Two of the regular fixtures on my listening schedules are "The News Quiz" on BBC Radio 4 and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" from WBEZ Chicago and NPR. I like satirical takes on the news because let's be honest, the world is a kind of bonkers place to begin with. When I first heard about the idea of raw water on Wait, Wait and then The News Quiz, I thought that this was one of those cases where some hipster trend has begun in a place like San Francisco and is just as dumb as quinoa, kale, açai, or whatever the next trendy food fad is. When I saw that a shop near where I work in Mosman was selling raw water, I finally realised that this is now going to be a thing.
I suppose that this is the latest in the whole foods movement and I guess that I did see it at one of those kinds of shops but just because something happens to be "natural" is no guarantee that it's better or even safe. Drinking raw water seems to me to be a pathway for pathogens, viruses and bacteria to get a free ride straight into your digestive system. I don't see any sanity in that.
Raw water, for those of you who aren't up to speed on all things trendy and idiotic, is untreated water. My first reaction when I heard about this on the radio was "why?". My reaction when I saw it on sale in the shops was "why?". As someone who is bashing away at a keyboard and wondering what is wrong with people in the world, my current reaction is to yet again ask "why?"
We spend billions of dollarpounds all over the world, setting up filtration and cleaning systems because having clean, safe drinking water is sensible. The fact that I even need to make this point here, is so unbelievably daft to me, I can't describe it.
Probably since before the beginning of recorded history, people have been trying to make their water look better and taste better. Simple common sense should dictate that water with stuff in it, is going to be worse than clean water. Common sense says that if water smells bad or has dirt in it, then you probably shouldn't drink it.
The ancient Egyptians used sand filtration; Hippocrates invented a double layered bag which he used to filter water with; people in the ancient world were boiling water because although they didn't know what they were doing, they knew it did something; the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he should take a little wine as well as water because of Timothy's frequent stomach illnesses.
If you apply the highly inaccurate Greek model of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, it stands to reason that something that's in water that isn't water is not water. In the modern world where chemistry is better understood, it is still true that anything that isn't the chemical of H2O is not water. If you are in the ancient world and you don't have a good grasp of science but you know that something in the water has the ability to literally kill you, then it's a good idea to get rid of it.
It wasn't until the invention of the microscope that we started to see that life existed at a size that was smaller than we can see. I can imagine that the first people who looked through a microscope and saw bacteria living in water must have been freaked out by it.
Perhaps the most famous story in the early history of drinking water, was the story of John Snow and the Broad Street pump. There was a cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London in 1854 and he decided to map out all the cases of cholera and see if there was a connection. He found that the centre of the outbreak was one particular pump and this coupled with other events such as the "Great Stink" of 1858 eventually led to the creation of the London sewerage system and the separation of sewerage and drinking water. Under the oversight of the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette, London's effluent was moved eastwards and well beyond what was then the metropolitan area.
The thing is that stupid people will always do as stupid people do. If they could somehow invent a powerplant that ran on stupidity, then we could solve every energy crisis and global warming at the same time. I have no problem with stupid people being separated by their money if they do it voluntarily. The problem is that this sort of thing, dovetails with other things like the anti-vax movement and the most vocal people who are a fan of this kind of thing, also campaign against putting fluoride in the water, despite it being demonstrably safe and an excellent public health measure when it comes to dental health as well as removing the bacteria and viruses that we want to get rid of. Some of the greatest measures in public health last century were the eradication of smallpox and polio, and the mass provision of safe drinking water and decent sewerage systems.
People should mostly be free to spend their money how they like but when private choice might lead to public danger then stupidity becomes dangerous. I hope that this is seen for the obvious stupidity that it appears to be because then it's likely to just disappear and go away on its own.