Pick the Winner!

We bought these bottles of soda (yes, that’s what I call it) at the local IGA a while back:

Which one traveled the least distance?

I’ve been curious as to which traveled the furthest, and which the least, to arrive at the store. the Double Cola hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Dad’s is from Jasper, Indiana. Coca-Cola, well…we all know about Coke, don’t we? And good old Jones soda comes from Seattle. Game over, right?

Not so fast. I recall there being a Coca-Cola bottling plant in my hometown, and I remember my dad going on about how Budweiser tasted different if it was from Jacksonville (bad) as opposed to…well, I don’t remember, but you get my point-regional bottling! Local water! Small footprint! So I picked up the telephone, opened my browser, and did some detective work.

It turns out that my bottle of Jones Soda was actually produced in Vancouver, B.C., by a company called World Choice. Jones has had a bottling agreement with World Choice since 1997; I had no idea I was drinking an imported soda all this time! According to Google Maps, Vancouver is 420 miles from here; that’s a good day’s drive, and right on the fringe of what I would consider “local.”

What, then, about these other craft brews? Have they logged countless highway miles from Midwestern bottling plants? Actually, no. In fine print on the side of both labels one can read, “Orca Beverage Soda Works…Mukilteo, WA 98275.” Really? Made right in Washington State? Believe it. And at a mere 304 miles from home, it beats Jones on the local score.

Last, there is the ubiquitous plastic Coke bottle. Not the glass-bottled Mexican Coke, which we around here treat as the imported delicacy that it is, but the good (or bad) old “real thing.” Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and spreading its corporate tentacles across the globe in search of shelf space and profits, Coke is, to many people, symbolic of all that is wrong with modern American culture. (Yes, but how far did this bottle travel?) to find out, I dialed the customer service number on the label, and, after about 5 minutes on hold, spoke to a very pleasant young lady in Atlanta who helped me decipher the production code on the neck of the bottle. She explained that each independently owned bottler purchases syrup from Coca-Cola and produces their own product, and that their territories do not overlap.

Okay. Got it. Anyway, my bottle of Coke came from all the way down in Fruitland, Idaho-all of 271 miles from here. Not that I’m implying that Coca-Cola is suddenly Our Nice Neighbor, but the fact remains that the Coke-as a finished product-traveled fewer miles to where I bought it than any of the others, which means that the people who made it live closer to me than those who made any of the others. How far the ingredients traveled is another story, of course, but it’s good to remember that things are not always as they seem.

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About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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5 Responses to Pick the Winner!

  1. Momof5 says:

    This underscores one of the challenges that I think exists in the effort to be local: when does local trump independent? And vice versa? I run into this at our local grocery store. Yes, it’s a chain, but it’s a fairly small, WA/ID/MT/maybe some OR chain. Yes, they source lots of stuff from who knows where, but the produce guy at my local store actually goes out and visits the fruit growers in the Yakima valley. He says things like, “This box of Fujis is pretty normal sized, but look at those gigantic ones in that box! (Name of grower) is having a really good year! And they’re delicious – try one!”

    To me, this is more “local” than visiting one of those hay-ride-and-bluegrass-band apple orchards that charge three times what apples cost in the store for the privilege of picking your own. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a place for u-pick – maybe even a place for all the cheesy “farm” acts that are available at some of those places. But not everybody wants to grow or pick their own, so having retailers who live out the values of relationship with local(ish) growers and who share their knowledge and values with the customers seems to me to be a large piece of the locavore puzzle.

    So is supporting a local bottler as “local” option? I think so. Thanks for raising the question.

    • poorlocavore says:

      It’s an interesting question, to be sure, and I was a bit surprised at the results. All of the big grocers we visit have a decent proportion of local produce, or at least they did when it was in season. We were buying boxes of huge tomatoes from Yakima Valley as late as October. And you probably saw where we went up to Garfield to pick our own for super-cheap. But as you point out, not everyone can do that, or wants to, so reading the boxes and labels is key, as is having grocers who are on the bandwagon as well.

  2. Afton says:

    Really interesting quest you’ve undertaken. Who would have thought? And Fruitland, no less. I didn’t happen to see the bottling plant when we drove through earlier this year, but maybe I blinked.

    • poorlocavore says:

      It has been an eye-opener. I love the surprises, like the “local” Coke and the cheap, organic rolled oats from our co-op. I expect one might miss a lot of Fruitland if they blinked.

  3. Pingback: He is the Eggman | The Poor Locavore

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