This has been on my mind for a while now (those of you who think I’m a big ol’ ball of uncensored opinion have no idea what I hold back!) I keep thinking “now’s not a good time for this” but I could find a reason not to publish it every day forever and that’s no way to live. So, here is my latest jumbo think piece. I’d say “like it or not” but I don’t particularly “like” it myself. It’s not all rainbows and kittens and free samples here in the beer blogging world…
We’re a country founded by Puritans, and in some ways it still shows.
Once, just out of curiosity and a behavioral double-check, I took an alcohol use survey online. It asked me my age and gender. I answered the questions honestly and it came back with an alarmist “YOU DRINK MORE THAN MOST WOMEN YOUR AGE!” message. Well, okay…is it saying much to say you drink more than most 30-something women? Aren’t most of them too busy being moms to go to the pub? Many of my female friends are pregnant or breastfeeding right now, and I’m not.
I tried another quiz, this time from a different English-speaking country (I believe it was England, but it could have been Australia). It did not ask my age or gender. I answered honestly. It shrugged and said I was a social drinker and as long as my health was okay to not sweat it.
Where am I going with this? I think an effect of our culture is that the Americans who’ve claimed some sort of alcohol as a hobby — be it beer, wine, whiskey, other — get unjustly criticized and scrutinized by people outside their hobby world. I know I’ve endured stupidity like “you make your own beer? are you an alcoholic?” and worse. People who share a hobby often find each other, but beer people have even more incentive to band together: we understand that our enthusiasm is not the same as a disease, and it’s also not what you saw in that Beer Fest movie. The beer community is pretty much a judgment-free zone where consumption is concerned. You can have a beer with lunch without raising eyebrows (never mind that a beer with lunch is standard in many countries). You can post a photo of fancy beer on the Internet without anyone thinking it’s weird. You can have a breakfast beer on a special occasion like a yearly beer fest without getting handed a pamphlet.
Problem is, there’s a difference between “I understand that having two beers a day doesn’t make you Arthur” and “having 6 beers a day seems normal to me.” There’s a difference between “it’s Boonville, who wants a breakfast stout?” and drinking starting at 9am on a random Tuesday. There’s a difference between beer being an interest and beer being your only interest.
How can we as a community share a passion for something that CAN be harmless…but also not encourage people who are hurting themselves? I have no answers, but we can start by talking about it instead of sweeping it under the rug.
Let’s start with weight, because that’s not a loaded topic at all…
Alcohol has calories
Obviously, beer has calories. But as with most things weight-related, people overreact in one direction or another.
- People drink light beer, or no beer, to save calories. Blech.
- Well-meaning people exclusively blame beer for any non-skinny person’s lack of skinniness. (“You could lose so much weight if you gave up beer!” is something I’ve heard more than once. Hey, who says I even want to lose weight?) Thing is, many people who are into beer are epicureans in general and are also into food — beer has calories, sure, but so does BBQ and tacos and cheese and….
- Of course, not all beer people have equal enthusiasm for beer and food. Whether they’re trying to save calories or have something else going on, this forms the basis of another overreaction for some. I’m tired of hearing people justify skipping meals because “beer has food value but food has no beer value” or “eating is cheating.” It’s not funny and it’s not healthy.
In the end, you can lose weight (if you want to! and not everyone does!) by drinking fewer beers or drinking smaller portions of them. You can also lose weight by exercising and eating healthier. Your weight is really none of anyone else’s business. But if you have an existing health issue that is exacerbated by your weight, and you’re still not cutting down on beer, that’s something to think about. It’s true that overweight people can be healthy. It’s also true that some medical conditions are going to go a lot easier on you if you lose a few.
The game-ification of beer drinking is not good for every personality
Untappd is fun. I use it. But I don’t agree with giving out rewards for drinking a sheer quantity of beer. If you’ve got a competitive streak, getting badges is going to encourage you to drink too much. It’s an unpopular opinion and I’m not going to dwell on it, and I’d be the last person to blame a silly phone app for anyone’s unhealthy decisions, but if you’re drinking more beers just to get an online cookie then uninstall that shit.
“I need to slow down” isn’t the same as “I need AA” (except when it is)
I think some beer enthusiasts are afraid to admit they’ve been drinking too much because it seems like such a slippery slope. We’ve tied in “drinking too much” with “problem drinking” with “alcoholic” with “needs to never drink again.” I believe it’s a spectrum, not a binary.
I think of it this way: sometimes I go through periods where I eat too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds and I realize I should back up and eat right again. That doesn’t make me a compulsive eater. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior. (That said, compulsive eating is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized if you have it.)
My relationship with alcohol — another substance that’s enjoyable but not physically addictive — is remarkably similar. Sometimes I realize I’ve been drinking too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds (or have an ugly hangover) and realize I should back up and drink right again. That doesn’t make me an alcoholic. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior.
That said, alcoholism is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized (or joked about or celebrated) if you have it. And that’s where the beer community trips over its dick.
If you can’t eat like a healthy person or you can’t drink like a healthy person, maybe it’s time to do something about it. Maybe it’s Overeaters Anonymous or maybe it’s just a nutritionist. Maybe it’s AA or maybe it’s just…a nutritionist (or Moderation Management). I suspect most of you know, deep down, whether you’re killing yourself or not.
And if you’d never hassle an obese person for eating a healthy, reasonable portion of food in front of you — and I hope you wouldn’t — let’s also be careful teasing drinkers for cutting back. Let your friend get the half-pint, the water, the session beer, the root beer, in peace without joking or name-calling or exhortations to drink more. You don’t know what’s going on, and either way, 7th grade-level peer pressure is best left in 7th grade.
“Everything gives you cancer” vs “Stop drinking or die”
Eggs are good, eggs are bad, eggs are fine. Carbs are bad, carbs are fine, now gluten is bad. Coffee’s bad, green tea’s good, caffeine’s bad, coffee’s good but only if you’re a man…fuck it, I give up.
Joe Jackson was basically right: everything gives you cancer, if you count “everything” as “living on this toxic planet.” So yes, drinking beer increases my risk of breast cancer. So does living on earth. So did, I suspect, growing up in a town where a disproportionate number of my classmates’ parents seemed to get tumors when I was in school. I’m not going to give up a delicious beverage because it might piss off the wrong cell someday. Driving a car is hazardous to your health, and I do that, too. You gotta live.
But if you have an already-existing health condition that drinking is going to make a whole hell of a lot worse?
THEN STOP FUCKING DRINKING.
There’s no good way to segue out of that so I just will
This concludes the first and, I hope, only installment of Tough Love With East Bay Beer. Please do believe that it comes from a place of love, not of shit-stirring or paternalism. Take care of yourselves, friends. Peace out.