Soda Wars

by Liam Kuhn | 10/30/98 6:00am

I don't really like soda or pop or soda pop or fizz or whatever it's called. I prefer my carbonated beverages to have a little more hop in them (and barley, and yeast). But some people are passionate about their Pepsi and choleric about their Coke, and I respect that.

A friend of mine from high school narrowed his college search down to two schools, Michigan and Emory. He loves Coca-Cola perhaps more than life itself, so it was a surprise when he chose Michigan -- a school contracted by Pepsi and completely void of Coke -- over Emory, a school in Atlanta, the capital of Coca-Cola Country. After reading "College renegotiates soda contracts" from Tuesday's The Dartmouth, I was reminded of my friend's affinity for Coke and his extreme distaste for Pepsi. So I called him up to see how he was surviving without Coca-Cola. I asked him how he was making the adjustment and he said, quite seriously, "I get by. It was tough at first, but I hit the bong about five times a week, so I forget all about Coca-Cola."

Well, I am in no way condoning or promoting my friend's reactionary measures. Neither am I suggesting that these big-name soda contracts necessarily lead kids to drug use. However, I can't say I was totally surprised by his comment; it has been well-documented that veterans of wars sometimes turn to drugs to heal their emotional and mental scars. And this is, after all, a soda "war." For whatever reasons, people are so adamant about their soft drinks that their passion can become a form of addiction. Personally, I think everything tastes fairly similar. But I decided to call some other friends and find out what they thought.

My friend at Boston College shares pretty much the same beverage ideology as me: it makes no difference -- Coke or Pepsi, throw enough rum in and it all tastes the same anyway. His school is under a Coca-Cola contract, but he doesn't mind the fact that he can no longer choose Pepsi products. Interestingly, however, he told me that he just completed carving a working bong out of a Halloween pumpkin, and I fear that he is fast becoming another victim of the senseless soda war.

For those of you who actually care about which watered-down, caramel-colored, syrupy soda you're drinking: be strong. Sure, you will be extremely disappointed if your favorite monolithic beverage company loses. You might actually go through fits of depression or withdrawal. But that's the price you pay for capitalism, as Robert Sutton will tell you after he's through telling you how smart he is. But, as my friend at Michigan might find out one day, drugs are not the answer -- you'll still be thirsty.

Despite the undemocratic resulting lack of choice in these long-term soda contracts, a lot of good can result. There is a silver lining to this cloud of tyrannical dominance. This winter, once the slings and arrows start flying through the chilled air of Hanover, things should get interesting. And as long as the Baker clocktower isn't replaced with a huge Pepsi weathervane, as long as Dartmouth Hall isn't renamed "Coca-Cola Castle," things should be all right. People will still be able to drink soda and the college will have more money to spend on really useful things, like a giant inflatable mascot.

So when the dust settles on this so-called Soda War, I hope the winner is the company that offered us the most money, not necessarily the best drink. As Director of Purchasing Gregory Husband said, soft drink contracts at some colleges include up to 2 million dollars in benefits for the institution over spans of five to 15 years. As I've said, I don't really drink soda very often, but I would be more than happy to let either Coke or Pepsi pay for my education. If I had to pick a winner between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, I'd still put my money on Guinness every time.