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Why are drinks in America so large?

I went to Panda Express (now hush, the orange chicken is tasty once in a blue moon -- all 500 calories and 27g fat of it) and as part of my lunch, I ordered a drink.

"Small, medium or large?" asked the cashier.

"Small," I said.

The small drink -- I measured later -- was 24 fl. oz. (709 mL).
The medium was probably a quart (32 fl. oz./946 mL).
The large was, after I asked, 44 fl. oz. (1301 mL).

Now, I know that a large chunk of the cup is taken up with ice, but are there really people who require 1.3 litres of Coke at one time?

A large Coke at McDonalds, which is 32 fl. oz. (946 mL), by the way, has 310 calories, or more than one-sixth of a typical American woman's dietary needs for the day.

The same thing is happening with coffee... after a long winter's sojourn in Canada, where I depended upon Tim Horton's to keep me from freezing my behind off, and where the large coffee is 12 fl. oz. (355 mL), I returned to the U.S., went into the donut shop near my house (cunningly marked "HAMBURGER TERIYAKI ICE CREAM") to get a large coffee.

She pulled down a fire bucket and filled it up with AN ENTIRE POT OF COFFEE. Now, this fire bucket of coffee cost me $1.80, and would have required twelve packets of sugar and a cup of milk. I ended up sharing it with three coworkers.

Even at Starbucks/CB&TL/Peet's/insert your favourite chain coffeeshop here, a large is usually 20 oz... of coffee!!

Why on earth do we need this much to drink? It can't be healthy.

I have started only ordering the smallest size, but even then the sizes creep up. In the case of Starbucks, there's an off-menu size ("short"), which is 8 oz., but not all baristas know it... but when I was a kid in New Jersey, a cup of coffee was 6 oz. in a small coffee cup.

Thank you for letting me rant... I know portion sizes are ridiculous, but the drink thing is getting out of hand.

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  1. You make me laugh...

    So what do you do in McD's when you want a large fries but a small drink with your meal? Keep 'em waiting at the drive thru line while they re-work the cash register? :-)

    Seriously though, I happen to drink a lot of liquid. I remember my mom having me checked for ?? as a kid. In college I had to be careful with the booze because I can drink fast and large amounts of liquid easily :-)

    BTW: I am not overweight, (before pregnancy I was about a 4) and I work out...just require liquids and I do not drink coke. I do allow myself a diet coke, once in a while.

    Anyway, I always used to order the largest size in CB & TL (Oh, how I miss it) and in other places...now, I make a concerted effort to order a medium of anything (or smaller) and monitor my pace...now that I am pregnant, I have to be extra careful of everything except water so I tend to stay away from the rest, except a small cup of coffee in the am, half caf. My point being...now that I abstain, I am aware of how large beverages are everywhere and even though there are smaller sizes offered, very few people go for the smaller size. Perhaps it is the financial thing... larger sizes offer better deals?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Michele4466

      Why are drinks in America so large?

      The same reasons AMERICANS are so large!


    2. I would guess that there's a demand for larger drinks. There are lots of people addicted to caffeinated drinks like Coke who need their gallon a day. In Supersize Me there was a comparison of the size of portions at McD here and overseas. The standard drink in Japan is equivalent to a child size cup here.

      Portion sizes are out of control in the US. I would relate this directly to the Obesity thread.

      7 Replies
      1. re: cheryl_h

        I agree about obesity and portion control in the US... I was leaning toward the cost/ value thing but you are right, we just got used to bigger and bigger portions.

        I could not sit through Supersize Me, I was seriously ill a few minutes in but I got the gist...

        1. re: Michele4466

          I also started to feel ill during the movie and I never eat junk food. I found it funny that when the film started, about half the audience had their standard buckets of popcorn, soda and armloads of candy bars. As the movie progressed, more and more of the junk made its way to the floor.

        2. re: cheryl_h

          I routinely drink 32oz of soda but have never tasted Coke in my life. Does anyone actually drink sugar sodas anymore? I am 37 and have never heard of someone ordering regular coke.

          Now, I have heard various speculation that diet soda is making Americans fatter though I don't buy any of it. Calories in calories out is all that I think matters at the end of the day. I actually heard someone suggest that because diet sodas are so sweet they tweak our tastes to want sweeter foods. That is interesting though since I almost never eat anything sweet or any of the processed savory foods that are actually full of corn syrup I would say I'm an argument against this theory.

          And yes, I've switched over to water which I consume in even huger quantities than diet Coke, but I still get a 32oz cup at least a couple of times a week!

          1. re: Kater

            Oh, yes there are those of us who will only drink carbonated beverages without 'fake sweetener'.

            and then there are even more extreme among us, who wait for Kosher Coke...so as not to consume high fructose corn syrup...just like we grew up with....


            1. re: Kater

              the slightest bit of artificial sweetener hugely increases my appetite. i don't know the mechanism, but living things are a lot more complicated than calorimeters, which is what the calorie unit is measured in. ie. we have hormones and all kinds of other factors that process food. we don't just "burn" it.

              1. re: fara

                I consider it a dirty trick when someone - without warning me - gives me a beverage with chemical sweetener in it. I can taste that vile stuff for the rest of the day. Aaack! Aaack!

                1. re: Sharuf

                  It's strange because apart from the Diet Coke I consume a largely organic diet with no processed foods of any kind. Someone once gave me jello made with Nutra Sweet and I wasn't sure if I would go on living - just awful!

                  But I genuinely like Diet Coke and have the Aaack! reaction if someone accidentally gives me real Coke. It tastes so flat and sugary!

          2. Because you typically need that much sweet and liquid to deal with the grease and salt from a typical fast food meal. I usually can't finish a can of soda at home, but at a fast food place really down it..


            2 Replies
            1. re: Dommy

              You know, Dommy!, I think you're right... it takes me a couple of hours to drink a can of Coke (Zero) at home... but I chug it when I'm out. Part of it, maybe, is that it's refilled for me at many places.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                I am able to down a can of diet coke in no time, unfortunately, and a large soda at the movies with ease. Not good in the long run. I think I am going to try to stick to my new regime even after the baby is born. Water ALL day long, sneak a diet coke every so often, out to dinner I drink a large pelegrino (seriously, with ease), one cup of coffee max in the am (half decaf) and of course, red wine and martinis are a given :-)

                I must say, I do feel good...

            2. Drinks are large because soft drink companies shifted tactics about 25 years ago from selling small units of soda made with more expensive ingredients, to selling large units of soda made with cheap ingredients.

              The idea is to make the consumer think s/he is getting a relative bargain: 32 oz. of soda for the same price as 10 oz. used to be! And the strategy has worked beautifully in the US.


              NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

              1. Hi... Here in So. California, where cigarette smokers are generally ostracized in public, I think the oral fixation solution that formerly was served by cigarettes is now served by a constant straw protruding out of supersized drinks. Without cigarettes readily available (or approved of) to puff non-stop, the oversized beverage now keeps some people (smokers) placated with a pleasant and relentless sip of reassurance. In Europe where smokers still publically puff away with abandon, the beverage sizes are smaller, right? I reckon the timeframe marking the years that smoking has become taboo ( in the USA) parallels the timeframe marking the increase in beverage cup size. That's my theory...

                4 Replies
                1. re: silence9

                  At least here in Spain, people don't tend to drink their beverages with straws (unless you are under 8 years old).

                  The beverages are also a lot less sweet--especially juices, which I believe are required to contain at least 50% or more juice. You will never see a person slurping a soda in their car, walking down the street, or in a metro. It has more to do with virtually universally accepted cultural norms than anything else.

                  Anything more than a can of soda is verboten. Bars and restaurants are required to sell sodas and other drinks in tiny bottles (not cans or fountain sodas). People will linger over one drink for an hour--whether they are smoking or not--there's a lifestyle of tomando copas (having a drink and relaxing with friends) that is very deep seated. Moderation is very important part of the culture here.

                  I remember the thrill of excitement I felt the first time I saw a Big Gulp. My parents were old world types and keep our eating habits on a tight leash. It was sort of exhilarating to see such an absurdly large (at the time only 32 ounces, I think) tub of soda. It was such a brilliant marketing ploy... give the public more than they ever dreamed that they wanted.

                  1. re: butterfly

                    I agree with you on the concept of 'tomando una copa', but you must not forget the concept of the 'botellona'. :)

                    The beloved botellon: For about 15 Euros, any store/gas station/bar will assemble you a 'kit' - 1 fifth of hard liquor, 1 large container of soda pop mixer (fanta, coca, etc), bag of ice, and disposable cups - all in a plastic bag. Imagine 300 young adults enjoying these, whether by riverside or in an empty parking lot. All to get waaaasted. :)

                    1. re: Prav

                      Yeah, I live near two very popular botellón plazas, but it is really nothing compared to the binge drinking in the US... it's just more out in the street (like pretty much everything else). The thing is that most kids here have zero disposable income, so they can't afford to go to the terrazas. They have to make their own party and it's tolerated for the most part--until they cross the line.

                  2. re: silence9

                    Funny you should say that about SoCal specifically, because I've noticed a significantly larger number of smokers here than I ever did in the Bay Area. Every time I'm at Walgreen's someone's buying smokes! I was surprised because I too thought smokers were ostracized in LA.

                  3. Ahh, yes, the good ol' days ... when a Big Gulp was actually considered BIG!

                    By the way, Das, I'm very impressed that you actually have the time and gumption to do all of this ...

                    1. I would also suggest that the larger drink with tons of ice stays colder longer, and you may toss what you don't want.

                      I preferred the various slightly flavored (unsweetened) seltzers myself. At the movie theatre, if its concession stand is properly constructed (some chains' are not), I order a "cashier's special" as it came to be known at a number of theatres: a large drink full of soda water (a separate tap exists on properly designed cinema soda fountains) on ice, topped by a very thin layer of lemonade.

                      1. i avoid all ridiculously oversized portions by ordering kid's meals when going for fast food. The now kid's sized drink is what the old small used to be....and the free water cup is what the old kid's cup used to be. That or i go for the juice boxes. Saves me money and i don't waste a ton of food or over consume.

                        1. I generally drink once an hour during a cardio work out. After I finish working out, I drink about 20 oz of liquid immediately and then another 20 oz shortly after. And then some more throughout the day depending on what I do. It's a good thing they offer those large bottles/cups. At night, I probably drink 3 to 4 cups of liquid. I know that's a lot, but I require that much. It is not a matter of indulgence.

                          1. As some one posted earlier I like to consume a lot of liquid. I also have to be careful with alcoholic drinks as noted above on another post. I also love water. I consume in a day a cup of tea in the morning, at work about 2 1/2 quarts of water, a 20 oz diet coke at lunch, and usually between 2 and 4 -12 ounce glasses of a seltzer, diet cranberry mixture, I also may have a mix drink or 2 or a glass of wine. I also work out on a treadmill or eliptical 5 days a week for 50 minutes at a fairly high intensity - on days I don't I do notice less fluid intake

                            1. Its all about increased sales and profit margins (from the sellers side) and precieved value (from the customer side). If they can sell you a soda that is twice as big, and sell it for less than double the price, the customer believes they are getting a bargain. So say a 16 oz soda sells for 1.20, and the 32 oz for 1.80, the sellers cost for the materials (cup and soda) increase only by a few cents, but since they are now bringing in .60 more, the margin is greater since employee and overhead costs are practically the same if they fill a 16oz cup vs. 32 oz.

                              See its a win/win situation, except for the fatties who can't control themeselves.

                              1. I just have to ask...have you tried the Hamburger Teriyaki Ice Cream? How is it?

                                (Remember, I'm the guy who makes pulled pork ice cream!)

                                1. I think the posts talking about the economics for the seller have it right -- they can get you to buy more than you normally would by making it seem a bargan. A friend of mine owned a chain of mini-marts and I asked him how he made money by selling 32 oz fountain sodas for some miniscule price like a dollar. He said that his biggest expense was the cost of the cup, which was like half a cent, and that the cost of ice, soda water and syrup were negligible on a per cup basis. A 16 oz soda might be 75 cents so getting double the amount of soda for only another 25 cents seems like a great deal to the customer, and his expenses remained pretty close to the same whether it was a 16 oz or 32 oz soda -- doubling the amount of liquid did not meaningfully impact his cost of production.