With super-sized sodas being banned this week in New York, we look at a drink woven closely through the American story, and which has become the world's most ubiquitous brand.
Required reading: Coca-Cola
Super-sized sodas were banned in New York City this week. The NYC Board of Health voted on a ban of the sale of soda pop in containers larger than 16oz. Earlier this month, the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said: "It's time to face facts: obesity is one of America's most deadly problems and sugary drinks are the leading cause of it." It's a shocking reversal for a product woven so closely through the American story. A perfect time, then, to reflect on the drink that best exemplifies that: Coca-Cola.
- Turn first to For God, Country and Cola-Cola, by Mark Pendergrast, to learn how the drink began life in the US as a reaction to prohibition laws in the 19th century. The pharmacist John Pemberton made his first batch of Cola-Cola in 1886: back then it was sold as a cough medicine and contained nine milligrams of cocaine per glass.
- Across the next half-century, this sugared, water-based drink without any nutritional value would become the world's most ubiquitous brand. Coca-Cola rode to global dominance on the coat-tails of the US's rise, propelled by marketing genius. See Pop: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company (Arrow, Dh60), by Constance Hays, to learn how the US Olympic team arrived in Amsterdam in 1928 with 1,000 cases of Coke. Indeed, Coke's adverts tell their own story of 20th-century pop culture: remember them in Coca-Cola Girls (Collector's Press, Dh178). Remember, too, the legendary "new Coke" fiasco. Neville Isdell was the chief executive when Coca-Cola relaunched with a new flavour in 1985: his Inside Coca-Cola explains how blind taste tests showed people preferred the new Coke. But that didn't stop a massive consumer backlash and the old Coke was reinstated within months.
- Today, 1.7 billion servings of Coca-Cola are sold every 24 hours. But Coke still exists in a more health-conscious, less US-infatuated age. In The Coke Machine, the journalist Michael Blanding puts the case – it's making us fat, he says, and destroying the planet – against the world's best-known brand.