The Enviga enigma

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April 6, 2007

12:08 AM

To consume or to consume to negate consuming? That is the question.

p. Though it’s been available for some months now, I heard of Coca-Cola and Nestea’s new Enviga beverage only days ago. Its marketing angle is quite possibly the most ingenuously contemporary contraption I’ve seen, capitalizing simultaneously on America’s love of scientific breakthroughs, healthy but comfortable living and sleek, futuristic designs.

p. I’ll concede that I’m drinking a can right now. By “right now,” I mean as I write, not as you read — though if Coca-Cola has its way, the latter may turn out to be true.

p. What Enviga demonstrates is the next step in the evolution of American consumer demands. If you haven’t heard already, it’s a negative calorie beverage. Yes, that’s right — not low-cal, not zero-cal, but negative-cal. Coke’s researchers claim that drinking three cans of Enviga daily can make you burn up to 100 calories. The green tea concoction has only five calories per can, and its caffeine and antioxidant content boosts your metabolism in such a way that a net loss of calories is possible.

p. In this sense, consumers of Enviga are actually nonconsumers — they still put something in, but they get less than nothing back. It seems fundamentally unfeasible but, well, it’s 2007. Anything is possible.

p. Health nuts from decades past may have regarded Coke’s science as a load of proverbial hooey, but we of the twenty-first century have been carefully trained by marketers to believe the hype. And who wouldn’t? Even its name, Enviga, sounds like something elemental — a fictitious Latin prefix for “invigorate” that’s impossible to etymologically deconstruct. Depending on how successful the drink is, future generations could eventually mistake the word “invigorate” as having stemmed from “Enviga,” instead of vice versa.

p. Is the science bunk? Well, that depends on who you ask. Coca-Cola is already being sued because some find Enviga’s promise to help you lose weight to be false. Its creators counter that the drink was never marketed as something that helps people lose weight — it merely promotes a healthy lifestyle. Consumer advocates point to the deliberately misleading advertisements that tout Enviga as a “calorie burner.” One attempts to burn calories if one wants to lose weight. Enviga’s slogan uses the middleman.

p. Because “burning calories” is not precisely synonymous with “losing weight,” they are able to profit from our long-standing obsession with quick-fix nutritional solutions. Coca-Cola has carefully abused America’s penchant for catchphrases and linguistic uncertainties to create the first product that can be sold purely in terms of what it does not do.

Indeed, the realm of nutrition is the only one in which a product giving you less than nothing for something could possibly succeed. If a book were sold that promised to make you forget its entire contents and the contents of other recent books you’d read, nobody would waste their hard-earned wages on it. Industries and businesses have spent years convincing us that the calorie is public enemy No. 1. This is their payoff.

p. At the crux of the Enviga enigma is a metaphysical change that Americans are all-too-willing to embrace. It used to be a reasonable assumption that consuming something meant using it and throwing away the excess. Enviga is less than the sum of its parts. One consumes it to reap the benefits of having not consumed it. And yet, the evidence of its consumption remains: there’s still an empty can to throw away, and traces of the beverage probably appear in your urine. The Coca-Cola Company would prefer that you forget this, though, and enjoy the rush of defying the laws of physics.

p. If Enviga takes off (and it probably will), a new class of products will emerge in grocery stores, products that promise to completely reverse themselves and then some — potato chips that make you lose fat and cigarettes whose smoke heals your lungs.

p. Supermarkets will develop bizarro-world sections where people go to buy things to dis-eat and non-drink. New eating disorders will develop — a type of super-bulimia where people guzzle and inhale enough of the new anti-foods to eliminate weeks upon weeks of nutritive buildup. There’s no need to jettison your stomach’s contents when they more-than-totally invert themselves.

p. Granted, there’s a bit of dystopian science fiction to those hypotheses. But just you wait: any day now, Charlton Heston will burst into our Wawa straight out of “Soylent Green” and scream, “Enviga is less than nothing, people! It’s less than nothing!”

p. We will shrug, hoping against hope that he is not armed.

p. __Dan Piepenbring, a junior at the College, is a staff columnist. His columns appear on Fridays.__

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