Green Books Campaign: The Coke Machine
The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on the Eco-Libris website.
For the second year in a row, I was invited to participate in the Green Books Campaign, which has been expanded this year to include 200 bloggers posting reviews of 200 books printed in environmentally-responsible ways. (You can read last year's post here.) I chose and received a copy of The Coke Machine: the dirty truth behind the world's favorite soft drink, written by Michael Blanding. My book is printed on FSC certified paper.
The Coke Machine delves into the history of the Coca-Cola company, beginning with the birth of the company and examining its meteoric rise to become one of the dominant companies in the US and the world in a relatively short span of time. It also explores some pretty dark allegations, including:
>> Coke exploited school systems' need for money in order to tie schools into exclusive contracts and introduce Coke products into the daily lives of even the youngest US children.
>> Coca-Cola at best ignored and at worst incited violence against union organizers at bottling plants in South America, especially in Colombia, as recently as 2004.
>> Coke inflicted severe ecological and environmental damage upon several regions in India through the actions of its bottling plants.
I wish I could say that these accusations were shocking, but unfortunately the stories are all too common. It seems inevitable that large multinational corporations are going to have quite a few skeletons in the closet, especially when they do business in Third World countries with lax worker protection and nonexistent or easily-ignored environmental regulations. I'm not qualified to comment on the larger issues at stake when capitalism and a global economy intersect with very poor people in very poor or unstable nations. I am not naive enough to think that it's unusual for large US companies to outsource work to these countries in order to keep expenses low and profits high. I realize that the American consumer benefits from this practice in the form of lower prices on products that are produced by low-paid labor forces. I find it deeply sad, though, that a company able to spend upwards of 2 million dollars on a 30-second Super Bowl ad stands accused of putting profits so far ahead of people.
The book is a little grim, but it's also quite interesting. I love to read about the early stories of common brands, and Coke certainly has a colorful history. The biggest surprise for me was that the majority of organizing on college campuses against "Killer Coke" was done during my years as an undergraduate. I was heavily involved in environmental activism at my school during the years of the heaviest battling against Coke, and yet I never heard a word about it. It's kind of fascinating to realize that while our environmental group was wrapped up in lobbying to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there were other students just like us in other parts of the country equally wrapped up in lobbying against Coca-Cola and who knows how many other diverse and worthy causes.
I won't say that the book convinced me to give up Coke - and I believe Michael Blanding himself admits in his author's blurb that he drinks a Coke every now and then - but it definitely made me devote some thought to the complicated politics and morals of consumer products. If you enjoy books like Elizabeth Royte's Bottlemania and Garbage Land, you might also like The Coke Machine.
In an effort to keep my bookshelves manageable and to engage in a little bit of recycling, I would like to give away my copy of The Coke Machine. If you're interested, please leave a comment on this post by midnight CST on Tuesday, November 30 and include a valid email address. On December 1 I'll use random.org to select a winner. Residents of the US and Canada only, please!
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review as part of the Green Books Campaign. The opinions in this review are my own.