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Published: Sunday, 11/12/2000

Soft drinks have no pop for this generation

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, I failed the pop culture course.

Am I weird because I don't like pop - or soft drinks, which is the more commonly used term? Am I just not with it, or am I just too old to appreciate the flavored, carbonated beverages that sell by the millions of cans and bottles?

Surely, to make such an admission will be received about as warmly as hearing someone confess they can't stand ice cream.

In my lifetime, to say I have drunk five Cokes is a high estimate.

I have only sipped Pepsi in taste tests.

Nor have I developed a taste for any of the other dozens of carbonated drinks on the market, with the exception of two. They are ginger ale and root beer, and only if they are poured over rich vanilla ice cream in large frosty mugs.

I suppose my dislike of carbonated beverages is a generational thing, as most of my opinions turn out to be lately. While I am in awe when I watch young customers in the gas station filling the biggest cups with pop at 7 a.m., they probably are equally curious about my obvious thirst for coffee as I fill a quart Thermos.

We were probably too poor to buy the few soft drinks that were on the market in my growing-up years. There was some effort to make homemade root beer. Milk was the standard drink for the three meals at home and at the school cafeteria. A tablespoon of chocolate syrup stirred into the milk was a special treat.

I cringe when I see people gulping a carbonated beverage early in the morning, obviously as an energy booster to jump-start the day. At the next table in a restaurant last Sunday, for breakfast a young mother was sipping on a large soft drink. Don't tell me Coke goes well with waffles and syrup or scrambled eggs. A young doctor who is a relative rarely leaves home to go to the office without a 32-ounce bottle of her preferred soft drink.

While it's hard for me to understand such preferences over coffee, milk, or just good old water, my kin is in the swim of national statistics. The National Soft Drink Association in Washington, reports the average person's consumption of soft drinks in 1999 was 54.5 gallons per year.

I will never forget the disappointment of tying into the first diet pop introduction years ago, when the soft drink market jumped into the fitness craze using high-intensity sweeteners that produced a drink with one, or no, calories.

What is the flavor dancing around in my mouth, I pondered on the first few sips.

One more swallow and my decision was cast. That's not flavor; that's just a cold drinkThat stuff is so despicable, I assumed, that it will never sell, diet or no. That wasn't my first wrong prediction, but I have never changed my mind. Diet sodas are not nearly as tasty as cherry cough syrup. At least that leaves a pleasant after-taste.

My personal opinion doesn't mean the preferences of others aren't honored. Much as I hate spending the money for them and the hassle of recycling cans and bottles, there is always an ample supply of soft drinks on hand in the house.

The considerate host keeps a variety of soft drinks on hand and definitely should include several kinds of diet drinks. When a guest requests an apple pie-raspberry-lemon soda - diet, if you have it - you can deliver it without hesitation.

Once upon a time, we could just offer to make a pot of coffee. That doesn't always cut it anymore..

Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor. E-mail her at mpowell@theblade.com.

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