I recently attended a lecture and percussion performance in Southern Oregon University's Music Recital Hall. While walking down a corridor, I noticed a vending machine blocking access to a water fountain.
In order to drink from the fountain, I would have had to risk cracking a tooth on the part of the fountain I'd call the "lip," the metal shield that protects drinkers from overambitious imbibing or a wayward flow.
Certainly there are far greater nutritional injustices in the world than a vending machine full of junk food blocking access to clean water, but I was moved nonetheless to snap a photo of the offending machine with my smartphone.
Which got me to thinking about the history of water fountains, which may be going the way of the pay phone, with so many people drinking environmentally costly bottled water or sports drinks and talking on mobile phones.
An employee of the Kohler Company, of Madison, Wis., invented what came to be known as "the bubbler." Kohler later patented and improved on it, developing the arc flow we're used to seeing. Many people in the upper Midwest still call drinking fountains "bubblers."
Americans on the whole take water for granted, and as a result we don't emphasize protection of water resources as much as possible — at least not until we regret it.
Fresh water is becoming scarce globally, yet we continue to treat it as a conduit for our waste, harboring everything from prescription-drug residues, endocrine-disrupting chemicals and other assorted environmental toxins, such as bobbing, slowly photo-degrading plastics, agricultural and natural gas-drilling waste and a raft of unrecognizables.
Water's importance to us often is overlooked. It not only helps maintain our blood pressure and keep us hydrated, it helps us maintain healthy digestive function, lubricates our tissues and cushions our joints. Water is a solvent for minerals, vitamins, amino acids, glucose and other molecules that participate in metabolic activities. It's critical for regulation of body temperature, which is partly why we need to consume more in warm weather and when we're especially active to avoid dehydration and heatstroke.
When we consume stimulants, such as coffee, we can become dehydrated more rapidly despite the fact that coffee is prepared with water. And, of course, water serves as a medium for other healthful beverages, including herbal teas and soups.
It's usually hard to stand behind water fountains — unless it's an original "bubbler" you can stand over — but at least we can stand in front of them in support of fresh, free-flowing water, one of our most vital resources.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and teaches at Southern Oregon University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.