almost everyone has memories that i might say are common everywhere--memories of playing, of crying, of feeling under the weather, of feeling love or feeling loved, memories of things that are seemingly universal, whether they happen in the mongolian steppe or in a suburb of massachusetts. and there's one thing i'll bet millions, maybe billions of people in every conceivable corner of the world have memories of that isn't a natural biological or social occurrence, yet certainly plays off of both--a result of some incredible marketing and the human affinity for something sweet.
who of you don't have memories involving coca-cola?
it's ubiquitous, and it's only been on sale for 120 years; that first syrup-based drink was sold in jacob's pharmacy in atlanta, georgia today, may 8, 1886. be it coca-colonization or the product's natural progression (i tend to believe in the former), it's since risen to such an iconic status that it can easily be taken for granted.
my most vivid coke memory happened one afternoon, at least fifteen years ago, when mom and i were spending some time with grammy, my spunky, nonagenarian great-grandmother. i don't remember the sequence of events leading up to it, but what i do remember is that mom filled a dixie cup with coke and offered it to grammy, who curled her slim fingers around it and commented on the years it had been since she'd last taken a sip. she tipped the cup to her lips, and not two seconds after swallowing, the look on her face was that of a child who'd just put back a glass of lemonade without the sugar. it was hilarious. even grammy had a good laugh as her taste buds recovered from their carbonated trauma.
ever since i realized that coke left my teeth covered in that unmistakable sugary mossiness, i converted to the diet variety. and though we only have it here in the house every once in awhile, i'm pretty much, for better or worse, a coca-cola loyalist.
so is the rest of the country, it seems. some statistics point to mexico and iceland having the highest per capita coke consumption in the world. i don't know about iceland, but here it isn't difficult at all to believe. rare is the store, party or venue without coke, and the ones that do exist have likely just ran out of it. the soft drink has been bottled and sold in mexico since 1927, and as far as i can tell, it now forms a part of the common culinary scene just as much as charro beans or carnitas. and certainly, it's the only country with a president who was once dubbed "the coca-cola kid"; president vicente fox was head of coca-cola's mexico division, eventually appointed to supervise all of coca-cola's latin american operations.
there are even claims that mexican coke is, indeed, the real thing. since it's asserted that bottling plants in mexico still use cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup in their list of ingredients, the taste is better and likely closer to the original. mexican coke has even carved out a strong little niche within the united states, for it's taste, for it's glass bottles, and likely for the nostalgia those two things can produce.
beyond simply satisfying a customer's tastes, wants or needs, i'd wager that it's a sentimental attachment, both individual and cultural, that enables a product to achieve any level of lasting popularity. sentimental attachment (along with, perhaps, sugar addiction) is something the coca-cola company has managed to create on a scale no one would have believed when sold for five cents a glass in 1886. grammy's reaction to it and my memory of that instant may very well sum up the relationship the world has with coke: a bitterish initial shock at the thought of such heavy global sugar consumption, business monopoly, possible unethical working conditions or the almost frightening success of marketing machinations. but then, the punch somehow wears off, and one is left enjoying it's sweetness in spite of it all.
thus spoke the diet coke enthusiast living in mexicocacola.
here are some interesting information snacks from wikipedia:
1. kosher coke, bottled by a few companies in the u.s. for the passover season is also made with sugar, rather than corn syrup, due to the special dietary restrictions for observant jews (ashkenazi jews are prohibited from consuming corn during this period) during the holiday. this variant can be found in some areas of the u.s. around the month of april.
2. contrary to popular belief, the coca leaf extract cocaine was never added to coca-cola, per se. because cocaine is naturally present in untreated coca leaves, small amounts of cocaine were also present in the beverage. today's coca-cola uses "spent" coca leaves, those that have been through a cocaine extraction process, to flavor the beverage. since this process cannot extract the cocaine alkaloids at a molecular level, the drink still contains trace amounts of the stimulant. the united states dea oversees the importation of coca for coca-cola, and the subsequent sale of the extracted cocaine to the drug industry, where it is used in the creation of many of the common drugs whose names end in "-aine" (such as procaine).