Reverb

Tea, Sans Sympathy: One Professor’s Journey towards Beverage Enlightenment

Lockie Hunter

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to sweet tea, specifically McDonald’s sweet tea. It wasn’t always like this. I left the South when I was nine to live in Boston, a city bereft of iced tea. I returned in my teens and loaded up on the sweet goodness of my mother’s fresh brewed tea.

“Is it already sweetened mom?”

“It better be! I dumped a pound of sugar in it this morning!”

In my thirties I returned again to Boston, made tea in my flat in the South End. Mom shipped boxes of Luzianne. It never tasted the same. I longed to be back in the South.

I’ve always preached the evils of eating at the fast food chains. My children have heard my narrative of junk food, heart disease, chemicals, low wages, food resources, deforestation, unnecessary packing. When I began teaching at Warren Wilson, my misgivings compounded. Students spoke of campaigns against these establishments. Poor packaging practices, destruction of endangered forests.

It was then that I made a horrible discovery. I love fast food ice tea. I had a two cup a day habit, and I’m talking about those big Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene foam) cups, the ones my students (rightly) vilify.

I’ve been at Warren Wilson for four years.

You know you are a Warren Wilson professor when you speak with colleagues at other schools and they mention that their team did well in a bowl game and you think, “You have a football team…why?”

You know you are a Warren Wilson professor when you ask your students to write a travel essay and then become deeply envious of all the places they have been.

You know you are a Warren Wilson professor when you share a narrative of your basil dying, and after class and you get advice on permaculture practices and soil PH.

You know you are at Warren Wilson too long when you have to hide your addiction. I have tried the local coffee shops, but the tea tastes like an afterthought, with a slight coffee tinge. I have tried brewing my own but the sugar ratio is never correct, never the perfect mix of sweetness and acidity of fast food tea.

I have repeatedly asked that the tea be put in my own cup, but it is refused. I even took my own cup into KFC once (checking over my shoulder to make certain no students or faculty saw me) and the manager came bounding from behind the counter and told me that filling my own cup was forbidden.

What’s a gal to do?

My practice is to transfer the freshly bought fast food iced tea from the dreaded Styrofoam (poly(1-phenylethene-1,2-diyl) into a travel mug. The Styrofoam is left in the car.

I’m well aware of my hypocrisy. I still tell my children that fast food is evil and ignore pleas for Happy Meals (“All my friends get them. They have a toy inside”)

                                          ***

I pick up the student who is hitchhiking on Warren Wilson Road. As he turns his face I recognize him as one of my own and recognize the urgency in his face. He is late. He is late, in fact, for my 9:30 Media class. So I pull over and he climbs in.

“Thanks so much Lockie,” he says.

Before I can lecture him on the fact that he would have been terribly late had I not picked him up, I am derailed. His eyes rest on the Styrofoam cup

“What’s that?” he asks. His voice is tinged with disappointment.

“Can you believe some people!?” I say. “I found this on the street! Litterbug!”

My student looks relieved.

You know you’re a Warren Wilson professor when you give up fast food tea…forever. Instead you perfect your own tea, a mix of campus grown Mints of the Mountains (spearmint, peppermint, mountain mint, and garden mint) and Sunshine (lemon balm, bee balm, calendula flowers)… plus a pound of sugar.