Thursday, January 31, 2013
Books I'm Reading: Drink: A Social History of America (January 30, 2013)
The heat of the southern colonies and the long distances between settlements in colonial times contributed to a reliance on rum and madeira rather than on the beers and ales favored in Britain or the unfortified wines common on the continent, both of which perished quickly without refrigeration. It was no help that despite the abundance of wild grapes in the United States (none of which made good wine), European grape varieties stubbornly refused to take hold in the New World, repeatedly falling victim to the vine diseases that attacked the native varieties (which have developed immunities European grape varieties lack).
As a result, Americans on the whole never developed a solid tradition of drinking light alcoholic beverages (beers and wines) with food, as an ordinary part of a leisurely meal. That tendency, exacerbated by prohibition (and the partial prohibition of alcohol to teens and into the early 20s that continues today) has left most Americans with a binge drinking mentality focused mostly on hard liquors that, ironically, was precisely what the original prohibitionists aimed to combat. I've long thought that college binge drinking and other abuses would be far less prevalent if we taught our children about responsible, pleasurable, moderate alcohol consumption from the early teen years. Barr makes this same argument cogently and with much evidence to back up his claims. Chock full of interesting detail about drink and our attitudes toward alcohol. Well worth a read. Recommended.