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Defeat Admitted: Volume Matters

September 17th, 2005 by dk

After 40 years of the brightest and best fighting the battle, it appears that bizniz types are finally admitting defeat. “Sold by weight, not volume” never flew with Americans, even with the explanatory “some settling may occur during shipping” added to the disclaimer. Each American, on at a time, took his or her turn opening a box of breakfast cereal and then muttering: “Dammit. I paid for a box of cereal. So how come I got cereal inside a box-and-a-half?”

Volume is what matters to Americans. How much space does it take up? Or, more to the point, how big is it? Big cars, big houses, big box stores with big carts selling big hot dogs. Yup, size matters.

Splenda is the latest sugar substitute on the market, but its biggest challenge has been how dang sweet it is. By some reports, it’s a thousand times sweeter than sugar, which apparently they accomplished by removing everything that’s not sugary from sugar (like calories, for instance.) Don’t ask me how they did that; you know how easily I get distracted.

You’d think that a super-sweet sweetener would be a good thing. That sugar bowl could last as long as the widow’s oil urn that Elijah helped with in the Old Testament, or a veritable loaf and fish feeding or sweetening ten thousand. But no. Like T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, Americans measure out their lives in coffee spoons. But the coffee spoons don’t measure coffee; they measure sweetness. Sweetness must properly fill the space, or else the sweetness is less sweet.

Forsaking the battle to win the war, bizniz has learned to spin air into Splenda to literally puff it up. Now a coffeespoon of Splenda can LOOK like a coffeespoon of sugar. Ah, progress. The “air cushion” inside the cereal box is now infused into each morsel.

It’s also changing public bathrooms. Those liquid soap dispensers are being replaced with new ones that don’t dispense the soap until whipping it up with plenty of air. Now you can fill the small of your hand with shaving-cream-style soap without using very much of the actual soap itself. Everybody wins.

McMansions, overstuffed sofas, SUVs that comfort a generation that missed or skipped the customized-van-den-on-wheels fad — it’s all giving people space, as if to congratulate them for their importance, puffing them up like the cereal in the box.

More-is-better does no real harm, until it clashes with enough-is-enough. Maybe that day will never come. Here’s hoping.

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