The fall of my first semester of college, I discovered kombucha. I would grab a glass bottle of the fermented tea from the school store and drink it in my room after class. I savored each drop, convinced by its gut health promise that I was healing myself from the torment of dining hall food. Evidently, it was a trend that had taken a bit to reach me on the East Coast. A friend of mine from California had already been long acquainted with the concept, so much so that she learned to cultivate the Scoby — the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast needed to kick off kombucha — in her dorm closet. If I thought about the process for too long, it made me squirm, but in my mind it was the cost of health, so I kept chugging along.
The typical grocery aisle is oversaturated with an endless number of beverage options. Americans have no lack of choices in this arena, where every brand makes some implicit promise to would-be consumers. They say “drink me:” our product can make you healthy or thin or in control or smart or beautiful or interesting or some combination of attributes that can’t exactly be quantified. We can sip our way to better selves, if we only purchase the right thing.
In the same way capitalism has convinced so many of us in our professional and personal lives, there is no such thing as rest or leisure — purpose can only be found through work and function. At this cultural moment, drinking for drinking’s sake is considered a waste of time — people want their beverages to do something. As a result, we’ve created an entire category of “functional” beverages that claim to have the ability to make us better in every single way, from our brains to our beauty. Beverages must play an active role in our lives, and assist us in achieving self-determined goals.