Rich people have had a good-ass 2017, with the stock market and the accumulated net wealth of the top ten percent of earners skyrocketing and the passage of a radical tax bill designed to inflate their wallets further. So in yet another infuriating sign of how they’re planning to blow all that money on things like hideous Koch-branded shirts, hydrofoils, and ways to impale birds, our aristocratic overlords have apparently discovered you can drink unfiltered water and are busy convincing themselves it’s worth at least six bucks a gallon.
Per a report in the New York Times on Friday that manages to be unusually irritating even by the Times’ rich-people-trendpiece standards, “raw water” is now somehow a thing on the West Coast and “other pockets around the country.” In San Francisco, one brand of “unfiltered, unsterilized spring water” goes for $36.99 for a 2.5 gallon container, with refills going for $14.99 a pop.
“It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile,” Rainbow Grocery shift manager Kevin Freeman told the Times. “Bottled water’s controversial. We’ve curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm.”
Another store in San Diego, Liquid Eden, offers options including “fluoride-free, chlorine-free and a ‘mineral electrolyte alkaline’ drinking water that goes for $2.50 a gallon.” One startup called Zero Mass Water offers a $4,500 home system called Source which pulls unfiltered water from the air, which isn’t “raw water” but still seems like an expensive way to cash in on the same demographic.
The raw water movement is mainly motivated by a (scientifically unsupported) conviction that unfiltered water has some kind of vaguely defined probiotic quality, that filtered water lacks essential minerals, and that tap water might be contaminated by lead, fluoride, or umm, birth control chemicals. Per the Times’ interview of Live Water chief Mukhande Singh:
Mr. Singh believes that public water has been poisoned. “Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” he said. “Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.”
Note that because fluoride is not, in fact, a mind-control chemical, you should feel free to call Mr. Singh a conspiracy theorist as requested. As one doctor interviewed by the paper pointed out, there’s zero guarantee that untreated water is free of pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites, or carcinogenic compounds. (Yet Maine-based Tourmaline Spring, which sells “sacred living” water, received exemptions from water treatment laws.)
Most of the time, as the Daily Beast notes, tap water is safe enough it might not even be worth filtering it again when it gets to your residence. Studies have shown regular bottled water is no safer, but does generate huge mounds of wasteful byproducts like plastic and carbon dioxide. This presumably applies to bottled raw water. Also, one of the most enthusiastic backers of raw water is Doug Evans, the guy behind Juicero, a $399 machine that squeezed pre-filled bags of juice into cups.
Hey, though, if the nation’s rich want to hoard all the money that might otherwise be used for things like infrastructure and health care and spend it all on magic Giardia water, there’s very little any of us can do to stop them.
Update 1/8/2018 at 4:15am ET: This article has been updated to clarify that Zero Mass Water is not a form of raw water.