Poetry Madness

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores

Original Essays

Water Crisis Ships In

by Jay Weinstein
  1. The Ethical Gourmet
    $5.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    The Ethical Gourmet

    Jay Weinstein
    "A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and contributor to the New York Times and Travel & Leisure, Weinstein is passionately serious about culinary ethics, but he is equally serious about the pleasures of eating." Publishers Weekly
Water is free! With much fanfare, Nino Selimaj announced this year that from now on, unlimited bottles of Italian water are free with meals in his five New York restaurants. Despite the fact that sweet mountain water of excellent quality is available, straight from any tap in that town, the idea of free bottled water seemed like a valuable gift.

We all know how much strength we need to carry water, which weighs eight pounds per gallon, from one place to another. We can imagine the expense involved in processing, packing and shipping millions of bottles of freight for a 4298-mile journey from Italy. The amount of materials and fuel is staggering. A gift of Italian water in a New York restaurant represents a great sacrifice by someone, so it's natural to feel grateful. But we pay a hidden price.

Preserve Our Right to Free Water
We're all concerned about global warming. But how many of us see transatlantic shipping of water as a related problem? Choosing local water can make a real difference in the amount of transportation pollution generated in our name. Enjoying the taste of our own plentiful water supplies can circumvent the burning of thousands of gallons of petroleum, and stem the flow of petrodollars into oppressive, corrupt regimes on which we depend for fuel.

We're a country blessed with abundant supplies of delicious, potable fresh water. Yet we're heading down a dangerous path forged by European countries that have made the very idea of drinking tap water socially unacceptable. In my new book, The Ethical Gourmet, I discuss the growing trend toward substituting shipped bottled water for tap in places where it's not justified.

Take a trip, as I recently did, to Spain. You'll be asked at every meal which bottle of water you'd like to accompany your repast. Tap water isn't offered. Water fountains are rarities even in parks, museums and theaters. It's as if the country has given up on piped drinking water. Will the same be true of the United States in coming years?

Bottled Water Has Its Place
Thirsty travelers turn to bottled water on trains and in flight. Sometimes carrying a refillable water bottle doesn't make sense. And in countries where municipal water is impure or possibly harmful, bottled water is a wise choice. For storage in an emergency situation, certainly a supply of bottled water makes sense. And yes, in a fine dining setting, sometimes the flavor of imported mineral water makes it an appropriate complementary beverage. But to stockpile cases of disposable plastic bottles for routine home use, as more and more Americans are now doing, is shortsighted and unnecessary. Bottled water is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. beverage industry. We can do better.

Although even the finest chefs would consider it absurd to cook in bottled water, except for a very few special recipes, private chefs are now asked by some clients to cook only with bottled water. They're not just talking about soups and stocks, but actually boiling vegetables and cooking pasta in bottled water. In a mistaken belief that there is something healthier or more delicious in plastic and glass bottles than the water from our country's aquifers, artesian wells, springs, mountain streams or other sound sources, these consumers are demanding water shipped in from Europe, Fiji, and the arctic for everyday use. Beyond savoring the occasional imported water as a flavorful beverage, gratuitous adoption of bottled water can become a burden on the environment and indirectly on our democracy.

Make Your Water the Best It Can Be
Inexpensive tabletop filters, like the one made by Brita, transform virtually any tap water into a sweeter drink. That's because most of the flavor of water comes form minerals. Filtering balances out the mineral content of even very hard water, and reduces the chlorine taste and odor from treated municipal water. If the taste of your home tap water isn't to your liking, remedy it in a way that doesn't involve bottled water.

One replaceable charcoal filter purifies a four-month supply (40 gallons) of drinking water. A faucet filtration system can do the same, with great convenience. More all-encompassing water filtration systems can filter all drinking water in the home from a central location. For a comparison of widely available water filters, check out www.waterfiltercomparisons.net.

Tap Water Is Healthy
The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a four-year study of bottled water purity claims, and concluded that bottled water was not safer than tap. But consumers continue to believe that it is. Could it be something in the plastic container that adds healthful properties? Doubt it.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all water suppliers to send their customers an annual water quality report. Over 90 percent of water systems meet the EPA's high standards for water quality. We have the best water on the planet. For those unsure of their water's purity, testing is available in every state. The EPA website, www.epa.gov, has easy-to-understand information about water quality, and lots of resources for finding out about your water.

The Food and Drug Administration sets bottled water standards based on the EPA's tap water standards. According to the EPA, some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less, or not treated at all.

Make Tap Water Special
Beautiful presentation can elevate humble tap water to the fine dining level. Poured from a fine crystal decanter or pitcher, regular water can enhance the dining experience as much as a fancy bottle can. Consider purchasing a very memorable vessel for serving water, and pouring it around the table with the same care you would if it were an expensive wine. Not only will you be making an environmentally-sound choice, but you'll be bringing one of the often-overlooked pleasures in life back to your table.

With richer dishes, water with a squeeze of lemon juice cleanses the palate, preparing it for each nuance of flavor. With spicy dishes, a few drops of lime juice can make water an even more cooling complement. Water can be the main beverage at any meal, and can stand on its own, without a bottle or label, if it's served with respect and panache.

What Next? Free Breathable Air?
Ethical choices are everywhere in the food world. The key to doing the right thing lies in recognizing the effects of our habits on our fellow man and the environment. In The Ethical Gourmet, I try to illuminate the simple solutions we can make in our everyday lives to ensure that we leave the world a better place than we found it. When restaurants begin touting free bottles of shipped-in water for U.S. consumers, it's a wake-up call. Now's the time to heed it, and take back the beautiful water resources we deserve. spacer

  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.