Soda and I have always had a conflicted relationship.
On the one hand, soda is a distinct taste of my childhood. I always loved the taste of, say, spicy Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer — though I would only have it a few times a year, as a treat with pizza on the boardwalk at the Shore.
Every once in a while, also for a treat, my father would bring home a random supply of local Frank’s sodas, including the coveted Black Cherry Wishniak (like ambrosia for an 11-year-old). Anyone who grew up around here in the 1980s remembers Harry Kalas reciting the ubiquitous slogan, “Is it Frank’s? Thanks” during Phillies games, as well as those Frank’s commercials starring Patty Smyth and the group Scandal. Sadly, Frank’s was sold to Coca Cola in 1990, and the sodas soon disappeared from shelves.
Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak lives on, however—revived by a specialty retailer, sold for $70 a case and called “the Cheesesteak of Beverages” by none other than infamously coiffed Philadelphian Larry Mendte. Yes, this is the strange mindspace I enter when I start thinking about soda.
Now, since I’ve introduced Soda Week by way of Frank’s, perhaps I can now segue over to the flip side of my conflicted relationship with soda, which might be best summed up in the following 1986 commercial for Frank’s Diet Sodas.
Yes, according to this commercial, soda was part of any healthy workout regimen — at least for fit actors who look like they were auditioning for the late-night cable softcore they showed on PRISM during that era.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, America began to lose its effing mind when it came to consuming sugary carbonated beverages.
I was in public school in South Jersey in the 1980s when my town’s school board first decided it would be a fantastic idea to allow soda machines in the hallways and in the lunchroom. Milk and fruit juice stood no chance against a glistening dispenser of Coke, Sprite, and orange soda.
Also around this time, we were first introduced to the giant 32-ounce sodas, such as 7-Eleven’s Big Gulp. Even as children, we knew how ridiculous it was to drink 32 ounces of soda. Back then, kids in my neighborhood would drink them as a stunt, and then see who could hold out the longest before they had to run to the bathroom. Within a decade, though, no one batted an eye at the Big Gulp, and people even required the 64-ounce Super Big Gulp.
Fast forward to 2012. There’s never been more sugary beverages available, in more flavors and forms, than we can find on store shelves today. And as a citizenry, sucking down gallons of carbonated sugar water, we’ve never been fatter than at any other time in the history of human civilization.
In response to what they see as soda’s role in the obesity epidemic, several big-city mayors, including our own here in Philadelphia, have proposed banning or taxing sugary soft drinks. Perhaps this is a signal to you that our years of soda madness are coming to an end. Or perhaps this is simply a sign that the Food Police are encroaching further into our lives.
Perhaps you loathe soda and find it Public Health Enemy Number One. Or perhaps you love soda and seek out the many newer, independent, artisan or gourmet sodas.
Soda is a huge, complex, bubbling, effervescent, bloated issue. And this week at Table Matters, we will explore soda in several different ways, good and bad.
Leading off, Felicia D’Ambrosio writes about where to find quality, beautiful housemade sodas around the city.
On Tuesday, Dana Bate will tackle the nationwide issue of soda bans, and later in the week Marisa McClellan will offer up some recipes for homemade soda syrups, a healthier alternative to mass market soda.
On Wednesday, I will write about the use of soda in cocktails, and offer some surprising pairings of spirits and soda. On Thursday, Joy Manning will tackle a local root beer float. And on Friday, we will report on the results from Table Matters’ first Tasting Panel, this time on root beer.
Photo by Michael Bucher