By Zachary Daly
The spring semester of 2017 was a time of quick trends. One phenomenon that swept Gordon’s campus sticks out above all the rest: The littering of Kombucha bottles on Lane’s shelves. “Literally litter,” shouted Dwayne Nadeau ‘18, a vocal opponent of the little brown bottles. He cited the 0.5% alcohol content as offensive and having no place on our campus.
Meanwhile, health enthusiast Izzy Johnson ‘18, exclaimed that “Kombucha is literally saving Gordon from the inside out,” referencing the assumed intestinal health benefits found in the drink. These voices are just a snapshot of the debate that has been brewing across campus since the controversial – albeit silent – decision was made to sell the brew at Lane outlets.
Personally, I embraced Kombucha quickly. While I wouldn’t completely label myself a food hippie, I love being on the cutting edge of trends, and I have been known to enjoy avocado toast on a budget. In addition, I’m also a firm believer that the right food can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, improving performance in the classroom, gym, and elsewhere. To be concise, I started drinking Kombucha because it was trendy and because I assumed that it was helping some hypothetical bacteria in my gut.
Now, as a newly minted food columnist, I’m no longer content with simply assuming. I have spent countless hours dedicated to getting answers to the questions everyone’s asking: What are the naysayers saying? What are the advocates advocating? Is the 0.5% alcohol content tarnishing my beloved campus?
I needed someone to tell me the facts straight. Someone with deep scientific knowledge who had not already been bought out by the deep-pocketed food companies like Monsanto and Dole. At first I was discouraged, because I couldn’t find anyone. Then, I thought of Dr. Cornwell, a student favorite and my Microbiology professor.
I’m not going to lie, I fully expected Dr. Cornwell to support my assumption that drinking the Kombucha was akin to drinking from the Fountain of Youth. But then, Dr. Cornwell hit me with questions I did not anticipate. I was shook! Suddenly I realized that I was complacently writing a puff piece! Next, just as it happens to STEM majors at a liberal arts college, I shifted my perspective from naïve consumer to critical scientist.
I discovered with Dr. Noseworthy that each flavor of Kombucha sold in Lane has different bacterial cultures. This raised questions that lead me to use my burgeoning Biology degree: Are some better than others? What are the profit margins on a $4.25 bottle? Has anyone ever tested the probiotic effects of bacteria buzzed on caffeine? Are the bacterial cultures even still alive after the distribution?
Quickly plating the brew on a petri dish on the 3rd floor of KOSC, I left to let fester. I discovered after a mere 48 hours a lot of live bacteria multiplying incessantly. After screaming “We have life!” to the bees in the observation tower at the end of the hallway, I heel clicked and ran to Lane to buy a round for all of the Biology Professors. Still unsure of the total health impact of Kombucha, I was ready to grab my 9th brew of the day.
After uttering that I was getting another bottle a little too loud on the Quad, some naysayers reminded me of two potent downsides to the glorious brew: 1) the offensive smell, and 2) the alcohol content. Grace Aghan, a senior, stated that she “could barely focus” when hit with the musk of Kombucha in class the other day. She had to ask the freshman slurping on the good-good to leave Gregory Auditorium and only return when the bottle was finished and disposed.
In addition, I needed to confront the fact that an alcoholic beverage is for sale on campus. How could Kombucha be sold at Gordon? Luckily, an unidentified math major ran some calculations through his TI-84, and offered the final blow to the alcohol argument.
The math major stated, “A student would need to consume 9.48 Kombuchas within an hour to feel the same effect as one Pabst Blue Ribbon, the lightest popular adult beverage on the market.”
Kathy, our school’s nurse, also shared, “At that point, the student would suffer more from a full stomach than from any effects of alcohol.”
In summary, while Kombucha does have a pungent odor, the alcohol content is negligible, and the health impact on our student population is too good to deny the little brown bottles a place on our shelves.