My milkshake brings all the forever chemicals to my poison-riddled body

And more questions from the Night Water mailbag

My milkshake brings all the forever chemicals to my poison-riddled body
Photo: John Fornander

We all have questions. Questions about the world, the universe, ourselves. Questions like, “Where do I know that actor from?” and “Has my dog stopped loving me?”

Two weeks ago, I put out a call for your questions, hoping that I could help tackle a few here on Night Water, and I was appropriately whelmed at the response. I received three emails, and I will answer each of them in three parts.

Do you have a question that you think I’m somehow qualified to answer? Throw it in the comments and I’ll get to it in the next Night Water mailbag.

Now, without further ado, our first question…

Plastic straws or paper straws? I recently read that paper straws contain harmful ‘forever chemicals,’ adding to the plastic soup we already live in. I tend to not use straws nowadays—but if I want a milkshake it’s the only way to go.
- Andrew

Thanks, Andrew, for writing in. First, I just want to say that I’m honored that you came to me, a low-rent newsletter writer with an art degree, for answers to your most important environmental science questions.

Second, have you considered alternative milkshake consumption methods? You could try a metal spoon for a particularly thick milkshake, or if it’s a little more liquidy, just sipping it from the rim. According to a cursory Google search, this is what’s known as an “unpopular opinion,” but so was gravity. Be brave, Andrew, and drink straight from the glass.

You could also try bringing your own reusable metal straw to your local milkshake establishment, as all single-use items are going to be a bit shit for the environment. Are paper straws slightly less shit than plastic? In theory, yes, as they would break down over time if they made it into the ocean. But most paper straws end up in landfills, where they cannot decompose, adding to our massive garbage problem.

And yes, most paper straws are not completely paper—they have a waterproof layer inside that helps them stay together long enough for you to finish your milkshake, and this waterproof layer likely contains forever chemicals (PFAS). Bad news if you’re trying not to ingest plastic, but to be honest, if you want to avoid every source of PFAS out there, you’ll probably have to live naked and alone on an unexplored island somewhere—and even then, the tide might bring in a bundle of straws. Just accept that if our society survives catastrophic climate change, we’ll be poisoned by plastic anyway, just like the Romans and Baby Boomers were by lead. It’s our lot in life, Andrew.

So, third and finally, to answer Andrew’s question: probably neither. Drink your milkshake straight from the glass, social consequences be damned, and pray that the milk isn’t contaminated with PFAS.

We live in a time where we can choose virtually any song or sound to ease our transition from night water to day soda. So what makes a good phone alarm? A bad one? What is yours currently and why?
- Cory

Thanks, Cory, for writing in. First off, I just want to say that I’m impressed that you worked a Day Soda reference into your email. We’re getting you on the marketing and growth team ASAP.

Second off, don’t you think sound is kind of “out” as the trendy way to wake up? These days, it’s all about light lamps! Theory is that humans evolved to rise with the sun, and it’s only with industrialization and the standardized eight hour work day that we’ve had to come up with tools and techniques to wake up in an unnatural way. Of course, this isn’t true, but it’s a good way to sell light lamps.

Third off, let’s look at the science. There actually has been some research on the best sounds to get people awake and alert, but results were inconclusive for adults. However, the results did trend towards both “preferred popular music” and “alarms with melodic qualities.”

With some qualitative scientific data in hand, let’s try to answer Cory’s questions. A good phone alarm, in my view, is one that wakes you up and doesn’t make you hate your life. You could definitely pick your favorite song, but I’d be concerned that you’ll grow to hate the song over time due to the association with the unpleasant reality of waking up.

Part of me wants to say that there is no objectively “bad” phone alarm—as long as it wakes you up, it’s good—but this question reminded me of the iTunes tone store. Remember purchasing music on iTunes? It’s still open for business, and in addition to full songs, movies, and TV shows, you can also purchase phone alarms. My favorite tones are the three second snippets of movie dialogue. For just one American dollar, you can wake up to a minion screaming “It’s so fluffy!” And that is a horrible way to wake up.

I use my iPhone’s “sleep schedules” feature, which doesn’t allow me to set my own tones or songs as my alarm. For some inexplicable reason, this feature actually has its own unique set of alarm tones that you can’t otherwise use. Perhaps Apple has some developers who are really opinionated about the best alarm clock sounds.

For years, I’ve used the “Birdsong” tone, which sounds like this:

Nothing amazing, but it gets the job done. Honestly, the thing that actually gets me out of bed in the morning is my cats’ incessant screaming for breakfast. My wife claims that her mind has blocked out both my alarm sound and the cats’ meowing—a likely story—so I might have to take this opportunity to reexamine my alarm and switch it up. Have a suggestion for me or Cory? Throw it in the comments.

Are you looking forward to educating Americans on British culture?
- Laurel

Thanks, Laurel, for writing in. Firstly, I suppose now is as good a time as any to soft launch my move to the UK later this year. It’ll be a great opportunity for me to communicate exclusively in Swatch internet time with all of my New York friends.

Secondly, I am hoping that the move brings a new angle to some classic Night Water beats, like vegan fast food (they have so many more options for vegans with a death wish) and Lucozade (I promise to you now that I will taste and rank every single last flavor).

But, thirdly, before I can bring British culture to America, I really have to educate myself on what, exactly, is going on over there. Who are all of these C-tier celebrity television panelists? Why do the houses have names? What is the origin of “brown sauce”?

Once I get to the bottom of those questions, I can start to pass some of my learnings on to my American readers, while the 7% of Night Water subscribers who currently reside in the UK shake their heads, purse their lips, and take a long, judgmental sip of tea.