A hand cups water from a river.

Feminist Fuck No: The Bougie “Raw Water” Trend that Exemplifies Resource Inequality

A “raw water” trend is apparently taking off in Silicon Valley, and it’s a good example of the extreme consequences of commodifying natural resources.

But to start off, did you know that hundreds of thousands of people around the world die every year due to lack of access to clean water? Also did you know that millions of people suffer from debilitating illnesses every year, again, due to lack of access to clean water? Finally, did you know that in Flint, Michigan, mostly black and poor residents were advised to use only filtered or bottled water ever since 2014, when their water had enough lead in it due to lack of treatment that it met the EPA’s definition of toxic waste?

If you are not a rich person with your head in the sand, you were probably aware of these realities.

Which is why when I read about the bougie unfiltered water trend apparently rocking Silicon Valley (and my newsfeed this week) I didn’t know whether to cry-laugh or to laugh-cry. This latest way to commodify a natural resource (which should be provided free by the government to all people) centers around rich people mostly in Northern California paying tons of money (like, upwards of $37 a gallon) to have unfiltered/untreated water from springs delivered to their supermarkets or right to their homes. Based on bad science and a notion of purity that characterizes many  wellness trends, the “raw water” movement touts the benefits of water which is unregulated, untreated, unfiltered—and privatized.

Meanwhile, it seems like the vast majority of  people selling and consuming this water a) probably have access to perfectly fine tap water provided as a public good by the government, and b) may not be aware that millions of people around the world are forced to live without adequate drinking water, and thus can afford to find unfiltered water cool. The irony of course is that wealthy people with access to safe water will pay money to drink unfiltered water, while many people around the world die from lack of any access to clean water at all.

To sum up the vibe of this trend, The New York Times offered us a gem of a quote from Mukhande Singh, (né Christopher Sanborn), who is pictured sitting barefoot on a beach while his long blondish hair shines in the morning sun:

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.” (There is no scientific evidence that fluoride is a mind-control drug, but plenty to show that it aids dental health.)

Okay, so we can make fun of this trend all we want, but the real point is something broader, which is: Natural resources necessary to life, like air and water, should be the property of the collective, and yet in capitalist systems, human beings are forever coming up with new ways to commodify and privatize these resources for the profit of the wealthy. The fact that water is bottled and sold, rather than freely available to all is absurd. The fact that a bunch of rich people should decide to come up with more ludicrous ways to commodify and overcharge for a basic natural resource/human good is doubly absurd.

This also points to broader issues with trends focused on the purity of the food and drink we consume. In a world where there is more than enough food to adequately feed everyone, unjust distribution due to social and political inequality means that people still starve or live without proper nutrition. Trends like “clean eating” which value health through a rhetoric of cleanliness or naturalness, often end up favoring the individual’s quest for new commodities over the collective political action required to create a more equitable food system.

Critiquing the corporate food system and its role in encouraging ill health, particularly for marginalized people, is important. But that comes through structural change, not holier-than-thou consumerism. In the meantime, those with money to burn who are interested in water-related issues could forgo the fancy spring water and donate to the Seventh Generation Network to support indigenous climate activism instead.

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Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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