Killing Soft(ly) Drinks

(This story, authored by me, was published in the ‘Delhi Mid-Day’ in March, 2003)

Answering to a query, a world renowned Indian cricketer once said that he did not drink the soft drink he endorsed. Though his words were not enough to create a bedlam followed by a mass renunciation of the product, the expected remark must have tinkled the thinking of any one who listened to him. However, the one who is aware of the ingredients of carbonated beverages would definitely doubt why the cricket celebrity should take that particular drink at all. He knows, the said player like many other endorsers would not take or use anything they endorse for.

Soft drinks have been around for over a hundred years, but many of their deleterious heath effects have not been deeply or extensively studied, and hence not known. However, scientific studies done so far have shown how as few as one or two soft drinks a day can increase one’s risk for numerous health hazards including problems such as obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, and many neurological disorders.  

The demand for carbonated drinks, however, has been rising steadily, thanks to the aggressive ad campaigns unleashed by multi-national soft-drink companies. These beverages have become today’s rage, trend and fashion, especially among the youth. Most of the consumers scurrying around for soft drinks are ignorant of the fact that the colourful fluid coming in attractive bottles does not do a bit of good to them. In an attempt to chill out, our young hearts often ignore why a sports person drinks honeyed-water or fruit pulps instead of the drink he/she says good for health.

As a strategy, the manufacturers keep on changing the contents of bottles to make them more attractive to lure more and more thirsty young hearts. Fifty years ago the average serving size for a soft drink was a six-ounce bottle. Today, soft drinks are sold in twenty ounce bottles and are consumed in much larger amounts.

The average young male between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine consumes over 160 gallons of soft drinks a year. Studies show that males of this age group are the largest consumers of soft drinks.  Many of these males receive over ten percent of their total daily calories from soft drinks. Dr. Charles Best, the discoverer of insulin, claims that teenagers who consume too many soft drinks have cirrhosis of the liver similar to what chronic alcoholics have. There is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver except to receive a new liver through a transplant.

It is a truth that soft drinks, even though they contain a large number of calories, have little nutritional benefit, and are known as ‘empty calories’. Most of the calories in soft drinks are from refined sugars, and there are no other nutritionally beneficial components in them.

A common problem that is associated with consumption of a large number of soft drinks is the increased acid levels in the body.  All soft drinks are very acidic, but dark colas such as Coke and Pepsi are much more acidic. The caffeine and acids found in soft dinks such as acetic, fumaric, gluconic and phosphoric acids cause gastronomic distress. The combination and strength of these acids are so strong that when a drain is clogged a plumber will often use a soft drink, or if a car battery is corroding one can use a soft drink to dissolve the corrosion.

Most carbonated beverages contain caffeine, which is considered to be a mild drug and can have harmful effects, especially on children. Caffeine is a drug that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. Consumption of this in large amounts can cause diseases and disorders such as insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, and deviations from the normal heart rate.

Another very serious effect of carbonated drinks on people’s health is the increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.  The large amounts of sugar, bubbles caused by carbon dioxide, and phosphoric acid that are found in soft drinks remove nutritious minerals from bones allowing the bones to become weak and increasing the risk for them to break. This is done by the phosphoric acid disrupting the calcium-phosphorous ratio, which dissolves calcium from the bones. Besides, dental cavities are often associated with carbonated beverage.

Even those drinks that are labelled as ‘sugar-free,’ ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘low sugar’ can still contain enough sugar to cause damage to the teeth, and they will still contain the same acids as the standard carbonated drinks. It is recommended, therefore, to replace carbonated drinks in the diet with other options.

Better substitutes are not scarce in India, which is the largest producer of milk as well as a big producer of citrous fruits in the world. Traditional and natural drinks like milk, lassi, or others such as fruit juices, sherbet, sugarcane juice, nimbu pani, et al are also thirst quenching and nutritious.

P.S: Once, on one of her visits to India, I asked Indra Nooyi, who was then the CFO and is now the Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, whether there was any difference between Pepsi colas produced in India and the US to which she said the company followed the same formula  for both the countries. I, then, asked her why there was more pesticide residue in colas produced in India in comparison to that of the US. I also inquired, referring to the fact that roaches and their fecula were found in Pepsi bottles, why hygiene was compromised in India, certainly not in the US; whether the company expected Indians to drink anyhting it produced? But, both the queries drew no answers. Their PR people meticulously intervened and said that she had to rush to attend another meeting – a nice and scholarly way of evading unpalatable questions!


Vatican welcomes married priests?

PriestMarriage 1It sounded a bit startling to me too as I was reading an announcement the Vatican made on Oct. 20, 2009 that the Church was making it easier for Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism. With the decision, the Anglicans will be able to join Catholic Church without giving up their Anglican liturgy and identity, including married priests. The decision was taken in secret by a small cadre of Vatican officials (without consulting the spiritual leader of the global Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Who cares whom?).

“The unity of the church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows,” said Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while announcing the decision.

Yeah, fine. A good decision; after all, the ice has started thawing (but for economic reasons). However, the decision contradicts Vatican’s official stand on marriage of priests, who by principle should refrain from marriage and any sexual relationships, including ‘masturbation and impure thoughts’ (sexual visualization or fantasies). For, the Church considers itself to be the bride of Jesus, and wants its priests to imitate the life of Jesus.

So, if you are a Catholic priest, but want to marry, don’t worry. There is a way. Join the Anglican Church and convert back to Catholicism. You can save your ministry as well as your wife. But remember, an Anglican priest cannot become a Catholic bishop!

However, this is not the first time that the Catholic Church advertently made it look more acceptable to people from other orders/denominations or Christian groups. It has resorted to such tactics earlier to lure more people into its fold. During the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), such conversions were allowed for Protestant ministers and Anglican priests.

Now the question is, will the Church benefit from going ‘liberal’? Of course, it will. There is already a schism between traditionalists and modernists in the 77-million strong Anglican Communion on a variety of issues. Traditionalists are opposed to women priests, openly gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions which have been recognized by Anglicans. Those disaffected Anglicans are a frustrated group, tending to break away. And they will naturally turn to Catholicism to shelter their faith. And, for the Church, more people means more money. They pray for more such conversions. 

Catholics and Double Standards

Will the new announcement create other problems for Catholic Church? Theologically, morally, and ethically, it will. However, it is not a big worry to the Church just because none of the above concerns them. Morality can be expected only from those who have moral moorings.
Anglican Church came to existence after separating from Catholicism and shunning papal authority. Anglicans do not recognize the Holy See. How will an Anglican, converting to Catholicism, address the Pope, Your Holiness or Mr. Joseph Ratzinger? 

In September, 2008, the Anglican Church apologized to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution and natural selection. In an article it said, “Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth [in 1809], the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.”

Anglican Church officials then said senior bishops wanted to atone for the vilification their predecessors heaped on Darwin in the 1860s, when he put forward his theory that man was descended from apes. An apology is an admission that they (the Church) were wrong to construe that Darwin was wrong.

But, Catholicism anchors its faith in creationism – creation of the universe in six days by god. This negates Darwin and all his theories, which is against Anglican apology. What will the newly converted Anglicans (whose liturgy and identity remain the same) believe in – man descended from apes or created out of dust by god?

In 2006, Anglican Church apologized for its role in the slave trade. Then, they apologized to Islam/Muslims for the wrongs they committed during the bloody crusades. What will they say – Anglican Church was wrong or the Catholics were wrong?

Going by Cardinal William Levada’s words, “The unity of the church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows”, Catholic Church will also recognize cultural diversity in Christianity.

There are Christians (Ukrainian) who celebrate Christmas on January 7th. If they join Catholicism, will they be allowed to celebrate Christmas as they do now? There are Christians who worship John the Baptist, the one who baptized Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus Christ and also those who worship Mary Magdalene. If they accept Catholicism, can they continue their worship of John the Baptist or Mary Magdalene?

There are Christians who believe that Jesus was married to Mary of Magdalene. Number of different Christian sects thus goes on and on. So, do our questions. We will stop asking such questions only when they stop contradicting themselves. Until then, we are here to ask them questions.

Nobel Prize for Obama? For Peace?

Nobel Peace Medal
Nobel Peace Medal

There is a second-hand book store, open only on Sundays and is run by a social worker named Steve, at the flea market in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Whenever I visit my friend who lives not too far from the market, I go to Steve for some good titles. His girl friend, Trish, was an ardent Obama supporter before and even a few months after his ascension to presidency.

On my last visit in August, I casually asked Steve whether Trish still supported Obama to which he answered she had lost faith in him. I knew the reason for her sudden estrangement with that popular leader.

During the pre-poll days, Trish used to spin off a few hours from her busy work to volunteer for Obama’s presidential campaign. She was not alone to pin hope on a young, energetic, highly oratorical, Afro-American messenger of hope and change. Millions of young Americans followed her suit, devoting their time and money to get him elected.

Unprecedentedly, a large chunk of population of European origin extended support to this man of colour. Also, hundreds of thousands of people, who had earlier lost faith in the US election process especially after the controversial victory of George Bush in 2000 in Florida, cast their votes for a promising presidential candidate. Now, ignored and their needs taken for granted, Trish is not alone to feel dejected and betrayed.
Obama’s main planks to contest the election on were troops withdrawal from Iraq, peace in Afghanistan, universal health care, cleaning up Washington of its hundreds of corrupting lobbying groups, bring peace back to the world, more jobs, climate change, and what not? He had all promises in his kitty only to break them after becoming president.

Months have passed since he assumed power. Troops still remain in Iraq and they are most unlikely to be withdrawn completely. Situation in Afghanistan is at its worst and is likely to deteriorate further as he is shifting his focus from the Taliban to Al-Qaeda. So-called 9/11 culprits including its mastermind Bin Laden are still at large. Despite majority in both houses, universal health-care is still an idea up for grabs. Lobbying groups in Washington are more powerful than ever before. When Israel pounded Gaza early this year, killing hundreds of innocent women and children, Obama kept mum. Peace has never been reinstated in the world as he avowed to do. Unemployment rate in the country is on the rise contrary to his expectations.

That is the Obama I have seen so far – a failed president. He has become just another president. May be he is more disappointing than Bush as the people expected him to walk his talks. He is either not capable of doing it or being hindered. In both, he has failed the people. As the American stand-up comedian and political commentator, Bill Maher, said, Bush at least had the ‘audacity’ to do what he wanted to do – even to go to a war that most Americans never wanted, the UN never consented to and the world community protested against.

The only ‘peace’ Obama has initiated so far is the peace he brokered between Republicans and Democrats by preserving Bush-era remnants including retention of Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his post and extending the out-gone president’s policies. Even in doing so, he has failed miserably. Republicans are not still convinced of Obama’s nationality and are not sure whether Obama is eligible to become the president. Another peace he initiated was the undemocratic induction of Hillary Clinton into his cabinet, a candidate the people repudiated to elect Obama.

Of course, he has captured the attention of the world with his message of change and hope. But, he is far from having materialized them. He is popular and seems to be the only link Christian West can depend on to connect with Islamic world. But, does that qualify him for this prestigious award?

Then, why is this peace prize for a man who has failed his own people? Obama himself is not convinced of what the Nobel committee praised him for. That is why he said, he viewed the decision to honour him less as a recognition of his own accomplishments and more as “a call to action.” If that is what he feels about the award, he may walk back on his presidential road to pick those promises he abandoned during his course. And, do at least something for Americans, if not for the world.