One of my best friends in Alabama was a guy who I call Kyle (all the names or workers and supervisors in the book have been changed). I noticed early on that Kyle really liked Mountain Dew. Each night when he picked me up for work, Kyle was gulping down a can. During any 24-hour period, he consumed at least six.
At first I thought it was just his little quirk, but soon learned that everyone drank Mountain Dew. At the plant, next to dispensers of every sort of pain killer you might need to survive the job, were the soda machines. They offered various options: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Hawaiian Punch. But few people were interested in anything but Mountain Dew. Around town, if someone had a soda in hand, it was invariably a Mountain Dew. I’m not exaggerating for effect; the loyalty was cult-like. This guy would have felt right at home:
Especially crazy was how much of the beverage folks consumed. Another coworker, who I call Big Ben, could drink seven sodas during a shift. He often finished off two or three sodas each break with a quick tip of the can. One night, his face drenched in sweat, Ben gulped down three Mountain Dews in less than five minutes. I gently suggested that perhaps he was drinking too much soda. He replied that he made sure to piss at the end of each break so he never had a problem with having to go during work (not exactly what I was getting at, anyway). Diego, a Guatemalan coworker, was one of the only people I saw who drank diet soda. His choice was, of course, Diet Mountain Dew.
Months after returning from Alabama, I watched an ABC news special about a phenomenon that dentists in Appalachia describe as “Mountain Dew mouth”: the loss of teeth due to regular consumption of the soda. It turns out that a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew contains 19 teaspoons of sugar and 93 milligrams of caffeine—the same amount as an adult tablet of No Doz—along with very high levels of acid that dissolve the tooth’s enamel at a much higher rate than typical colas.
The program profiled a dentist in Kentucky, Dr. Edwin Smith, who had purchased a mobile dental clinic and was treating the teeth of young children addicted to the beverage. After hearing criticism from dentists, Pepsi—makers of Mountain Dew—issued a response. “This is old, irresponsible news,” they said. “It is preposterous to blame soft drinks or any one food for poor dental health.” They argued that the problem could be “sticky foods like raisins.”
(After placing blame on a fruit, Pepsi soon realized that images of kids with rotten teeth weren’t good PR, and so apologized and made some sort of donation to Dr. Smith. Way to go, Pepsi.)
So, does Mountain Dew make your teeth look like this?
From what I’ve seen, yes. It was impossible not to notice the number of people in the plant who were either missing teeth entirely or had half-rotted teeth turning black. It certainly didn’t help that very few people had dental care, and I’m sure there are various contributing factors. But only a communications flack for Pepsi could have failed to draw a connection between the popularity of Mountain Dew and the loss of teeth at the chicken plant.
So as much as I’ve always wanted to be associated with extreme sports by drinking a urine-colored beverage, I think I’ll stick to something safer…you know, like chewing tobacco.