[EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was written in 2000, so many of the statistics cited are out-of-date. The sentiments and purposes of the article remain fresh: to end the unhealthy scourge of alcohol binge-drinking and to incorporate moderate wine consumption as a normal, healthy, and socially-acceptable part of the American diet.]
wine consumption by country, the US is certainly
no leader. Although the USA ranks fourth in
production and third in
consumption by total volume, a very small part of the population
drinks almost all of the wine. On a per
capita basis, Americans don't even make it
into the Top 50(1). A comparison with Europe shows some wide
disparity in beverage choices...
categories are similar (coffee, milk, juice,
bottled water, liquor), Americans drink five
times as much soda pop and nearly twice as much
beer. Europeans drink three times as much tea
(which, like wine, contains tannins), three
times as much wine and four times as much tap
water. The "French Paradox" which was exposed by
televison's "60 Minutes", and led to a virtual
overnight boost in wine sales, failed to even
mention the tea and water
ranking #57 overall and behind most countries of the
Western Hemisphere, American wine consumption,
to use the rude parlance of fashion, just plain
sucks. The situation is even more disparate,
when factoring in that the vast majority of
Americans drink only two or three glasses of
wine each year, and that occurs usually
during the Fall Holiday Season between
Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
factors are responsible for American consumer
hesitancy in wine consumption. Oppressive post-Prohibition laws
have kept the American wine industry timid in
asserting both the health benefits and the
economic importance of wine. Soft drink and beer
brands have been the dominant and relentless beverage
advertisers on American television for decades. The culture of sweet beverages susequently developed by Americans is anathema to the wine illuminati who generally express disdain even for sweet wines.
wine industry has generally followed a voluntary
ban on television advertising and has primarily
promoted itself among the already converted; at
public wine tastings to support charities, for
example. Wine labels and types are complex and
daunting to the novice, yet industry marketing
groups ignore education of a general nature,
instead concentrating on promoting features that
define and differentiate their individual
segments while attempting to throw and educational cloak over this propaganda.
Many popular notions about wine
are misleading or just plain wrong (see Three
Wine Myths). Americans
have little idea where to get reliable information about wine
and have their questions answered. There is a lingering notion
that wine is either unaffordable and elitist, or unpalatable
and derelict, and that wine is not the beverage of "regular
people". This impression has been bolstered by both sensation-starved
mass media and puritanical pulpits that dwell on the relatively few who abuse alcohol. The vast majority of wine
drinkers who consume wine with meals avoid crossing the line into
On the other hand, if we want
to look at where do Americans excel, we are world leaders
in obesity, heart disease, and alcoholism. (Subjects already
addressed in the PfW article on Wine
We have a national Driving While
Intoxicated problem that is far worse than any other industrialized
country and it is entirely of our own making. We hand out driver's
licenses to 16 year olds, granting them a privilege that greatly
increases their freedom, mobility, and responsibility. At the
same time, we intensify the attraction of alcohol to youth,
by denying them the privilege of using it, yet we give them
little or no instruction or guidance ... ever ... to its proper use.
Abraham Lincoln observed that,
"problems with alcohol relate not to the use of a bad thing,
but to the abuse of a good thing."
I suggest a
socially uplifting change: let's lower the age
of legal consumption of alcohol in private
homes only to 16 and, concurrently raise the
common age of licensed driving to 21. Sales of
alcohol would still be limited to over age 21.
Exceptions permitting younger drivers could be
allowed in agriculture, military, or special hardship
This is not to
say we should encourage teenage drinking.
Curiosity, however, is aroused by ignorance.
What is needed is decriminalization and
education. Mothers Against Drunk Driving should
thoughtfully and happily adopt this
imagine the other potential benefits, besides reducing
young adults at home to teach them
society 5 more years per candidate to sort
problem drinkers out of the driving
ridership and therefore efficiency on public
bicycle ridership and physical health in
cars off the road might even extend the global
warming window. Heck, if wine was offered to
teens in more houses at the evening meal, it
might cause more families to break bread
together, relax, and even share conversation. It
could be the dawn of a new era of social grace
Why will this
never happen? The primary reason is economic:
the huge political machine that combines
automobile manufacturing with oil and gasoline
distribution would never allow a reduction in
demand for their products.
Another reason is
cultural: Puritanical practices and paranoia have American
priorities completely skewed. Many parents would rather avoid sensitive subjects and/or make the assumption that the issue is dealt with in church or school, rather than take the responsibility to educate and inform their own children. Informing children about decisions that can endanger health or life is not the same as using parental authority to forbid dangerous activity. Such denial most often results in increasing, rather than preventing, the level of curiosity, temptation, and unsupervised experimentation.
In addition, a
general morality which promotes greed
and convenience and condones denial of any
personal responsibility for social fabric will
probably protect those priorities to the
extinction of the species. As cartoonist Walt
Kelly's character Pogo told us decades ago, "I
have seen the enemy and he is us."
To improve personal health and American social
fabric, drink more water, tea and wine, while
cutting back on soda, coffee and beer, but
mostly, Teach Your Children Well...
Help for Addiction: Nation-wide, drug and alcohol rehab is big business, especially since federal legislation mandated that health insurance must cover addiction recovery programs. Insurance coverage is a good thing. Unfortunately for many victims of addiction, the government neglected to set any type of operating standards or performance requirements for these programs. The FDA does not regulate them. Results are self-reported. Fees are enormous. Many referral services advertised on national television or that result from a Google search are owned by the rehab clinics themselves. This situation is a travestry.
Considering that addiction recovery has life-or-death consequences, rehab is a shamefully unregulated industry. The best chance of success requires a program designed and administered by one or more physicians who are board-certified in addiction medicine. There are not many: Los Angeles has 14; San Francisco, 16; only 26 in New York City; search by specialty (addiction medicine) and location (city, state) on the web at The American Board of Preventative Medicine(2).
NOTES 1. Although the statistics cited (below) in World Wine
Consumption Figures are outdated (2008 data, unless preceded by *= updated 2013), the essence and message of this article remain true and contemporary. in order of descending Consumption Per Capita
... and Total Annual Volume
in descending order.
Keep in mind the obvious anomalies before trying to form any conclusions. For example, The Vatican has a very small population of residents, but thousands of transient tourists take communion there and thus skew the Per Capita figure, whereas the Total Annual Volume in the Vatican is less than 100 bottles per year! Conversely, China's huge population renders their Per Capita rank very low, but their Total Annual Volume puts them near the top. BACK
2. Cheers (in moderation, of course) to John Oliver whose May 20, 2018, segment of "Last Week Tonight" revealing the sad truth about addiction rehabilitation clinics prompted the addition of this final section. BACK
LINKS Financial Costs of Drunk Driving presents the likely costs of a DUI ($45,000 minimum), which include the initial towing/impound and attorney fees, fines, mandated drug education and treatment, license penalties, ignition interlock device, and years of insurance premium hikes. This Moneygeek.com article also offers practical suggestions to avoid DUI and how to deal with the possibility.
Substance Abuse in College is a comprehensive presentation of this insidiously pervasive problem, including defining and understanding the problem, recognizing signs of its presence, and offering suggestions for behaviors to avoid its trap. On the Affordable Colleges Online site, it is essential reading for both students and student parents.
Over concerns that Baby Boomers in particular over-estimate safe alcohol consumption levels, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has published a page called Rethinking Drinking with some easy online tools to evaluate the fitness of your alcohol use.