The Chemical Children of an Atomic Age

I was 10 years old. I was an addict. No, not to Pokemon, or candy, or television.

My vice was Diet Mountain Dew, a dubious distinction.


That’s right, parents. You could be feeding your child’s addiction without even knowing it. (Edited. Original photo by Nomadic Lass.)

I remember the rush like it was yesterday. A tingling, swelling, happy feeling, a bit like crystal meth, to tell you the truth. Under the influence of Dew I could work for hours on my fake but hard-hitting newspaper Sterling Heights News, circulation of 8, or write nerdy, awful stories about my favorite video game characters.

I’d guzzle 3, 4, sometimes 5 in an evening.

It was a familiar routine. I’d run down the stairs to the basement, where I lived among the spiders and centipedes and other nocturnal creatures, aluminum can firmly in hand.

Crack. Fizz.

I’d take a huge gulp and turn on my computer, an old i386 dinosaur. Click clack, click clack. Glug, glug. I’d shake the last drops of sweet carbonated manna out of the can and dash up the creaky linoleum-tiled steps to the linoleum-tiled kitchen. There, a newly opened box of Diet Mountain Dew awaited me like a loaded ammo box next to the vegetable bin. I’d grab another can and dash back to the computer, leaving a trail of fire in my wake.

It took me about 3 cans of carbonated goodness in an hour to get a buzz. The taste, the reduced essence of citrus fruit, made the medicine go down easy. And since it was “diet”, I never gained a pound from it.

But it raised the question: what the fuck was in this shit? Why was I so addicted?

At the root of my addiction was, obviously, caffeine. A can of Diet Dew has about 50 milligrams of it. Three cans is roughly equivalent to a medium cup of McDonald’s coffee. No wonder I was as jacked as Randy “Macho Man” Savage, as pumped as Big Poppa Pump.

Not that I’m convinced caffeine is all that bad for a kid. Now some of the other ingredients in Diet Mountain Dew, however? Uh….

Take aspartame, for example, the tinfoil hat community’s least favorite chemical compound. The FDA swears it’s safe, and I’m living proof that it’s probably harmless. Yes, it’s true that aspartame is converted into formaldehyde inside the human body. But  hey, so is the methanol in your morning cup of OJ. It’s no big deal, scientists say, and who are we to disagree? After all, you’d need way more formaldehyde than that to embalm yourself.

All reassuring, I suppose.


I couldn’t have stopped if I’d wanted to. (Edited. Original photo by Quinn Dombrowski.)

Other ingredients, like brominated vegetable oil (BVO), present more immediate cause for alarm. Shit, the FDA doesn’t even recognize BVO as “safe”, dubbing it an “interim food additive”. Saccharin has the same designation, for Christ’s sake. Oh, and it also doubles as an industrial flame retardant and is banned in the EU, Japan, and India, of all places. But not here.

According to the big beverage conglomerates, BVO innocently stops the different flavorings in citrus sodas from separating. It’s wonderful. But consume too much – and no one is sure exactly how much that is – and you could end in the hospital suffering from a severe rash or memory loss. There are documented cases of people that drank a few 2 liters a day developing “bromism”, or bromide poisoning.

That’s not all, folks. Yellow #5, that dye that gives Diet Mountain Dew it’s disturbingly neon color? Yeah, it comes from petroleum. Sodium benzoate? Mix it with erythorbic acid – another Diet Mountain Dew ingredient – and you risk ending up with benzene, a potent carcinogenic. And it does happen. The FDA knows that benzene could be in your can Diet Mountain Dew. Just not enough to put you at risk for cancer.

“Just not enough” sums it up, really. Diet Mountain Dew is a chemical cocktail of questionable ingredients, “just not enough” to harm you, unless you’re peculiarly sensitive to it. I was a Diet Mountain Dew addict and I have three arms, a tail, and 16 toes like everyone else. Still, you have to wonder, why drink what seemingly amounts to a glorified industrial byproduct when you could brew coffee or tea and avoid all the hassle?

Aw, what am I saying? As the old commercial put it:

“Yahoo, Mountain Dew! It’ll tickle your innards!”

Tickle me yellow.


One thought on “The Chemical Children of an Atomic Age

  1. Ahh, that first sip of Diet Dew is always the best. I think I’ll give this another read while I enjoy finishing it. I don’t dare drink it at work though. In Ann Arbor, people flock to me–soap box in hand–to lecture me about such problems. Still, they are usually kind enough to offer me something picked that morning from their organic vegetable garden for me to consume instead.

    But for the most part, coffee is way better. Maybe even tea too. I have a cousin who drinks so much of this stuff that you have to wonder what his body has to say about it.

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