Main Entry: sot·to vo·ce

Pronunciation: "sä-tO-'vO-chE
Function: adverb or adjective
Etymology: Italian sottovoce, literally, under the voice
1 : under the breath : in an undertone; also : in a private manner
2 : very softly -- used as a direction in music

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Water Life: The Perils of Perrier

I drink so much bottled water every day that I just had to know - Who was the genuis who thought to bottle water from some outback creek and sell it at a huge market up to dumb city folk like me? And exactly how do those bubbles get in Perrier anyway, or any other carbonated mineral water. And more, what the hell is "mineral water" anyway. What exactly is in this mineral water, apart from the obvious?

The fact is, if one drinks as much bottled water as I do, and we're talking upwards of six huge bottles a day (if I have my way, Evian, if it's a bad day at the local market, Poland Spring or Dasani), I really ought to know who the hell came up with the idea of bottling a natural resource and turning a profit. I mean, it's really pure genius. I can just see some guy or gal in the middle of nowhere sitting by the edge of a local spring or mountain stream and thinking, "Shit, I'll just put this in a bottle with a pretty picture of trees on teh front and sell it as 'Mountain Water'or some such, and city folk will buy it."

But was it that simple? I didn't know, and so I set to find out.

In 1798, the term "soda water" was first used. Bathing in natural springs was considered a healthy thing to do and a fun pastime. Scientists belived that the naturally occuring bubbles in the springs, caused by Carbon Dioxide, were the source behind the medicinal and curative qualities of the water. Before this though, drinking water with lemon juice and honey (which is amazingly good hot if you have a cold, flu, or sorethroat) became increasingly popular. It was a company in Paris that patented the elixir: Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris. The lemon, honey, and water juice was sold all over Paris and soon became popular worldwide. I'm quite sure, though, that somewhere back in the middle ages, someone had put this very same combination together - they just hadn't thought to handletter flyers and brand it. Fools.

By 1767, an Englishman by the name of Joseph Priestly found a way to put the bubbles in water and keep them there. He was the first to make carbonated water that was drinkable and like that one would find in nature. Meanwhile, other chemists fiddled around with various minerals and whatnot, including sulfuric acid and chalk and made "mineral water."
In 1810, the first U.S. patent was issued for the "means of mass manufacture of imitation mineral waters" to Simons and Rundell of Charleston, South Carolina. (source:

People everywhere could now supplement their healthful mineral water dips with healthful mineral water sips, and by 1810, carbonated mineral waters were all the rage. Before too long, others joined the band wagon and began fiddling with other "healthful" additives, such as Birch extract as well as various herbs that they touted as beneficial to one's general health and sense of well-being. The public sucked it up. One could have birch, sasparilla, dandelion, ginger, you name it, it was added to water - and so far, these were all herbs that were beneficial in some way. Credit goes to the Irish for good ole ginger ale, friend of aching bellies worldwide, for it was they who created it in 1851.

As soon as people discovered they could flavor their mineral water, the water market took a turn, and actually began to veer away from what seemed to be the original intent - which was to make a healthful drink, and soon, the concept of "soft drinks" was born. But 1861, the term "pop" was born. Soft drink additives became less healthful and more synthetic. Fruit extracts were popular additives, but with those extracts came sugar - some natural, and eventually, some synthetic. And who doesn't know the story of Coca Cola - with it's extra zest of cocaine, for those who needed a wee "pick me up" in the afternoon.

Then one day in 1885 in the town of Waco, Texas, a guy by the name of Charles Alderton, who worked as a local pharmacist, invented Dr. Pepper, a drink he mixed himself at the pharmacy soda fountain and that locals referred to as a "Waco." According to, Alderton named the drink after a friend of his, a certain Dr. Charles Pepper. By 1891, Alderton was running the Dr. Pepper Company, and by 1904, Dr. Pepper made it's real debut when it was served at the the World's Fair in St. Louis to over 20 million people. To this day, Dr. Pepper is the oldest soft drink syrup in the U.S.

Soon after, Coca Cola was born, then root beer, and the industry boomed.

But you see what has happened here? I started off on a quest to find out about mineral water, and it lead me down a slippery slope to softdrinks. But didn't you ever wonder where Dr. Pepper came from? I did. And if you didn't, forget all that you've read here.

So - who do we thank the most for our bottled water, if we are to thank anyone? Well, we could thank that nameless person back in the seventeenth century who decided to bottle water and those others who set out to market it. But according to one very good source, the true granddaddy of bottled water is a certain John Mathews, an Englishman who emigrated to America in 1832, and knew how to make carbonated water. He spent many years serving fizzy water to the people of New York, and supplying stores that had soda fountains with his fizzy water. Mathews is credited to a huge boom in the soft drink industry, according to

But back to water. Evian, according to their site, trace the origin of their water source to 16,000 BC when the aquafier and glacial sands are formed in the French Alps. The water originating there eventually winds up in those pleasing pink and blue bottles, or, my favorite, the "Evian Nomad" with the groovy handle.

Perrier, again, according to their site, dates back to the Romans but didn't become known until about 1793. Perrier originates from Vergeze. The Perrier we know today, we have because Napoleon III gave the proclamation that it was a-okay to develop the source, and Voila! By 1903, under the management of Dr. Perrier and Sir St-John Harmsworth, Perrier's famous green bottle became popular throughout Europe and was the first bottled mineral water available in the U.S.(source: For the record, Perrier is now owned by Nestle, a little-advertised fact, as it doesn't really go with the high-end image so prized by Perrier and those who drink it.

So after all this, what I set to find out was who thought of this and when... How did this bottle from, let's say Evian at Vergeze, become an item that I could buy today. Surely there is one person who thought of it first. Or maybe there were were various individuals scattered around the globe who all had the same idea: that water that is naturally filtered through glacial paths and silt and rock is naturally better for you and picks up more minerals as it makes its journey. I don't know. It certainly sounds healthier, but then, isn't all water filtered?

As the National Resources Defense Council put it, "Sales of bottled water in this country have exploded in recent years, largely as a result of a public perception of purity driven by advertisements and packaging labels featuring pristine glaciers and crystal-clear mountain springs." We imagine ourselves filling up on healthful minerals, our cheeks pink and glowing, our flawless pseudo-Swiss skin all alabaster and white, our teeth shining like pearls. It all sounds very promising and very teutonic, but I have to say, I think it's all shit.

But the sad truth, and this again from the NRDC, "Even when bottled waters are covered by the FDA's rules, they are subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water (see chart below). For example, bottled water is required to be tested less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In addition, bottled water rules allow for some contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform (which indicate possible contamination with fecal matter), contrary to tap water rules, which prohibit any confirmed contamination with these bacteria. Similarly, there are no requirements for bottled water to be disinfected or tested for parasites such as cryptosporidium or giardia, unlike the rules for big city tap water systems that use surface water sources. This leaves open the possibility that some bottled water may present a health threat to people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant or cancer patients, or people with HIV/AIDS."

So bear that in mind as you swizzle the stick in your Perrier, squeeze the lime wedge and take a long hearty sip. If you wanted to be closer to nature and drink something purer, well you have succeeded. Thing is, I imagine most of us didn't quite know that we were drinking an entire colony of parasites who used to live on the glacier until they moved into their swank, new mineral bottle home. Maybe it's best to stick with Dr. Pepper.

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti
Authors Note: Author drinks vast quantities of Evian every day; buggies or not buggies.