The following first appeared in Stephinitely, a weekly newsletter from columnist Stephanie Hayes featuring a bonus column and behind-the-scenes chatter. To get it in your inbox every Monday, subscribe here.
When I reflect on my childhood in the context of beverages, I primarily remember two things: Kool-Aid and Tang.
These 1980s staples were not the portrait of “wellness,” a cursed word we’ll explore more momentarily. But they were my drinks. I was lactose intolerant as a child (this is off to a cool, sexy start) so I had juice most of the time with meals.
My brother and I had free rein to pick heaps of little Kool-Aid powder packets in exciting different flavors. I think they were 10 cents or a quarter. We mixed monstrous servings in a brown plastic pitcher that lived in the refrigerator until it was depleted and ready for more. I do believe there was, shudder, a cup of white sugar involved, but maybe spread over 12 glasses, that’s not so bad? I don’t know, it’s probably bad.
There was water IN the Kool-Aid, of course. But the thing that has been haunting me lately is that I can’t remember drinking just plain water. I have no memories of going to the sink and filling a glass, then kicking back and consuming that killer H2O. I certainly didn’t carry a water bottle to school. These days, some schools require it; our middle schooler carries one daily. To be honest, I don’t know if I even owned a refillable water bottle until my 20s.
I mean, look, I’m sure I did drink water! My parents are probably reading this insisting that I drank water, cursing as I smear their good name. They took excellent care of us and fed us vegetables. But millennial and Gen X kids were simply not raised with today’s hydration fetish.
I surveyed peers in this age bracket on Instagram. Few reported drinking water either. Some answers: Crystal Light, Capri Sun, milk, apple juice, Hi-C, Five Alive, Hawaiian Punch, Sunny Delight, Snapple and soda (or pop, depending on the part of the country you’re from). Several reminisced about being marched to the drinking fountain in a single-file line after recess, at which point we would all put our mouths on the same spigot while the teacher counted to three with the word “Mississippi” and told us to save some for the fishes. In 2023, can you even fathom?
Water usage, based on my ironclad anecdotal survey, began trending up in our college era. This marks the debut of individual plastic bottles, the scourge of the environment, as well as Brita water filtration pitchers. These babies lived in countless university apartments, each roommate avoiding the responsibility of the refill.
Indeed, American water consumption rose with both the proliferation of bottled water and the marketing of water as an overall tool of “wellness.” This, we know, is a toothless term that implies a mystical, pricey fix for every ailment. Of course, I’m not saying water is a scam. I should drink more water! I am turning to dust!
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But we probably don’t need as much as we think, the same way we don’t really need 10,000 steps per day. In 2020, a kidney specialist at the University of Virginia told The New York Times that desk jockeys needn’t guzzle water like athletes, the basis for most studies, and that if we overhydrate, we potentially pee out sodium and electrolytes. A 2015 study found that milk and orange juice actually did a better job of hydration than water (fist pump to all the millennial kids eating green beans and milk, hork!). You’ll probably never see milk and OJ getting the same marketing traction anymore because they have calories and America is fatphobic.
Since we know disposable plastic bottles Are Not It, the sales pitch has shifted to reusable bottles, each new brand guaranteed to make us crusty, dehydrated Sunny D kids finally glow from within. The Stanley, the Hydro Flask, the S’well, the Yeti. These are as much status symbols as hydration tools. Per market researchers at The NPD Group, U.S. consumers spent $3.3 billion on portable drink bottles midway through 2022, 20% more than the year before.
Why am I floating down this river of pain? BORGS, that’s why. BORGS are ... well, there’s no getting around it. BORG stands for Blackout Rage Gallon. This trend has been on college campuses for some time now, but all us olds recently caught on after seeing TikToks, so the articles are flying. A BORG is a gallon water jug sans half the water and mixed with alcohol, flavor drops and electrolyte powder like Liquid I.V. Students cap the jugs and write funny names on them, like “Ruth Bader Ginsborg.”
Disclaimer that I am not out here advocating for binge drinking! It is a bad idea at any time of life to consume half a bottle of vodka. Some chill older folks, like, you know, English professor aunts who let you crash at their lake condos and don’t tell your mom, claim the young adults are actually practicing harm reduction with BORGs due to the measuring, water and electrolytes. Plus, the jugs are capped, labeled and kept nearby, reducing the chance for anyone to slip in drugs. Hard to argue.
However, I will never be able to vouch if a BORG minimizes hangovers or harm, because I do think that drinking one at this age might literally kill me. I also never drank punch out of a bathtub in college, as many in my peer group are pointing out. Though there was the one time we tried to make “sangria” for Halloween and dumped Carlo Rossi into a plastic witch cauldron from Party City along with A CONTAINER OF CANTALOUPE AND WATERMELON. I don’t want to talk about it.
Basically, I’m just saying, the youth are all about hitting their hydration goals, even when perched on the hood of a Prius twerking outside Delta Delta Delta, whereas I can’t remember a single time in my younger days when I ever sat down with a nice cup of hydrogen and oxygen in a liquid state. I am simultaneously impressed, skeptical, jealous, concerned, admiring and curious. But mostly, I am thirsty.
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