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Beer Isn’t Evil. Here’s Why.

Ambitious Brew is about beer, so I've spent much of the past five years thinking, directly and indirectly, about alcohol and its place in our lives — and about the people who yearn to halt the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol.

When the book came out, I expected an onslaught of tirades from the anti-alcohol crowd. Something along the lines of "Ms. Ogle glorifies alcohol." Or "Ogle encourages under-age drinking by praising rather than condemning the makers of booze."

So far there's been none of that. I'm relieved, but surprised: the current neo-prohibition movement is powerful and well-organized, and rarely misses the chance to attack drink.

This coalition of activists, who operate under an umbrella composed of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), are chipping away at Americans' right to drink, using the "abuse" of alcohol as the rationale for their crusade.

I find it hard to take them or their cause seriously.

In the United States, we "enjoy" the drinking culture we deserve. We have no one to blame but ourselves for binge and under-age drinking and "drunk" driving — and groups like MADD and CSPI are part of the problem, not the solution.

We adults, including the people at MADD and CSPI, demonize alcohol. We teach children to fear rather than respect its properties. (That is, when we bother to teach them anything at all, alcohol being part of the triumvirate of unmentionables: money, sex, and booze.)

As a result, kids enter adolescence with no idea how to drink, when to drink, or when to stop. Hormone-riddled, rebellious teenagers testing the waters of freedom and independence jump at the chance to wallow in the illicit pleasures of booze. Denied legal access to the satanic elixir, they resort to law-breaking and subterfuge to get it.

The results are predictable: lacking experience in the art of imbibing, young people drink themselves stupid and drive themselves and others to death. Every year, tens of thousands of young adults celebrate turning "legal" by drowning their bodies in toxic quantities of the stuff. Some literally drink themselves to death. Then they become adults and parents and repeat the process with their own kids.

"Fetal Alcohol Syndrome" (FAS) has become the device by which pregnant women are frightened into avoiding alcohol. If an obviously pregnant woman is seen sipping a drink in public, it's a safe bet that a total stranger — armed with the self-righteousness of the FAS armor — will march over to her table and harangue the drink right out of her hand.

Never mind that the researchers who "discovered" FAS grossly (and apparently deliberately) overestimated the incidence of the syndrome. Never mind that the only documented cases of FAS involve women who consumed massive quantities of hard liquor on a daily basis for years before becoming pregnant.

Never mind, of course, the most important point: the sheer illogic behind the anti-drink crusade.

Alcohol has been humanity's constant companion for about 12,000 years, but potable drinking water is only about a century old (and most parts of the world still don't have it). For millennia, men, women, children drank alcohol daily because it provided the safest way to ingest the fluids needed for hydration.

From the time of the Romans on through the eighteenth century, people used distilled liquor to treat everything from upset stomachs to headaches to diarrhea. Colonial Americans regarded alcohol as one of god's "good creatures," a nutritious balm for body and soul.

As recently as a century ago, doctors routinely prescribed beer for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Many women around the world still follow that regimen today.

If alcohol inflicted the sort of damage that critics claim; if it were as dangerous to pregnant women and fetuses as some scientists argue, then the human race would have died out millennia ago.

But here we are. Obviously something's wrong with the logic — or with our attitude toward alcohol.

Are some people genetically wired in such a way that alcohol presents a danger to their bodies? According to current research, yes.

Are some people simply stupid about alcohol? Absolutely!

We can't do much about genetic-based alcohol aversion, but we can do something about the stupidity factor.

Why not turn the youth-and-booze equation upside down? Instead of bombarding kids with messages about the evils of alcohol, why not introduce them to its pleasures, preferably at home in the presence of their parents?

Teach them how to savor rather than gulp fine beer, wine, and liquor. Explain that the vast majority of adults don't abuse booze (and according to recent studies, those who do may be genetically programmed to do so).

Imagine: reasoned, balanced information in the media and the classroom, and first-hand experience at home. Taken singly, either would go far toward demystifying alcohol; taken together, they announce that alcohol is a fact of life, and nothing to get bent out of shape about.

Strip alcohol of fear and mystery, and the problem of binge drinking, under-age drinking, and drunk driving might go away.

Books mentioned in this post

Maureen Ogle is the author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer

8 Responses to "Beer Isn’t Evil. Here’s Why."

    Brockman November 16th, 2006 at 11:44 am

    I would think Prohibition already taught us this lesson the hard way.

    Celia Baker November 16th, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    I'm sorry, but I'm still reeling over this blogger's savage attack on a staff member's positive review of her book earlier this week. I'm also a little confused by her insistence of misspelled words - the only one I can see is that Mr. Brown chose one variant of the word ‘pilsener,’ when he could have chosen ‘pilsner.’ This appears to be such ungracious and arrogant behavior towards a staff member and a book store that seems to have done you a favor by promoting your book.

    As a writer myself, I would love to find myself in the privileged position of having a published book that a major online bookstore like Powell's would pay attention to - not only in giving it their personal stamp of approval with a staff member's review, but by being invited to blog alongside some really wonderful authors like Melissa Fay Greene and Craig Lesley. It would be nice to feel so smug I guess…

    lisa_emily November 16th, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    This culture has a bad attitude about intoxicants in general; hence bad ideas, like the "drug war". Instead accepting that these are needs that humans have and had since inception and are likely to have until the end of time; we criminalize such desires and create a guilt-ridden and impulsive relationship.

    First step: accept and have a positive attitude towards these mind states. Second step: rid ourselves of bad and cheap alcohol which damages and is pretty damn unhealthy.

    All and all, well put!

    Ken Buchanan November 16th, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Spoken exactly like someone who didn't grow up in an abusive alcoholic home, Miss Ogle.

    Carrie November 16th, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    Beer is the proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy - Ben Franklin. Gotta love the man.

    Maureen Ogle November 16th, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Ken: This is probably more info than you want, but I DID grow up in an abusive alcoholic home!

    That's probably why I believe what I believe now about respecting rather than demonizing alcohol.

    But it's fascinating that you and I would end up at opposite ends of the spectrum (I'm guessing maybe you and I had the same childhood experience?) Very interesting comment. Thanks!

    Carrie: re. the Ben Franklin quote. If you have time, visit the website, click on "Did You Know?" and scroll down to the last item. Cracks me up! (I have no idea how to create a live link......)

    Celia: I'm hoping you simply missed the point of my blog about reviews. I wasn't attacking Doug Brown, savagely or otherwise.

    I deeply appreciate his review. As a writer yourself, you can imagine how pleased I was by it.

    With all due respect, I think you missed the point I was [trying and apparently failed] to make. I'm a huge fan of Powells and have been for years.

    Indeed, I'm not what's made me happier: to get an "official" store review, or to be asked to blog this week!

    THANK YOU to all of you for the comments. This is a perfect example of why Powells ought to be declared a national treasure.

    Bill November 16th, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    There are some interesting thoughts portrayed here and in the comments section.

    Anyone who is wondering whether they may have a problem with alcohol should have a look at the following online quiz-

    rick redd March 30th, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I love beer. I'm a past president of a MADD chapter. We are not prohibitionists. We simply don't want people to drive after drinking.

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