There’s something comforting about the universality of soda. Any branded cola in the deep recesses of a California gas station freezer will taste nearly identical to its counterpart from a Kentucky soda fountain. The taste profile, meticulously crafted by chemists and flavor experts, has stood the test of time.
In recent decades, the soda industry has seen a decline in consumption, largely due to health campaigns encouraging Americans to switch to lower-sugar alternatives. However, the soft drink market remains a giant (currently valued at $407 billion), its popularity only growing in some parts of the country.
The American Mountain West bears the brunt of the soda industry, where soda shops are as ubiquitous as McDonald’s – and their popularity is spreading north. Western soda shops, which sell colas mixed with various dairy creamers and syrups, are popping up along the “Mormon Corridor,” an area stretching from Utah to Idaho with a highly concentrated Mormon population.
According to Book of Mormon, the consumption of alcohol, tea and coffee is strictly prohibited. Due to various beverage bans, members of the Mormon Church have turned to sodas for their caffeine fix.
Until the advent of short-form video sharing on social media, the Mormon hallway remained relatively low-key. Aside from “Provo’s Most Eligible,” a low-production spinoff of “The Bachelor,” the daily lives of Americans in the Mormon Corridor got little to no media coverage and were rarely documented online.
The Mormon Corridor’s anonymity, however, was shattered when dirty soda — a mix of Diet Coke, half and half, coconut syrup and lime — took TikTok by storm. Residents of the Mormon Corridor started sharing their favorite soda variations, and the topic started trending. Dirty soda stores such as Thirst and Swig began to heavily promote the drink in conjunction with users’ home soda recipes, resulting in shock, revulsion, and disgust from people around the world.
In the best video from Thirst’s official TikTok account, an employee shows viewers the soda shop and sprinkles a carbonated fruit punch into Coffee mate. The store’s bright colors and cheerful employees belie the multitude of negative reactions in the comments section.
“The soda is already super sweet, I can’t imagine adding syrup,” reads a comment, the sentiment of which is echoed by nearly 2,000 likes. “‘It’s not disgusting’ yeah ok,” another user chimes.
Accompanying the thousands of negative comments flooding the #dirtysoda tag on TikTok are mainstream media reports criticizing the regional drink. A post from popular culinary blog Food52 notes their surprise that dirty sodas have gone viral and mocks Utah for its negative culinary reputation. At Vice News, a reporter visited a Swig store in Utah and described cringing at the “sparkling, flamboyant Barbie-pink elixir.”
However, the wave of angry comments on TikTok and blog posts criticizing dirty sodas is more than just a response to the breaking of culinary standards. Rather, the Internet backlash shines a spotlight on the island’s Mormon Corridor, prompting public debate about Mormon values and illustrating how Mormonism is becoming more visible. For those outside the Mormon community, the hatred of dirty soda has become a means of criticizing the Mormon Church.
With the proliferation of Utah soda shops comes a spread of Mormon culture once contained within a thin sliver of western land. By altering the fundamental nature of something as universal as soda, Mormonism asserts itself beyond the narrow social and geographic boundaries in which it has operated for centuries.
Dirty soda directly reflects Mormon values in that they act as an alternative to the status quo and represent the distinct scriptures of Mormonism. A unique ban on Mormon coffee and tea inspired the unique beverage, which changes the way soda is conventionally consumed, just as Mormonism itself acts as an alternative and revamp to mainstream Christianity.
Netizens insult dirty soda for many of the same reasons they criticize Mormonists. A quick look at the comments section on a soda-themed TikTok reveals that most users criticize the taste and appearance of soda as a way to criticize Mormon culture itself. Primarily, the comments accuse Mormons of being out of touch, unhealthy, and guilty of perpetuating outdated values.
Non-Mormon commentators often point out how the Dirty Soda’s unique composition reflects how the Mormon Hallway is an island echo chamber. A comment on one of Swig’s soda videos makes it clear, “Utah is a different planet.” A few comments below, another user adds, “convinced that Utah is not a real place and is just a big inside joke.” These commentators are reacting directly to both the unusual nature of the regional drink and the isolation of Utah, where more than half the population identifies as Mormon. The Mormon Church is so invested in controlling its public narrative that leaders have attempted to trademark the word “Mormon.” Comments in response to Dirty Soda that portray Utah as an isolated planet reflect the larger argument that Mormonism operates in a closed intellectual bubble.
Likewise, due to changing perceptions about the value of sodas, soda stores are being criticized for perpetuating an unhealthy drink. A leading Utah publication, The Salt Lake Tribune, has acknowledged that due to Mormonism’s health code, members are missing out on the positive results of coffee and tea consumption, such as a lower risk of diabetes. type 2 and Parkinson’s disease. In some cases, the soda boom undermined the physical health of Mormon Church members because of these risks.
Perhaps students and community leaders will listen to the flood of criticism from all corners of the internet and open a dialogue about Mormon culture. Perhaps when the Mormon soda culture moves north, the community will encounter more opposition from those beyond the corridor. The collective revulsion at a beloved regional treat could also force members of the Mormon community to sink deeper into a private life away from public scrutiny.
It remains to be seen how the increased visibility and popularity of Utah’s soda stores will affect the Mormon community and the Greater Mormon Corridor. However, as it stands, Utah’s dirty soda craze shows how the combination of high-speed digital media and a seemingly innocuous regional drink can define national perspectives on a hidden region of the world. ‘America.
Avery Crystal is an opinion columnist and can be reached at [email protected].