozens of garbage-bag-filling milk jugs.

Posted by: onetwothree on April 28, 2005 10:56 PM

I meant to add: This is all the process called "secession of the successful". As the tax-paying half of the population stops drinking tap water, they stop caring whether or not it contains Cholera. Soon enough, the other half gets Cholera.

Posted by: onetwothree on April 28, 2005 10:59 PM

Name brand bottled water is like fair-trade coffee and free-pasture (or whatever it's called) meat.

Posted by: . on April 29, 2005 1:57 AM

I'm a bit surprised that you guys drink bottled water in New York city, where the tap water is very tasty. My excuse for drinking bottled water in L.A. is the less-than-exquisite quality of the local tap water.

Also, I presume you realize that bacteria levels in bottled water are significantly higher than in running (tap) water...and, occasionally, high enough to be health-threatening.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 29, 2005 2:53 AM

My brother drills wells occasionally and doesn't get the "natural spring water" mystique. It's as if all minerals are good for you. (Some people have a serious vanadium shortage, you know. Or is it selenium?) Some of his wells produce water that leaves an inch of reddish sludge at the bottom of your glass.

It's not an exact science, and at least once he's worked cooperatively with old-style dowser, in Northern BC on an Indian reservation.

When I drink water it's tap water. Portland's water is OK, but people still buy brand-name shit. I'd feel stupid paying money for something with no food value or psychoactive properties at all.

Posted by: John Emerson on April 29, 2005 9:28 AM

This all begs the question: why is some water tasty and some water not? Do you think there are cultural differences between the perception of tasty water vs. non-tasty water? Like with sweets?

*I am not being entirely serious, but just a little bit serious. Personally I think bottled water is the perfect fashion accessory, next to the Starbucks paper coffee cup.

Posted by: MD on April 29, 2005 9:32 AM

Bottled water? Evian spelled backwards is "naive"! I think that says it all! But...I do buy bottled water to drink in the car, where, obviously, tap water is unavailable.

Posted by: annette on April 29, 2005 9:45 AM

I often drink Fruit 2O, which is water with a slight but pleasant fruit flavoring, and zero calories. As for regular, flavorless spring water, I basically agree with the Observer's William Leith. A lot of sizzle, very little steak, to mix food and beverage metaphors.
And let's not forget "purified" waters like Dasani, which come from ordinary municipal water supplies but supposedly are purified to remove impurities. "Real" spring waters like Fiji or Poland Spring make a lot more sense than stuff like Dasani.

Posted by: Peter on April 29, 2005 9:52 AM

I think it's the arsenic that makes Volvic taste so good. Generally I think the whole bottled water thing is a scam but I remember when I lived in Florida the water from the tap really tasted awful so ... who knows?

Posted by: Rachel on April 29, 2005 10:06 AM

The water thing really is funny. NYC's tap water is always said to be one of the best in the country, for example, yet I find drinking it (even after putting it through a Brita) a bore. I tried ... damn, what's it called, that water that's basically ultra-pure and made from turning water to steam and then letting it condense? Anyway, boringboringboring. Yet on the other end many of the French eaux minerales are way, way too minerales for me. I've had some there were like drinking sulfur-water from some hot-springs spa. (Unless I'm mistaken, the French drink these waters for what they imagine are their medicinal properties.) I generally find water pretty boring, so I resort to stuff like fizzy slightly-flavored seltzer water -- Canada Dry makes a good lime-flavored, zero-calorie, not-too-flavored seltzer. So I was surprised when I started drinking Volvic. I really like it, or at least I think I do. I guess I'm not sure ... Yet I do seem to wind up drinking more water when the water's Volvic ... Yet is that just me trying to keep myself awake and find myself interesting? ...

With water it can be hard to tell, I guess.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 29, 2005 10:33 AM

"what's it called, the water that's basically ultra-pure and made from turning water to steam and then letting it condense?"

Distilled water.

Posted by: Peter on April 29, 2005 10:43 AM

I generally find water pretty boring

Anyone else think that statement is fall-on-the-floor hilarious? I'd be worried if you found it anything but boring. Now, iced tea...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on April 29, 2005 11:07 AM

Distilled water is nasty stuff, but you can make it much better by bubbling air through it before you drink it. Part of what makes water taste good is the dissolved gasses.

Do I believe in bottled water? Well, in the sense that I'm pretty sure it exists, yes; my wife buys it (mostly because it is convenient to carry, as I understand it). In the sense of ascribing special virtue to it, decidedly not.

Now, if I lived in the town my mother comes from (a small farming town in northern Minnesota), every drop of water I drank would come from a bottle. Hendrum has the nastiest tasting "water" I've ever tried.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 29, 2005 12:35 PM

Loveland, CO has excellent water.
Bottled water bothers me because it costs more than gasoline, and from all I've read it's bogus. Companies are drawing it from wells in urban areas and making a killing.
Hell, drink light beer, it's almost like water and has a fizz.

Posted by: Jay Al on April 29, 2005 12:57 PM

Somebody should explore this phenomenon (PhD material, I'm sure) of blogs - a single topic from noosphere condensate into the minds of unrelated keys-clicking creatures at the same time!

Last 2-3 days I'm hearing about water from everywhere.
Here is a translation of a poem by Soviet poet Leonid Martynov, titled - what else- Water (btw, Michael, he solves the mystery of spring water saying the distilled lacks LIFE).

Here Alan Sullivan talks about peculiarities of marine airconditioners: they use seawater rather than air for cooling.

On some stop @ my Live Journal wanderings I came across an Israeli writing about buisness opportunities in water melioration industry in that country (and something about concessions to Syria? cooperation with new Iraq? don't remember)

Yesterday I was in the audience when wonderful Marie Ponsot who I adore was receiving her Frost Medal; introducing the poet was writer Mary Gordon, and one of the citations she chose was from a poem that resonated closely - about importance of keeping oneself dry, to be able to sponge in the impressions experiences (I'm sorry for trivialising this amazing poem; I spent an hour afterwards, torturing Google, but couldn't find it. I'll try to rememeber to ask her tonight at the celebratory party)

Suddenly, I feel thursty.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 29, 2005 12:59 PM

I used to live near a place were same stuff I got for tapwater was also put in bottles and sold as Sourcy

A couple a miles further down the road another factory did the same and called it Bar le Duc

The tapwater I currently get, is even better. But, for a mineral water I like the German brand Apollinaris [The Queen of Table Waters].

Posted by: ijsbrand on April 29, 2005 1:10 PM

where the same stuff

Posted by: ijsbrand on April 29, 2005 1:12 PM

I like the fact that Volvic comes in square bottles. They stay upright in my refrigerator door more easily than round ones. Of course, once I finish drinking it I do fill it up again with NYC tap water.

Posted by: Mary on April 29, 2005 1:14 PM

Ah, I see, if I had bothered to read the Observer article I could have answered my own question re: why some water tastes better than others. Or rather, why one person things some water tastes better than others. How odd to describe the taste of water the way you would a wine, neither of which I would ever do. 'Cause in either case, I'd be making stuff up.

Posted by: MD on April 29, 2005 2:26 PM

In Southern California, most of the tap water comes from the Colorado River and is basically liquid rocks. Bottled water is a necessity for taste. In the Sierra foothills we get the melted snow to drink. The only reason to buy bottled water is to impress.

Posted by: Ralph on April 29, 2005 3:04 PM

I did once get down on my hands and knees and slurped some water out of a puddle on a Canadian-Rockies glacier. Now that was some damn good water.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 29, 2005 3:12 PM

If people spent their time lobbying their local government instead of their money (time) buying bottled water, they could get better tap water and it would be their own water (as opposed to taking someone else's). Stop seceding, successfuls.

Another vote for tapwater with the tea caveat.

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on April 29, 2005 3:13 PM

a bit OT:
123, do you think you pay less in taxes if you don't use government services? You wish...(me too). Regardless of what half of tax-paying population drinks their money still paying for water-purification plants. AND farm sabsidies. AND salaries to tenured professors of Women Studies in state colleges. Etc. When's the last time your H&R guy asked you how would you like to distribute your contribution to public treasury?

Posted by: Tatyana on April 29, 2005 3:13 PM

Penn & Teller did a segment on their Showtime program Bullshit on this very topic. As you might guess from the title, they concuded that bottled water was, well, bullshit.

Posted by: John on April 29, 2005 3:39 PM

Distilled water should be taken with pure grain alcohol so as to protect the precious bodily fluids. General Jack D Ripper swore by it, remember?

Posted by: allan on April 29, 2005 3:42 PM

Surprised no one else has pitched in, but let it be me. Unless I move to Zaire or Bangla Desh, I would never, ever buy bottled water. Of course, I don't drink water -- just coffee, beer, and soup. I use tap water for the coffee and soup, though.

Based on what people tell you about needing eight glasses of water a day, I apparently died about 20 years ago.

Posted by: John Emerson on April 29, 2005 5:41 PM

Maybe it's my imagination, but Manhattan tap water seems to irritate my stomach if I drink too much of it. (I'm thinking it's the chlorine and fluoride.) Plus, since I don't really drink coffee, tea, soda, sweetened juices or carbonated water, I feel I'm entitled to "treat" myself to bottled spring water.

At home I often drink orange juice and grapefruit juice that's half juice and half spring water -- I find it very refreshing. (Plus I like the added calcium and Vitamin D.) Recently I've developed a new favorite: pomegranate juice, which I also dilute. (I've read in the New York Times that in the "haute cuisine" Napa Valley, cucumber juice, I believe, is the in-between-meals drink of choice.)

Usually I buy a gallon of the cheapest brand that is sold in my supermarket (about 99 cents a gallon). Most of the time it is water that comes from springs in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

- - - - - -

I've "temped" at a lot of different offices, and I think it's very interesting to look at the way arrangements for water consumption in the work environment have changed over time -- especially in the case of companies located in signature office buildings, like Lever House, the Ford Foundation Building, etc. (See further, below.)

The older class "A" corporate headquarters office buildings from the 1950s and early 1960s (like the Bankers Trust Building, CBS Building) as a rule seem to have been designed with built-in-the-wall, or hung-on-the-wall, stainless steel water coolers that were distributed along hallways throughout each floor. But I noticed in the early 1990s (as compared to when I first entered the work environment in the late 1960s) that these hardly seemed to be used anymore. I think in some buildings they were even disconnected -- or had signs telling people not to use them. My guess is that a lot of people turned away from the chlorine taste once bottle water became commonplace, and after that even those who didn't mind the chlorine didn't want to drink water that had been standing in the water pipes between rare users.

So what did people do in these buildings instead? It's hard to remember, exactly, and it varies of course from company to company. I think in the large single company corporate headquarters it was common for people to use the more relaxed atmosphere of the 1990s work environment to go to the cafeteria, or to a nearby floor, to buy soda or bottled water from machines, or to order coffee over the phone and have it delivered. People in the 1990s also seemed to be freer to leave the building to buy coffee from Starbuck's, etc. (Perhaps, during a cigarette break.)

Also, in both large corporate headquarters and in buildings that were divided into smaller suites, bottled water coolers seemed to become very common (and seemed to be placed in or near the mailroom area the mailroom personnel being assigned to change the bottles). (One of the business innovations that most delights me is the development of the plastic, square [stackable!] water cooler bottle. It's so simple and so brilliant. I wish I had thought of it first!)

In the newer buildings (e.g., No. 3 World Financial Center) and in re-modeled floors of older buildings, it seemed de rigueur to build kitchen pantries with micro wave, refrigerator and running hot and cold water. Many of these pantries also provide free coffee and tea (some via conventional drip coffee makers and some from cleverly automated, but still free, drip machines). It seems that in the newer buildings, companies sometimes didn't even have conventional wall-based water fountains built anymore (e.g., law offices in 450 Lexington Ave.).

For some reason, some otherwise generous companies (who provide free tea and coffee) don't provide bottled water, but have filtered tap water instead. (One version has the water coming out of what looks like a bottle-less water cooler.) It may be psychological, but I felt "gyped" when I used these -- and used them only as a last resort. (At these companies I would bring my own pint-sized bottles from my local supermarket.)

Other, more generous companies actually offer name-brand beverages (soda, juice, water) in the pantry for free. Perhaps the most spectacular along these lines was the Bloomberg Company on Park Ave. (in the black glass I.M. Pei building). In the main reception area (which was a bit disorienting because it was decorated with scores of small fish tanks) there was a cashier-less "cafeteria" of name brand fast foods and drinks. Whenever you wanted, you just left your desk and went over there to grab a snack.

I found the arrangements for water consumption in the Ford Foundation Building and Lever House to be particularly interesting from an historical perspective.

The Ford Foundation, if I remember correctly, may in fact have built-in-the-wall water fountains (black slate and brass fixtures?) near the restrooms (on either end of the 43rd St. side of the building), but they also had these carafes of water that were placed on top everyone's desk (including, if I remember correctly, that of clerical workers). These carafes were refilled by workers wheeling around service carts, maybe twice (?) a day. Frankly, I never really felt comfortable with the idea of carafes I like my water straight from the tap or straight from the bottle so I would have to go up to the cafeteria and use the hot water spigot from the tea or coffee urn. (I think they also sold bottled water, but I'm not sure.) The problem with this is that you just couldn't go up to the cafeteria any old time (plus, there were brief times when the cafeteria was closed).

In Lever House, at least before it was renovated, the wall-based water coolers were near the service core (naturally) at the western end of the building. So a walk to the water cooler seemed very inconvenient. (In actual distance, it might be no longer than a walk to the water fountain in, say, the Bankers Trust Building, but due to the layout of the offices, it seemed longer.) Plus, they had wall-based water coolers, not the free-standing bottled water coolers, so if you wanted something else you had to go all the way down to the second story cafeteria - where, I don't think the selections were all that great either.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 29, 2005 5:44 PM

In Southern California, tap water is not free. And it's not provided by the taxpayers. You pay for all the water that comes into your house. It costs in the neighborhood of $1-1.50 per ccf, plus you have to pay a monthly fixed fee of around $20-30 called a "readiness to serve" charge. And I prefer Fiji water.

Posted by: GAB on April 29, 2005 6:48 PM

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned the deliciously funny chapter from Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything" (or it may be in his later book, "It Must Have Been Something I Ate"). Steingarten tried to make his own super-tasty water by buying distilled, then adding in traces of chemicals he buys from industrial supply companies and the like. Even if you're not concerned about the taste of your water, it's well worth reading Steingarten's take on this, along with all his other culinary adventures recounted in these two books.

By the way, here in Hong Kong, the government swears the tap water is perfectly fine for drinking, yet everybody boils it anyway. Boiled water's a whole other taste sensation. . . .

Posted by: mr tall on May 1, 2005 8:35 AM

One simple taste test for water is to drink it at body temperature. If it tastes bad then, it is bad. One simple test for the bacteria content in water is to leave it in a closed bottle at room temperature for several weeks, observe, then taste it at room temperature (if you dare). If it looks green or cloudy, smells or tastes like sewage, or has wiggly things moving around in it, it's not good. My local tap water has failed both these tests repeatedly. I pay 25 cents a gallon for RO (reverse osmosis after distillation) water at a local health food store. The role city tap water plays in common gastrointestinal diseases is consistently underplayed by the media.

Posted by: Tresho on May 2, 2005 10:24 AM

Is bottled water a scam? Depends on the water. Volvic does taste very good, as does San Pellegrino (to my palate). On the other hand, Aquafina is just local water passed through reverse osmosis and sold at elevated prices by the Pepsi Corporation.

I don't buy much bottled water because I live in Colorado and my water is tasty mountain spring water. My parents also live in Colorado, however, and they only drink bottled water because they don't much like the fact that their tasty mountain spring water comes from a stream that is basically 100% captured, used, filtered, and returned to the stream by the town upstream. I'm not that fastidious, but to each his own. (They drink Walmart's finest, presumably another RO water.)

Posted by: C.S. Froning on May 2, 2005 12:08 PM

San Francisco has terrific water from the Sierra -- still, I do use bottled water when I'm on the move. Michael, I did the glacier thing too -- between Banff and Jasper (can't remember the name of the glacier). That was really cool.

I can't remember the name of the water right now, but there is a supposed glacier water that comes in a dark blue bottle. I like that one.

Posted by: missgrundy on May 2, 2005 1:59 PM

When we lived out by San Antonio Lake in central CA the water came from a deep well and tasted great. Then we moved to Greenfield, 45 miles closer to civiliazation. The first time I tasted tap water there I thought someone had left an old well-used sock soaking in it for a few weeks. Now we live in Hollister, CA and the tap water is even worse. I suspect it may be because of all the chemicals farmers put on the fields that end up in the aquafier.

Posted by: Bob Durtschi on May 3, 2005 1:15 PM

Gosh...the strangest thing of all is how many comments "water" elicited! It's like that other posting, comparing a barcalounger to that circular patio chair thing. Who knows that really lurks in the hearts of men? Apparently, water and chairs.

Posted by: annette on May 3, 2005 5:08 PM

MB: your problem is easy to solve without a philosophical discussion - just do a blind taste testing of whichever two waters you wish to compare. Best if you do it triangle-style.

Personally, I find that if I'm thirsty, all water tastes good. And if I'm not thirsty, I don't want to drink water.

Posted by: Paul N on May 4, 2005 8:43 PM

I enjoy some bottled water now and again, though not because it's "purer" or "cleaner" than tap water--I buy oxygenated water. Does seem to have an impact on my immune system and alertness. Dr. John Gray recommended it on a radio interview I heard, and it's made quite an impact on me.

Impacted the wallet, too, though, so it's not quite the regular habit I'd like it to be.

Posted by: Scott Cunning on May 6, 2005 4:44 AM

Oxygenated water? Is that like H2O2? As in "hydrogen peroxide"?

Posted by: Cat on May 19, 2005 3:41 PM

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