Don’t Drink The (Fiji) Water

fijiI almost never drink bottled water; it seems like a waste of good plastic. But Fiji Water has apparently become something of a status symbol among the celebrity-industrial complex, as featured in photo opportunities of everyone from Barack Obama to Paris Hilton to Arianna Huffington. But it's become even harder to justify guzzling the stuff after reading Anna Lenzer's ominous exposé of the company in the latest issue of Mother Jones. Fiji Water, it turns out, is co-owned by a major liberal donor, Lynda Resnick, yet bottled in a military dictatorship that goes so far as to question and detain anyone who dares to criticize the brand – including the reporter herself.

What followed, in a windowless room at the main police station, felt like a bad cop movie. "Who are you really?" the bespectacled inspector wearing a khaki uniform and a smug grin asked me over and over, as if my passport, press credentials, and stacks of notes about Fiji Water weren't sufficient clues to my identity. (My iPod, he surmised tensely, was "good for transmitting information.") I asked him to call my editors, even a UN official who could vouch for me. "Shut up!" he snapped. He rifled through my bags, read my notebooks and emails. "I'd hate to see a young lady like you go into a jail full of men," he averred, smiling grimly. "You know what happened to women during the 2000 coup, don't you?"

Eventually, it dawned on me that his concern wasn't just with my potentially seditious emails; he was worried that my reporting would taint the Fiji Water brand. "Who do you work for, another water company? It would be good to come here and try to take away Fiji Water's business, wouldn't it?" Then he switched tacks and offered to protect me—from other Fijian officials, who he said would soon be after me—by letting me go so I could leave the country. I walked out into the muggy morning, hid in a stairwell, and called a Fijian friend. Within minutes, a US Embassy van was speeding toward me on the seawall.