Despite being one of the biggest brands in the entire world, Coke has hit some hard times. Their latest attempt to tackle the obesity problem through one of their own adverts is one very clear sign of this trouble. There is no question that this is another entry into their long list of well-produced and effective advertisements, but, like others, I think this is dishonest.
As Mormons, we are quite well known for refraining from drinking caffeine. Coke and Pepsi (and perhaps other caffeinated drinks) are not sold on BYUs campus and when the church recently removed any ambiguity around their policy regarding cola drinks it received some national attention. Despite this clarification, abstinence from caffeine is still part of Mormon culture.
It was Widtsoe who, while serving as an Apostle, forcefully made the connection between caffeine and the Word of Wisdom that has subsequently become part of our culture. Perhaps he had the right target but the wrong argument.
D&C 89 is one of our most well-known revelations and it begins with this introduction:
“A Word of Wisdom… showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days… adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints… Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you” (v. 1-4)
Of course, soft drinks are not explicitly mentioned in the subsequent text but Widtsoe’s attempt to frame discussions of the WoW in terms of health certainly lends itself to think about these particular consequences of soft drinks. Mounting evidence suggests that excessively consuming soft drinks can increase your risk of a variety of ailments. Yet the health consequences distract somewhat from the principle focus of this scripture because the Word of Wisdom is more than a revelation about health. It is a revelation that pertains to our temporal salvation.
This type of salvation, according to the text, is contingent upon our ability to accept the Lord’s warning against the ‘evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men’. And will exist. Clearly this scripture should not be read as a fixed list of forbidden foodstuffs; like most of JS’s revelations this text is open to expansion and addition. My suggestion here is that Coke’s deliberate attempt to obfuscate some of the health consequences of soft drink consumption through manipulation of our emotional ties to food may fit in the category of evil ‘designs which do… exist in the hearts of conspiring men’.
Is our temporal salvation predicated on our health? Perhaps in part, but it appears to be more than that. This type of salvation is made possible through how we live in this physical world of bodies and food. Our temporal salvation is, I take it, the material base of Zion. Where exploitation or manipulation exists (i.e., one of the evils and designs of conspiring men), Zion cannot. There are many companies and production processes that could potentially fit under this umbrella and Coke may well be one of them. Their attempt to exploit or manipulate our sense of nostalgia and friendship in a bid to make a profit is a corruption of the type of food-sharing practices that constitute the Kingdom of God. This post is not so much about Coke as it is an attempt to use the Word of Wisdom to think practically about our consumption practices in a world that seems almost geared to exploit and ravish the earth and its peoples.
If the behaviour of Coke (and other companies like them) reflects the Lord’s description of these designs that will exist in the hearts of conspiring men then perhaps we should reconsider more careful the companies to whom we give our money. Perhaps Widtsoe was right; just maybe not about the caffeine.
1. Wendell Berry observed that ‘to live undestructively in an economy that is overwhelmingly destructive would require of any one of us, or of any group of us, a great deal more work than we have yet been able to do’ (The Unsettling of America, p. 18). Yet, at the same time, I think that careful and considered consumption needs, at some point, to simply become the refusal to consume. Such small victories may not dent Coke’s power or profits (or, again, other companies like them) but perhaps this might be one way of being faithful to this particular revelation.