A couple of years after moving to Corvallis, I asked the proprietor of our neighborhood Mexican bakery which local Mexican restaurants he liked. He could think of only three, and of the three, La Rockita on 9th Street was his favorite. I tried it out, and found out for myself why it was at the top of his list. They make their own tortillas there, and those tortillas are one reason that this small, simple eatery is so popular. One sampling of their tacos—with fresh, flavorful ingredients wrapped in warm tortillas—was enough to ensure that I would be a regular customer.
But what made my first visit to La Rockita memorable wasn’t the food. It was the beverage I chose to accompany my meal—a Coca Cola. I literally hadn’t had a Coke in over three years, and I hadn’t missed them. I drank one at La Rockita because the Coke they serve is imported from Mexico, where they still make it with cane sugar, instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
One gulp of that Coke evoked a memory that went all the way back to a summer in 1971. I was between college degrees, trying out a number of odd jobs in my attempt to stay away from offices and work where my gender, a good liberal arts education, and excellent typing skills made me a likely candidate for days filled with boredom. The whole of that particular day, with temperatures hitting 90 degrees–plus, I earned my paycheck in California wine country, pruning vines in a Napa vineyard.
At the end of the day I walked to the edge of the field and looked out at the rows of grape vines, content with my labor. Then I stepped out of the sun and into the shade of an old wooden building. Under the porch roof was a bright red vending machine. I put my coin—I think it was a quarter—in the slot, punched a button, and out came a chilly cold Coke in a light green bottle. I gulped it down and felt that icy sting in my throat—a sting that only Coke made with sugar can give.
Sting. Zing. That’s what we lost when Coca Cola gave us “New Coke.” All the world rebelled, and demanded the real thing, the drink that gave us “the pause that refreshes.” We all cheered when the corporation said—okay, we hear you, and we have brought back the classic Coke you love. But what they really did was buy themselves just enough time to re-tool, so they could give us Classic Coke, a sticky sweet beverage made with high-fructose corn syrup. Coca Cola didn’t give us the “real thing;” the real thing is what they gave to their own bottom line: the new Classic Coke was a lot less expensive for them to make.
I’m not saying that Coke made with cane sugar is a healthy drink. I am saying that it tastes good and that it satisfies the taste buds. And that satisfaction signal is sent to the brain.
Maybe, if people were getting that satisfaction signal, they wouldn’t be drinking more and more soda—as so many do—in gigantic bottles, huge cans, and “big gulp” plastic cups. The original light green bottle contained 6.5 ounces of Coca Cola. What are we up to now? Sixteen ounces and up. High-fructose corn syrup not only dulls the food and beverage it’s added to, it’s also addictive, because the brain doesn’t get the message that it has received what it needed to quench thirst or satisfy hunger.
These days, as much as possible, I avoid food and beverages that contain high-fructose corn syrup. And I also keep my antennae out for that “zing” factor—not only in what I eat and drink, but in the work I do, the people I spend time with, and the life experiences I choose. Maybe Mick Jagger can’t get no satisfaction, but oh how satisfying it is to hear him sing about it.
I wish you zing.