After their mom died from COVID-19, her kids give a final toast with a beloved, hard-to-find token of her youth: Tab diet soda

By John Keilman, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Lifestyles

Chicago restaurant executive Emlyn Thomas had a similar youthful initiation. In high school, after his girlfriend teased him about his weight, he went on a diet of unbuttered popcorn and Tab. He was quickly smitten, pink can and all.

"It had a very strange, tinny, almost bitter taste to it," he said. "They tried to change it at one point and make it sweeter, and people rebelled."

Berger, a writer who spent most of her time raising her children in Lake Forest, Connecticut and Massachusetts, started drinking it in the 1970s after going on the Scarsdale diet, a high-protein, low-carb weight-loss regimen.

"Tab was kind of her treat to get through it," Matt Berger recalled. "She ended up losing a whole bunch of weight and never gave up the habit."

She drank several cans a day and sometimes walked around the house singing the jingle, keeping her allegiance even as the soda grew hard to find. After having a stroke in her 50s, Berger's short-term memory grew foggy, but her kids found that when they offered her a Tab, the years snapped back into focus.

"You could tell she was super excited about it," said her son, Jonah Berger. "It was like she reverted back to being her younger self when she would have a Tab. I think for her it brought back really good memories of when she was healthier."


Berger spent her final months in a nursing home outside Boston, and when COVID-19 swept through in the spring, she became ill. Her family could only visit through a window before she died May 20.

When the nursing home returned her belongings, her children discovered two cans of Tab among the items. That planted a germ of an idea that flowered when Coca-Cola said earlier this month that Tab, which long ago was displaced by Diet Coke as the company's calorie-conscious flagship, would be discontinued.

That didn't sit well with Tabaholics, especially Derick Garr, of Kirksville, Missouri, whose love for the soda runs so deep that his personalized license plate says "TAB BOI."

He started a Facebook group in 2012 called "Bring TaB! Soda back to ALL store shelves!" when the soda became so rare in his small town that he had to drive three hours to Kansas City to find it. The group has spent the last week and a half pleading with Coca-Cola to give Tab another chance, he said.


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