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Ask the Shmethicist: Is there something pHishy in my water?


On most nights, we don’t even dip once.  So what’s the shmethicist doing taking a dunk with Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and Daniel Craig?

Dear Shmethicist,

I recently learned about and taste tested alkaline water…which is supposedly water with a very basic pH level, although to me it does taste just like the stuff we’re used to.  Apparently, we are all full of way too much acidity, and if we drink this water, it will help to neutralize our pH, and lead to all sorts of health improvements, such as decreased chance of cancers and heart attacks and the water will even hydrate us more than the H20 we typically drink.  Do you know if there is any truth to this?


pHish Out of Water

Dear pHish,

I’m glad you asked.  Not because alkaline water is an important health issue.  Quite the opposite (more on that in a moment).  But like any good yenta, I can take whatever someone else says, and use it as a jumping off point for the topic of my choice (a lot more on that in a moment).

As my mother would be happy to tell you, I’m “not a real doctor,” (let’s just say there’s plenty of pH in my doctorate).  But still I can tell junk science when I see it.  Or rather, when a quick internet search turns up a reputable website that informs me I’m seeing it.  So, yes, there’s something pHishy about claims of the health benefits of alkaline water:  you can’t change your body’s acidity or alkalinity based on what you eat or drink, because acidity and alkalinity are internally regulated by the kidneys.

And if your kidneys can’t do their job, you need a more comprehensive solution than a water filter.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty for a shmethicist to say about water, health, and ethics.  Because what water we drink is (cue the dramatic music) literally a matter of life and death.

2 million lives/deaths a year, to be precise.  Yup, lack of clean water kills more people than war or AIDS.

Why?  Insufficient regulation.  Agricultural and industrial contamination.  Privatization.

And that’s where health and ethics hit up hard against each other. Even in the US, public water systems are under regulated and frequently highly contaminated, with everything from pharmaceuticals to jet fuel.  But bottled water isn’t a viable alternative.  It’s just as likely to be unregulated and thus contaminated.  Its packaging and shipping exact an additional toll on the environment.  And it’s part of a $400 billion dollar global industry (trailing only oil and electricity) that is increasingly making water a commodity that is out of reach of the world’s poor.

How do I know?  Because I just watched an amazing film about the global water crisis.  And I don’t mean the one Daniel Craig starred in, between his filmic forays as a tough Jew circa 1972 and a tough Jew circa 1942.

I mean FLOW, an exceptionally engaging and informative documentary (which you can purchase from Oscilloscope, the distribution company created by none other than Hebraic hip hop heavyweight Adam Yauch).

So pHish, stop worrying about how alkaline your water is.  Start worrying about what you can do for the 1.1 billion-with-a-b people who don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water at all.

Here’s one place to start:  The United Nations estimates it would take $30 billion per year to provide safe water for the whole planet.  We spend three times that on bottled water.  So get yourself a reusable, bisphenol A-free container, and keep it filled with tap water.  Then donate what you would otherwise spend on bottled water to an organization that’s working to get the rest of the world the water it needs.

Oh, and once you’re good and hydrated, send your next ethical food question to the shmethicist.

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3 Responses to “Ask the Shmethicist: Is there something pHishy in my water?”

  1. Gersh Says:

    Water doesn’t matter if you don’t have sanitation.

  2. Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz Says:

    I caught just a little bit of that film and found it VERY powerful. Thanks, Lois, for raising the issue of clean, safe water.

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