Just add water…from the tap!

We are now at the beginning of the end of the British summer with the start of September and the weather is becoming even more unpredictable and stormy. Everyone seems to be obsessed with the dwindling number of sunny days left but it is no wonder when there are only so many chances to have that last summer barbecue before the cold wind starts to kick in. However, I am less preoccupied about the chances of rain as I have recently become obsessed about a different kind of water. It all started while on holiday in Spain…

We arrived in Mallorca at the height of summer and the moment we stepped onto the lava-like tarmac of the airport, we realised that it was experiencing a bit of a heatwave. In fact, we were told by every Mallorcan that this was unlike any other seen for years and we spent much of our time constantly battling dehydration by drinking litre after litre of tap water. But we seemed to be the only ones drinking it as everyone else refused to drink from the tap—not because it was unsafe in any way—but because it tasted ‘chalky’. The locals didn’t drink it and restaurants and cafes wouldn’t serve it but even when it came to everyone’s preferred bottled water, the largest size available outside any of the larger supermarkets was always a pitiful 500ml. As public water fountains didn’t seem to exist, it was infuriating to have to carry around numerous water bottles that we refilled at home just so we could avoid wasting so much time shopping for water. And by the way, the tap water tasted absolutely fine.

Once back in the UK, we continued to routinely fill up our water bottles from the tap whenever we needed to, but so does everyone else here. Or do they? Well, maybe not. Despite the fact that you don’t often hear complaints about the taste of the water and mutterings of ‘chalkiness’, the demand for bottled water and especially that for specialist bottled water has been rising. In fact, it has grown to such an extent that it is estimated that by 2017, the sales of bottled water will outperform soft drinks. But why are we suddenly so thirsty for bottled water?

Well, it is no coincidence that there has been a growing trend to ditch what is many people’s habitual drink of choice, the sugary soft drink. Recent public health campaigns and the media have highlighted a renewed recognition of the need to combat obesity levels and ill health and now sugary, fizzy drinks have begun to lose favour. The negative publicity with the emerging threat of a possible ‘sugar tax’ on sugary drinks together with dipping sales has caused soft drink companies to respond in different ways.

Some companies have reformulated some of their products to make them ‘healthier’ or at least appear to be. PepsiCo, for example, is promoting the fact that they have now removed the artificial sweetener, aspartame, from Diet Pepsi in the US (only to replace it with some other sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame potassium). It is a bit of a cynical move as the company does not dispute the safety of aspartame and say that it is purely a commercial decision. Perhaps they hope this sleight of hand will distract the public from the fact that a regular can of Pepsi still contains 35g of sugar, well over the WHO and SACN recommendations of daily intake of free sugars. Other companies, however, have decided to face the critics head-on by simply denying any links their products have with obesity and dental caries. Coca Cola is currently spending millions funding the Global Energy Balance Network to conduct research into the obesity crisis with a big focus on the role that exercise plays rather than just a bad diet. Wonder what they will conclude?

Meanwhile, the market of very expensive bottled waters has exploded and what used to be a competition between numerous still and sparkling bottled waters sourced from different mountains, springs and volcanic ranges has been transformed into a fierce battle of the brands that try to outdo each other in added health benefits. The companies compete to be the better, cleaner, healthier choice and the range of waters on offer is impressive. We can now choose from black water (water enhanced with fulvic and humic minerals), fat water (purified water enhanced with fat from coconuts), melted water (straight from melted icebergs), tree waters (sourced from tapping a tree, such as maple or birch) and water with added vitamins and even collagen. With all the added extras and health promises contained in these plastic bottles, these special waters have metamorphosed further and further away from just being a natural resource. Of course, this is just what the companies making them are counting on—that we will buy into the hype and choose to drink in the healthy lifestyle that they offer to us in a handy-sized bottle.

Scepticism aside, the fact that the public is starting to break a sugary habit can only be a good thing, even if they are adopting another for bottled water. And I suppose that it is not surprising that so many companies have zeroed in on the new gap in an already inflated water market by creating a demand for extra ‘healthiness’ in water that we didn’t know we needed. However, what we are rarely reminded of is the immense environmental impact of both sourcing water from overseas to the UK and in bottling it in plastic containers that are still not entirely recyclable and that is indisputable.

So as someone who likes to drink straight from the tap, I have to hope that in this renewed drive to quit sugary drinks in a bid halt the rise of obesity and dental caries, much more emphasis will also be made on replacing it with simple, clean tap water. After all, it is easily accessible, essentially free and the standard version without the added extras tastes just fine. For my part, I will continue to keep on drinking tap water, filling up my bottle and carrying on annoying many waiters in cafes and restaurants by asking for a big jug of tap water with my meal.

Now for a recipe along the theme of water—or at least watercress—which happens to be my favourite salad ingredient of the moment. This simple recipe for Watercress salad with Green Goddess dressing has been made with my Grandmother in mind. One of my favourite childhood memories of her was spending many afternoons together pouring over her ancient better Homes & Gardens cookbook and I remember her mentioning what seemed to me as a very exotic sounding dressing. I thought that it was about time that I came up with my own version, so here it is.

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