RIP Tab. Even if the girl watchers watched the girls who drank Diet Pepsi, it was always Tab for this girl.
With its one crazy calorie, I would mainline the soda’s cyclamates with nary a care in the world. To keep my 1970’s Baine de Solie tanned body taught and trim, Tab was the ticket. Tab saw me through anorexia and was a bulimic’s best friend. From my teens through my 30s my consumption of this beverage was bottomless.
For a generation of women ( and men) who wanted a Body By Tab, we were as obsessed with the metallic tasting beverage as we were with the shape of our bodies. And of course, the 2 are forever intertwined.
Though I haven’t touched a Tab in decades, there was a pang in my heart when I read that the iconic diet soda was being discontinued after a successful 57-year run. As the final indignity of 2020, Tab will be pulled off the shelves on Dec 31.
The legion of Tab fans who have a near cult following are understandably devastated.
The Tab-Aholics were out full force when they learned of the sad news, ransacking store shelves for their beloved soon to be dearly departed diet soda. My local Stop and Shop supermarket that always stocked an abundance of Tab was depleted within 24 hours of the big reveal. The very place I had touted frantic Tab-loving friends towards on Friday was on Saturday coming up empty on inventory. I had hoped to score a 6 pack just as a collector’s item but no such luck.
A conversation with another shopper in search of this nostalgic elixir bemoaned the fact that she had hit up several stores that yielded nothing. Panicked and on the verge of a breakdown, this stranger vowed to go county by county in her search for this holy grail of diet sodas.
Me, I’ll live on my memories.
The Now Taste Of Tab
Though I grew up submerged in a mid-century sea of syrupy soft drinks, Tab was in a class by itself. This was no sugary soda pop for the kiddies. Tab wasn’t just a soda. It was a lifestyle. It was hip, cool, seductive. Sophisticated even. The choice of jet setters. Tab was New. It was Now.
If Pepsi was for those who think young, The Now Taste of Tab was for those who looked young, and wanted to stay that way- slim, trim, and as bubbly as the artificially sweetened drink itself. Tab was unstuffy not like old-time Coca-Cola with its bloated calories weighing you down. It was sexy because that one crazy calorie dangled the possibilities of sex. Tab would keep you desirable. Loveable. Thin. A carbonated beverage had never been as sexy and full of promises.
When Tab came on the scene the American public was primed and ready to be seduced.
Diet Soda Begins
It may sound unimaginable but once upon a time, there was no such thing as diet soda.
In fact, most dietetic sugar-free products were geared to diabetics and not weight watchers. The small “Dietetic Section” found in a supermarket catered not to dieters but to those who had to restrict their intake of sugar because of diabetes. Diet sodas had its origin in the health field.
NoCal soda the first to market a diet soda wasn’t originally for the calorie counting Miss at all.
The father of diet soda was Hyman Kirsch, a Russian immigrant who had opened his first soda store in 1904 Williamsburg a primarily Jewish neighborhood selling flavored seltzer. In 1952 along with his son came up with the idea of a sugar-free carbonated drink for diabetic and heart patients at the Jewish Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases in NYC where he was on the board,
The father and son came up with a then-novel idea of selling their diet soda to consumers. They began selling their sugar-free zero-calorie soda sweetened with cyclamates under the brand name NoCal smartly marketing it to weight-conscious housewives of which there was a growing legion. Originally marketed locally, it soon found a national audience.
Lighter, Less Filling Reduced Calories
Sugar-free diet soda was such a novelty that the big soda companies were slow to jump on the bandwagon. But it didn’t stop them from appealing to the new slimmer ideal. From the mid to late 1950s Pepsi Cola advertised itself as the lighter, less filling beverage, taking tiny steps by slightly reducing the calories of the beverage with less sugar.
Pepsi wanted to appeal to “today’s trim young set.” “Today’s trim sociable moderns of every age know that the new light look is their greatest flatterer. “
One look at this modern hostess silhouette and you can just guess the kinds of things she keeps in her refrigerator. You know it must be stocked with lighter less filling foods that make up the diet of the world’s most attractive people.
That’s how they keep those slender waistlines. How they stay so young looking year after year. So fit for all the fun modern living has to offer. And it is to suit their modern tastes -Today’s Pepsi Cola is reduced in calories. Refreshes without filling. Pepsi Cola the light refreshment.” Vintage Pepsi Ad 1955
The next decade would bring dieting and diet soda into everyone’s consciousness.
Diet Soda Ready For Lift-Off
With the dawning of the Space Age, women of the 1960s were busy with their own countdown – calorie counting. The long lean lines America was loving in their car designs and trim line phones were now the new body ideal.
Hopping on and off her Deteco scale, women watched their weight as carefully as their husbands watched the fluctuation of the Dow Jones. Though millions of women had read Dr.Herman Taller’s hugely successful 1961 bestseller Calories Don’t Count, you didn’t need a good head for figures to know the good doctor was dead wrong. Calories did count.
The appeal of a single calorie in a full-size sweet beverage was irresistible.
In 1962 Royal Crown makers of RC Cola launched their own product Diet Rite Soda to great success. Like NoCal it was originally marketed to diabetes and sold in drug stores when it first appeared in 1958. The only sugar-less soda from a large company on the national market, it was sweetened with a mixture of cyclamates and saccharin. Claiming all the taste and none of the calories, the soda was marketed for the whole family’s enjoyment.
Blast Off…By By Calories
But it would 1963 that was the bonanza year for waist whittlin’ gals.
Not only did Jean Nidetch launch Weight Watchers that May but the big guns of soda Coca-Cola and Pepsi finally stepped into the sugar-free soda ring. Both companies were hesitant to use their brand names in a diet soda. So Pepsi introduced Patio Diet Cola ( later renamed Diet Pepsi) after Coca Cola came out with Tab for folks “keeping tabs on their weight.”
Promising the American woman a far-out figure that would send him into outer space, it didn’t take long for the sales of Tab to be outta’ sight.
No Time to Waist
Tab debuted in a culture of abundance and excess, but it was clear that in this betcha-can’t-eat-just-one-culture, the one place American abundance was frowned upon was m’ladys waistline. The insistence on slimness increased with each year.
Yes, mam’ isn’t it time to do more than wish for the lovely figure you lost? Fun was just waiting everywhere when you’re slender.
Women were swallowing these messages whole. But they weren’t the only ones. We daughters took them in too, where they remained undigested for decades.
The same little girls who learned their ABC’s with Post Sugar Sparkled Alphabets before long began worrying if their own mini skirts were a wee bit tight. Even though there was always room for Jell-O, baby boom daughters who watched their mothers opting for Dietetic D Zerta instead started slowly absorbing all the negative qualities associated with overweight, ie. being fat.
Before long teens who not long before would “munch a bunch of Fritos” were joining their mothers in dieting and drinking Tab. Teenage girls like myself envying the models in Seventeen Magazine never felt thin enough. No matter how much Tab I drank, I could never get myself to look like Cheryl Tiegs, but at least that one crazy calorie helped me from looking like Little Lotta.
In a country of unlimited choices, there was only one choice of body for girls.
It was one size fits all. And Tab would help in your quest. The choice of a generation.
Body By Tab
Through the 1980s like so many of my generation, I spent countless summer afternoons with friends, lounging in the sun a ubiquitous silver metallic reflector in one hand to get a deep dark tan. In the other, sipping one can of Tab after another as we mindlessly checked and rechecked how flat our bellies were while calculating the state of our tan line. Had I maintained “that body that stays in his mind?” The body that Tab promised could be yours if you were a loyal consumer, vowing to make you as uninhibited as Tab they said their drink was.
Drifting off into a state of euphoria, I could feel Fab-Tab-olicious.
The promise embodied in that saccharine pink can kept us searching for something just beyond our grasp. Not unlike the elusive hunt for Tab today.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.