In the last ten years, we have witnessed a cultural and dietary shift so dramatic, it may redefine how Americans wake up in the morning in a pretty sinister way. Hoosiers are among those victims. Saddest of all is the perpetrator has a factory right in Wabash, Indiana, and employs nearly 600 people there, cranking out almost ten million units of liquid lies every week.

Caffeine has become the drug of choice the world over, but I won’t make a moral stance on that, because I am right along with you. I need my coffee. Is it bad for me? Eh…don’t care.

Generally, I like a strong cup of coffee with a packet of sugar and a teaspoon of creamer. Enough to tint and taste, but not much more. In that cup of coffee, which I sip for about an hour, I would guess I am ingesting about 150 mg of caffeine. Once upon a time, it helped jumpstart my mornings. Now it jumpstarts me (addiction!).

If I don’t have that cup of coffee, or if I have only a weak, watery cup of diner coffee, then come late morning a headache starts to blossom in the back of my skull, starting out as a mild ache and then turning into a full-blown caffeine cramp by the end of the day. Once it starts, drowning it with caffeine works, but it takes a long time. Easier to feed the monkey before the monkey gets mean. Can I hear an AMEN from anyone?

Coffee is no longer the traditional morning jumpstart. Four o’clock in the morning and standing in line at the gas station, I have a 20 oz cup of coffee, watery but hot. But in front of me and behind me? Monster energy drinks. Rockstar energy drinks. NOS. Red Bull. Amp. All at roughly $2 a pop.

And drinkers grab it by the armload, chasing it with tall bottles of fluorescent green Mountain Dew. A grande coffee at Starbucks costs less than two Monster drinks and has the added benefit, I think, of NOT tasting like cough medicine. Again, not judging, but the wallet-gouging makes me wince.

There’s neither genius nor secrets in those drinks. Taurine? Jury’s out, but it’s probably riding on the coattails of caffeine. A bunch of vitamin B additives? Does nothing. Ginseng? Does nothing. Follow those links if you want proof.

Caffeine sure as s**t does something. That something is why all those chilled energy drinks fly off the shelves. They have found an exciting way to make an old drug new again, in a way that Jolt Cola, the only energy drink available when I was in high school, could never do. Hats off to them for the ingenuity.

As effective as they are, their ingenuity is shy of genius. The genius product isn’t even in the coolers or in the displays filled with iced cans near the counter. The genius is in the small, subtle shots of energy drinks right next to the register, available in a variety of flavors and strengths, and costing about $2 to $3 (or more) for a bottle the size of a gorilla’s thumb.

5-hour Energy.

Be aware, I use genius as a synonym for mastermind, ingenuous or clever. Not in the sense of insightfulness or forethought. Honestly, it could only end badly for Living Essentials LLC in the long run, a company that beats the truth like naughty pizza dough. 

In fact, in a move so diabolical it would make Lex Luther poop his pants, 5-hour Energy righteously decided to post a web page debunking the myths surrounding its product. Let me summarize what softball truths 5-hour Energy wants to make clear:

~It doesn’t contain unsafe amounts of vitamin B;  

~The FDA agrees this product was made in a nice, neat factory (not that it actually does what it claims)

~It doesn’t contain vitamin C or aspartame or ascorbic acid… Okay…?

~It won’t make you fail or pass a drug test

~All ingredients are on the label

~You shouldn’t drink more than two bottles a day

Wow! Living Essentials sure did clear up some hard questions there. Questions carefully constructed to give the illusion of full disclosure, questions compiled in a conference room filled with equal parts lawyers and copywriters. Of course, Living Essentials didn’t address THE FOLLOWING facts because, well, they are facts:

~5-hour Energy is no more effective or longer-lasting than a strong cup of coffee

~Living Essentials LLC has paid millions in damages for its “no crash” deceptive advertising 

~5-hour Energy buried a 2007 study debunking its “no crash” claims

~13 deaths between 2008-2013 have been attributed or linked to 5-hour Energy

Why am I picking on poor 5-hour Energy? First off, I am not picking on them, I am just listing facts. And it’s pretty hard to pick on a billion-dollar company.

It’s a company that has twisted and manipulated consumer trends to bottle a few ounces of mumbo-jumbo into a plastic bottle, convinced people to pay a premium price, and then call itself an innovator.

Tricking people into buying flavored caffeine water at a tune of $1 billion dollars a year doesn’t seem like innovation.

It seems downright sinister.