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This piece was originally published on Discourse Blog on June 28, 2022.
In today’s fast-moving and unforgiving society, it is very easy to become ostracized for your views. It is hard, in this environment, to be an iconoclast; cancellation looms for those of us who dare to think outside of the norms. For the past several years of my life I have experienced this first hand, in no small part due to one belief that I consider to be foundational: Diet Coke is the perfect morning beverage.
If you are part of what I expect is the majority of the American population, you may be recoiling with disgust right now. By now many of you have been indoctrinated into a way of the bean, of the dirty water that tastes like ass unless you fill it with sugar and other good-tasting things, like milk and more sugar, which makes it taste like those things mixed with ass. I speak, of course, of coffee, although if you are British all of the preceding sentences also apply to black tea. I will not try to convert you; more than likely you are already too far gone. But let me present a different way of life, outside of the grasp of Big Bean.
When I wake up in the morning, filled with dread and anger and fear, the residue of yesterday’s shame cloying at the corners of my brain like trapped mucus in my throat, I know there is immediate respite waiting for me in my fridge. Or sometimes at the bodega on the corner, which is fine, because it makes me get up and take a little walk. The first DC of the day is a beautiful thing, ice-cold and crisp, the military-grade sweetness of aspartame cutting through all other tastes and thoughts and feelings. The carbonation burns the back of your throat for just a moment. Ideally, I have gotten up and chugged eight ounces of cool room temperature water and brushed my teeth before this moment, but sometimes even those little indignities are beyond me until I have scourged my past sins with half of a can of DC.
And it must be a can. The can is the ideal vector for Diet Coke — for most beverages, actually — but particularly for an aspartame-based soda. You need the tang of metal, the reminder that you are consuming something that represents the peak of human industrial innovation. Aluminum conducts heat far faster than plastic. The cold should shock your fingers when you remove it from the fridge. In times of desperation, I have made do with plastic. I have even drunk warm Coke Zero from a large plastic bottle in a warzone in Europe, where working refrigerators were scarce (I have found this has more to do with Europe than it does with war).
For many of us, the morning beverage is first and foremost a method of ingesting caffeine. This is true for Diet Coke but it contains little caffeine compared to coffee. This is fine — it leaves you less reliant on the stimulant, and if needed allows you to consume even more of a pleasurable beverage without the fear of adverse effects. Yesterday I drank three cans of Diet Coke. At one point I felt a bit shaky and odd, but it quickly passed.
But where DC truly shines is as an accompaniment to food — breakfast food in particular.
The best breakfast foods are warm, rich, and savory: heavy in protein, cheese, and carbs. Diet Coke is the perfect beverage to pair with this: the sweetness and acidity combine to cut through the richness of cheese and meat. A cold DC with a humble bacon egg and cheese is simple and hearty perfection; with a slice of lime over ice in a glass, it becomes decadent alongside a breakfast burrito. But what about pancakes, you may ask? Diet Coke as well. If you feel depraved enough to consume some breadline product that really only exists as a vehicle for maple syrup, a little bit more sweetness won’t hurt. I am not the first to point out this obvious culinary fact; over at Lifehacker, Claire Lower once made the case that Diet Coke is the perfect drink for Thanksgiving dinners, which rely on the same principles of carbs, meat, and fat that any good breakfast meal does.
I understand that much of this may be hard to accept. When I try to make this case in other forums I have been called sick, deranged, abominable. I do not understand why the consumption of an objectively bitter decoction has so enraptured the masses across the world, but I must respect the devotion it inspires. All I can say is that some day I hope you are brave enough to try something new. I have attempted to swill your beans more times than I can count. It is not for me, this taste I have no desire to acquire. But with DC there is no painful period of acclimation. It is bliss from the first sip. Asceticism is always a choice. We live in desperate and dark times. Why not choose a simple pleasure? Why not crack a cold one as the day breaks? Why not drink a Diet Coke for breakfast?