Speaker by Various Artists

Chicken soup for the little guy's soul

by Dave Williams 05

It's been a good week for the 'little guy'. Despite Monday's announcement that banking giant HSBC earned £7.7 billion before tax last year - that's a disgusting £244 a second - corporations have not won all the battles in the British media this week.

The day of the HSBC announcement, it emerged that Coca Cola's source for its UK 'Dasani' bottled water plant is tap water. Headline writers had a field day, borrowing heavily from Coke's 'The Real Thing' logo and drawing comparisons to Del Boy Trotter in the comedy Only Fools and Horses - who, in one episode, bottled water in Peckham, London (about 10 or 12 miles from Coke's Sidcup plant) and sold it to an unsuspecting public.

The Sun, which is more used to sex scandals involving footballers - an example of which graced the front page that day, incidentally - elevated the Coke ribbing to page 10, under the headline 'The Real Sting'. In typical Sun style, the next day's paper said the water failed the taste test with punters on Sidcup High Street (although it was relegated to page 20). 'Incredibly, nine out of 10 punters preferred the tap water,' The Sun said in mischievous italics.

A taster for the story also made the front of the Daily Mail. Inside, the paper compared Coke's 95p price at the shops for a 500ml bottle with the 0.031635p Thames Water charges to supply 500ml in the Sidcup area. 'This means Coca-Cola, which purifies and fortifies the water, is imposing a mark-up of around 3000 per cent,' the paper concluded.

The broadsheets got in on the act too. In that delightful, understated English style, The Telegraph's front page story mused while the ingredients for Coca-Cola are one of the world's best-kept secrets, the same cannot be said for Dasani. 'It comes from a tap. In Sidcup, to be precise.'

Speaking in The Times, a spokesman for the Food Commission said: 'You have to credit Coca-Cola with a large sense of humour. If anyone can tell the difference with tap water good luck to them. Your body won't notice any difference, but your bank balance will.'

While the papers didn't put the boot in to McDonald's, it seems the fast food colossus is bowing to the pressure of the little guy with the announcement it is scrapping Supersized meals.

The instant I saw the story I thought of Morgan Spurlock. Much to the disgust of his vegan chef girlfriend, he ate nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days to make his movie Super Size Me.

According to one report, after bingeing on everything Ronald's menu has to offer at least once - and supersizing when offered - the previously trim and healthy Spurlock spent about $US850, gained 24 pounds (11.5kg), raised his once-normal cholesterol levels by 65 points, sent his blood-fat levels out of the Playland roof and, in one of his doctor's words, turned his liver into paté.

It was the supersizing bit that I recalled clearly, harking back to those days when I worked at KFC and we always had to ask 'would you like - INSERT SOMETHING WHOLLY INAPPRORIATE HERE - with that?'. What kept us doing it was fear of the Mystery Customer, who would raid our store at random intervals. The supersize ethic, I'm sure, is bred out of that same fear in Maccas workers.

Spurlock's movie gained a lot of attention at the Sundance Film Festival and much was made of its inability to find a distributor in the States. So McDonald's is jumping the gun; good on them!

McDonald's is probably the highest profile case of the little guy having some noticeable effect on large, faceless corporations.

The 'McLibel' trial, in which McDonald's took five London activists to court, involved two years of dissection of the inner workings of the mega-chain. The company found itself on trial, ending up with egg on its face and a £10 million legal bill.

In 2002 it made the shock announcement that it had made a loss for the first time in its history but has since bounced back, thanks to a revised menu which helped change its unhealthy image. And then along came Spurlock...

The Coke and McDonald's stories are not the only accounts of the David v multinational Goliath fights this week.

A quick scan of this week's papers also revealed shareholder revolts at two huge conglomerates, Shell and Disney (and a rap over the knuckles for sportswear companies heading into the Olympic Games).

Indeed, the little guy has been surprisingly vocal in the last few years. Michael Moore's hugely popular books, as well as his award-winning movie 'Bowling For Columbine' have been whipping people into a political frenzy (including Americans!). Considering the previous topic, Eric Schlosser's book 'Fast Food Nation' deserves a mention, as does Naomi Klein's globalisation and sweatshop foray, 'No Logo'.

So he has found his voice and, it seems for now, he is making a difference.

While there are still a lot of issues in the world demanding our attention, it is worth looking back to a week like this and remembering that it IS possible to make a difference. Ironically it was Walt Disney who said: 'If you can dream it, you can do it.'