Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled WaterBottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided for free via Netgalley for the purpose of review.

A few years back, I picked up a used copy of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It by Elizabeth Royte from the for-sale shelf at a local library. I still have this book buried somewhere in the teetering piles that are threatening to take over my bedroom... and I have yet to read it. That's what happens to books I buy: they end up in my ever-growing “to read” piles, and eventually “to read” has to be qualified as “to read someday”. Having my own copy of a book seems to invite procrastination, as if I assume that I'll have the rest of my life to read the books I personally own, so why should I read the now?

But bottled water is an intriguing subject to me, hence why I bought the book in the first place--and hence why I ended up reading Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

And I was right; the phenomenon that is bottled water is genuinely fascinating. Having been born in the early nineties, I can't recall a time when bottled water wasn't present in my life. By the time I was born, the industry was coming into its own, and my parents bought into it easily. They didn't trust the well water at their recently purchased suburban home (as opposed to the city apartment they'd left behind), and they still don't. So for all of my childhood, tap water was for baths, showers, sinks, and toilets, hose water was for washing cars and playing in sprinklers, and bottled water was for drinking. I can say, however, that during my childhood, our parks and schools still had clean, functioning water fountains that we had no qualms about using. (Not that it lasted long.)

As I can't remember a time before bottled water, Bottled and Sold was eye-opening for me. The propaganda campaigns it recounted from the birth of the industry amazed me, because I know first-hand how much those very ads subconsciously shaped my view of water itself. The lamenting of the degradation of the public water system struck a cord, as I recall the slow decay of the water fountains in our local parks, which worked wonderfully when I was a young child but haven't worked at all in the past decade. All of the legal loopholes and downright absent law enforcement was astounding—and distressing, seriously exacerbating my tentative disdain for bottled water (having been exposed in an environmental science class to some of Nestle's bottled water related shenanigans).

Above all else, however, the notion that city tap water was just as safe or perhaps ever safer to drink than bottled water was something of a culture shock.

I am part of a generation that drinks much more soda than water, and that water always bottled instead of tap. I am part of a generation without well-maintained public water fountains. I live in a semi-rural area where I know nothing of the quality of my own tap water and my house's well. Bottled and Sold was just the book I needed to read.

With the wealth of information provided in Bottled and Sold, the only flaw I can point out is that the focus leaned toward city tap water, which doesn't address my house's water supply. But the absolute best thing I can say for Bottled and Sold is that I'm thoroughly convinced I need to dig deeper into the subject of water. I want to read my copy of Bottlemania, as soon as I can find it. I want to learn more about my house's own water supply. I want to learn more about the safety, origin, and cost of the bottled water brand my mother drinks every day. I want to learn more about how to promote tap water and the notion of water as a human right, not a privatized commodity.

And I think that's what Gleick was going for with Bottled and Sold: if people's interest can be piqued, perhaps we really can bring about his optimistic vision of the “Third Age of Water” he proposes.

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