Saturday, July 31, 2010

Situational Ethics at the Soda Fountain

Earlier today I felt like getting a What-A-Burger, not any hamburger, a
What-A Burger. It is a sign of a rich society that one can get cravings
for the exact same food ingredients, dispensed a little differently at a
dozen different places. Everyone knows the difference in taste between
the various hamburger lines across the country. They are all pretty
good, but What-A-Burger has the taste that is closest to what a diner
hamburger was when I was a boy and so, I think out of nostalgia, I often
eat there.

As fascinating as all of this is to you, it is not what I set out to
discuss. Readers of this space will know from hard experience of my
fascination with the sale of soft drinks. Generally speaking, I confine
my complaints to the fact that the Movie Theatre has just raised their
cost of a coke to $4.50 for a "small"(which contains more liquid than
one person can consume at a movie). For $5.00, "only fifty cents more",
they will sell you a "large" which seems to be about twice as big. For
$5.25 they give you a cup the size of your head and allow free refills.

The world did not always work like this. When I grew up, the only free
refills were for ice tea and coffee and some jerks would not even refill
those. If you bought a Coke at the hamburger place they went behind the
counter and filled up a glass, usually with way too much ice. and that
was it for your meal beverage unless dad would spring for another. Then
everything changed.

Taking a cue from the movie theatres, the fast food places, egged on by
the convenience stores, discovered that you could sell a carbonated
beverage for a price never before imaginable, as long as it was served
in a 64 oz. cup or the purchaser given unlimited refills. Why does this
work ? Because the cost for the syrup of a single glass of Coke is about
$0.000052. A penny buys about 200 Cokes. They make this Coke concentrate
in Ireland and for $2.60 (this includes labor costs)they can sell you
enough concentrate for 50,000 Cokes. That is how these places will let
you drink enough soda to displace the tonnage on your average aircraft
carrier for the same amount that they will sell you one small Coke "to
go". This has changed a soft drink purchase from the realm of a
"special treat" to a hum drum activity that many, apparently mostly fat
young people, indulge in several times a day. Ask your father, if you
are under 35, was there always Coke around the house ? The answer is,
almost never, and it was a big deal to go to the drug store and sit down
and drink a soda for five or ten cents, depending on how flush you were.

These changes, unimaginable to the baby boom generation, happened very
rapidly. It is not unusual to see a child put away three of four
fountain Sprites while eating a few "chicken fingers" & fries. Because
of this rapidity in the change of soda consumption, I do not believe
that social mores have ever been truly established as to exactly what
one is entitled to once one orders a Coke at fast food place. Those of
us interested in the subject of ethics have done a disservice to the
community at large through not defining exactly what we get for our

To begin with, of course, one never orders a "large". That is because
you can drink the same amount of soda, through free refills, for the
price of a small as you can for a large. I used to wonder about this, I
have now come to the conclusion that a "large" soda is only sold as a
"to go" order, or because the consumer has gotten so lazy, and so rich,
as to not want to be bothered making trips back to the soda fountain.
Consequently, it appears to me that ordering a small drink and refilling
it ten times is an acceptable practice and one has not violated any
ethical standards in consuming the beverage in this way. Some
convenience stores will sell you mugs to where you can come fill up for
free of all the drinks you want, apparently forever. I don't think that
this could work at fast food chains. But perhaps I am wrong, think
about this, is it ethical to go pour yourself a drink "to go" as you
leave the restaurant after you have already consumed a number of refills
drinks ?

I used to think that the answer to this was no. I now find that not only
was I wrong about this, but that some places encourage you to fill up
the "to go" cup as you leave. Can you come back later for a refill ?
That's doubtful, Apparently, some do believe that once you have
purchased the drink, you drink for free as long as the original cup
holds up. I saw a sign at the Federal Courthouse in Wichita. Kansas
which said that refills were only good through the date of purchase

The reason that these are tough questions is because the premise of the
issue is that if you order a Coke at a fast food place, you can sit
there for eight hours drinking your way right into a diabetes stupor if
that's how you want to spend your time. I really think that is the
agreement you make at Wendy's when you buy a Coke. Well then, since you
are entitled to all the Coke you want anyway, how does it hurt anyone,
or seem unethical, to share your unlimited drink with someone at your
table ?No one would object if you shared with your three year old, why
is it different that if you share with a 30 year old friend ? If you
share, does it have to be from the same cup, or can your friend use the
small free water cup they gave her when she ordered. Must you be the one
to do the refill, or can your dead beat friend do it ?

One way to gauge how society is expected or is no expected to act in
these Coke contracts is to look at the enforcement mechanism of the
vendor. They are just about non-existent. The drink bar is often even
out of eyesight of the eighteen year old kid who took your order. It is
my belief that the profits made on these drinks is such that it is too
expensive to waste labor policing the outcome of the Coke purchase
transaction. In other words, for the most part, we are working under a
true honor system. I suppose that would be fine if there were any honor
among soft drink junkees.I doubt that there is much. Do you think
today's ten year old tosses sleeplessly at night thinking about filling
up her water cup with Mountain Dew ? I doubt it, and yet there you have
it, an out and out breaking of the ten commandments, not matter how thin
you slice it (how's that for mixing metaphors ?).

Is this really what we want to tell our kids about capitalism ? That in
certain cases, vendors under our system wink at these thefts, perhaps
to the point of encouraging them. This cannot go on, if only because it
is spawning a race of 300 pound fourth graders.

There are three ways we can approach this problem. The first is to work
through the issues of ethics with our children to make sure they
understand the concept of value in exchange for money. OK, OK, stop
laughing. There are two ways we can approach the problem.

First, groups of concerned citizens can give up parts of their day each
day to sit around fast food places and police soft drink activity. When
confronted with an ethical breach, the concerned citizen can go over to
the patron (thief) and explain to he/she ,as well as the entire dining
area, why patron has broken the commandment, not to mention the law.

Second, since the first method would result in violence, is what I call
the bundling theory (actually economists call it that, but I am stealing
it for this blog, see the irony ?). I would propose that everyone who
enters a fast food chain pay $1.00 as an entrance fee, sort of like a
two drink minimum at a night club. After the payment of the fee you can
do anything that I have expressed concerns about in this blog, as I am
sure that $1.00 per person will keep the establishment profiting
greatly, maybe even greater than now. The downside of this is that it
hits hardest on those least able to pay for themselves, i.e. the
children. Good. They need to find other ways to spend their disposable
income. If it was up to me I'd have a value added tax of fifty cents on
every soft drink sold in this country and probably ban soft drink ads
from the public airwaves. All of the money collected by the government
from these would be earmarked for children's fitness programs, if anyone
even remembers what those are.

The alternative, of course is the status quo,eventually all societies
seem to emulate ours and the problems that we have they seem to happily
embrace. Can you imagine a world of 1.5 billion Chinese consuming cokes
at our per capita rate. That would at least help the balance of trade
problem in much the same way sales of armaments do. There is always
light at the end of a tunnel.


Blogger 家唐銘 said...

Learn wisdom by the follies of others.............................................................

9:07 PM  
Blogger 家唐銘 said...


12:38 AM  
Blogger Jannie Funster said...

Super Size Super Size,
It's the American way
Throw it down, throw it down.
All day, every day.

Jannie likes Izzes and Whole Foods colas, but only once a month. Never did drink sodas at home as a kid. We preferred rotting our teeth with Kit-Kats and caramels.

I like your $1.00 fast food entry fee. Maybe they can do that at Wal-Marts too to boost their bottom line. And at CostCo they can give us each a dollar for bringing our own cardboard boxes.


4:24 PM  

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