I’m going to propose something here in trying to figure out why things are the way they are.
Alcohol is natural. Alcohol has been consumed throughout human history for a variety of hygienic, dietary, medicinal, religious & recreational reasons. There was a time when drinking untreated water was suicide. Without understanding the exact science, people would mix water with wine, or drink beer to avoid the risk of infection.
The term ‘aqua vitae‘ (water of life) , explains itself.
To be able to convert your grain to beer, or whiskey was to take the vitamins and food energy and preserve it. This is a time long before refrigeration was possible.
Merely cover and seal some fresh fruit juice store it and it will start to convert to alcohol without any further effort. It’s science. Yeast is naturally present on fruit. It is a single-celled ascomycete (fungus) and, in an anaerobic environment, it will forego aerobic respiration in favor of fermentation. (wikipedia.org). I could go off on a fascinating exploration of Lambic beers, but I digress.
Humans have a gene for the “alcohol” enzyme. This gene allows us to process alcohol more easily. Most studies on alcohol tend to focus on the adverse effects and not on its historical and cultural importance. Not least of which, is the healthy use by the majority of our population. We were able to go from consuming alcohol merely for survival to being able to consume it for flavour, culture, socializing, celebration or ritual.
There is no historical society that played a massive role in developing the planet, that didn’t have a culture for alcoholic beverages.
In terms of shaping drinking patterns in people, and nations; anthropological research has shown that cultural factors are of most consequence. More than genetics, more than body type and more than rate of consumption. This is a classic case of nurture over nature (and not the other way around)
Canadian folks clearly love their alcohol.
Why do we live in a ‘dry‘ culture?
There are two traditional poles in Canada; the times you get smashed, and the times you carefully avoid being seen with a drink in your hand. [from the prying eyes of others]
In most cases we worry about the judgements of people we don’t know. People we will never meet. It is human nature after all, but should it rule your behaviour?
There’s ever abounding stigmas. A beer for breakfast?! You are ordering a glass of wine with lunch?! You are ordering a cocktail before dinner?! Shocking. Drunkard!
It seems that many are forced to buy in to a cultural prohibition, a prohibition of the mind.
No matter how moderately you may want to enjoy that glass of wine with lunch, what will everyone say?! The important distinction between the use and the abuse of alcohol seems lost. Beer has this association with binge drinking, but, how many people who worry about the IBU of their favorite IPA’s are shopping for something to shotgun?
It’s just simply not something that would be an issue in many other parts of the world, the ‘wet’ cultures, such as Brazil and France.
One interesting exception is the historical “higher social status”; the more successful you are the more the negative connotations slip away from simple things like a “day drink”, or a drink alone.
Next week we will take a closer look at Governments role in Canada’s cultural prohibition, and the some of the messages put forward by the neo-prohibitionist movement.
Stay tuned for Part II…