The phrase 'au naturel' has been making the rounds rapidly around health circles in recent times. With trends like 'raw foodism' and much enthusiasm for 'raw dairy', the sudden trend to go back to primitive and seemingly chemical-free foods and beverages is peaking around the world, and organic food has found itself a widespread market.
But in California, one particular up and coming trend might be pushing things too far. People are abandoning tap water in favor of an icy cold glass of untreated spring water — also called “raw” or “unprocessed” water. Proponents of ‘raw water’ say it has beneficial minerals that are absent in treated or filtered water, and that it doesn’t include chemicals in tap water, such as fluoride, or move through infrastructure such as lead pipes.
The 'fluoride scare’ epidemic could largely be the driving force behind the popularity of raw water. Fluoride has been the victim of several conspiracy theories, some even suggesting that spiking the country's water supply with fluoride was a 'communist plot' back in the Cold War era when the word 'communist' made people shudder! But studies have suggested that due to unfounded fears about fluoride's harmful effects, some communities have stopped water fluoridation and subsequently experienced an increase in incidences of tooth decay.
Mayo Clinic’s Dr Donald Hensrud, stating the obvious, told the Times that water treatment and filtration eliminates serious health risks including E. coli bacteria and viruses. As every boy-scout or even someone who has watched Baer Grylls on Man vs. Wild would know, even apparently pristine mountain streams often contain nasty parasites that can cause a range of diseases from Hepatitis to E. coli to gastrointestinal infections.
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers fluoridation to be one of its top 10 public health achievements of the past century. But guess that’s not enough to dismiss the myth.
What’s even more astonishing is the price of this supposed elixir. Just two and a half gallons $36.99 each and $14.99 per refill, bottled and marketed by a small company called Live Water. After a New York Times piece explored the trend, social media went wild with it.
“It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile,” said Kevin Freeman, a store manager at one of the many places where you can buy ‘raw water’, in an interview with NYT. “Bottled water’s controversial. We’ve curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm,” he added.
Among those attracting attention and investment from Silicon Valley’s health-conscious elite is a company called Live Water. Live Water’s founder – who for some reason changed his name from Christopher Sanborn to Mukande Singh – claims that public tap water is “toilet water with birth control drugs in them.”
The company also claims its water is “probiotic,” or promoting of intestinal flora. That claim can lose its bit if you observe what happens to ‘live water’ when you leave it untouched for a month - it turns green!
Dr Hensrud also compares the “raw water” movement to the anti-vaccination movement in its rejection of established health science. The scientific community agrees on the fact that conspiracy theories alleging that vaccines cause autism or other dire maladies have, in the real world, led to the resurgence of diseases once nearly eradicated by vaccination.
This is probably a good time to remember that public funding shortfalls were the immediate cause of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The decision that led to devastating long-term health consequences for residents of Flint could by some accounts have been prevented by a simple process of putting additives in the water that costs as little as $100 a day. To give you some perspective, that’s the price of about 20 gallons of ‘raw water'.
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