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This is what was left of a beautiful, shiny calendar that came with my new exercise program from Jessica Smith.
Said calendar was sitting over the kitchen counter top.
Bogey Quit That was unsupervised for five minutes. Six minutes tops.
I wasn’t thrilled. Had a little heart to heart with the big boy.
Do you agree with my assessment, or should I hope for the best?
What do these cartoons have in common?
They all send a message that drinking is fun, actually not just fun, needed to cope with today’s world. The message is so prevalent, so strongly shared in social media, on TV, in movies and in our social lives that we barely take notice. We barely stop to think that something might be wrong with it.
This is not an easy post to write, as it feels like swimming against a strong current. Let me start with my own experience on the subject. My college years were all alcohol-free and the friends I hung out at the time with were not interested in drinking. Then I started dating the man who became my first husband. He absolutely loved wine and other libations. I tried my first glass of wine around age 24; I could take it or leave it as far as taste was concerned, but I embraced the practice for the fun aspects that came with it. Drinking became a part of my social life and I never worried about it. Except for having to deal with the eventual drunk friend or relative, but they ended up more as harmless annoyances, nothing I was overly concerned with. Plus, “they” were not “me”, so all was fine in my own Private Idaho.
In the past few years, I noticed that my tolerance for alcohol started to sharply decrease. Whereas in the past I could indulge in a mixed drink before dinner, then a glass or two of wine with my meal, and still have a normal morning next day, as I got older doing the same caused a hangover that pretty much ruined my next day. Two glasses of wine with dinner became the maximum I can drink, but sometimes even that makes me a bit unwell. You might say “… so what? Stick with one glass and don’t worry about it.” But, the realization of how harmful just a little more might be for my body got me thinking. Could drinking – even at a moderate level – be doing me more harm than good? How could I be sure? Shouldn’t I listen to the signs my body kept sending me? I also started to question my reasons for drinking. I decided to go on a personal experiment and quit drinking for a couple of months. While doing so it became evident the power of the alcohol industry. I read a lot on the subject, from the benefits of drinking (heavily shared around in social media) to its negative side-effects (barely mentioned in those venues), and about the advertising strategies and profits of the alcohol industry. And now here I am to share my thoughts.
I don’t intend to turn myself or anyone else into a teetotaler. Or to be judgmental about those who drink a little or a lot. I simply hope that we can all be more attentive to – and perhaps take a stance against – the constant bombardment of alcohol advertising, which, by the way, now heavily targets women. It portrays alcohol as a harmless substance, supposed to make your life fun and sophisticated. It is supposed to make you tolerate the stresses of your day, and surf more smoothly through social interactions, especially if they feel awkward to start with. The alcohol industry clearly prefers to place the burden of any negative effect of drinking on the shoulders of the “bad drinkers.” They, the pitiful alcoholics. We all subscribe to this view, by the way. That is neither fair nor accurate. In reality, the problems reside on the substance itself. Alcohol is a toxin that your body immediately needs to degrade once you ingest it. No matter how little you drink, your liver works extra to deal with it. Alcohol is addictive (not just for alcoholics), and as far as its danger ranking for society, it is worse than heroine and other illicit drugs (on a scale of 100, alcohol ranks 72, whereas heroine ranks 55 and crack 54, see this article). In reality, moderate drinking, the kind that advocates portray as having positive effects on the cardiovascular system, is not what many drinkers are doing, particularly us women. Keep in mind that for women, moderate drinking is considered a maximum of 5 ounces of wine per day and even such low-level is a matter of debate. Anything more and the risks outweigh the benefits. Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, and that is not simply an effect of body mass. Often couples (yours truly included) will happily share a bottle of wine with their dinner in the name of pleasure and supposed health benefits. We keep doing it, while mentally assembling all the arguments that make it sound like a risk-free thing. And the arguments seem to make sense. Come to think of it, the cartoons and funny jokes finally place women as equals with men on the drinking stage. Wow, that is some sociological victory! 😉
I know that many people will read my post and react against it, claiming “I don’t have/see a problem.” True, probably you don’t. But, our society does. Under age drinking is another serious problem made harder to deal with due to the influence of social media that enables advertisement by peers without any regulation (reviewed here). So, yes, maybe you are not affected directly by it. But someone you love might be. Maybe a son or a daughter, who at some point will be exposed to the Siren’s Song of the alcohol industry, that actually relies on the very existence of alcoholics for most of their profit. Kids will go to college, turn 21, and in the US they will encounter the tradition of binge drinking. Maybe your own kids won’t partake, but they may suffer the consequences of being around those who do. No matter our own personal experience, our control and confidence in our own judgement, we should not close our eyes to the careless and irresponsible advertisement of drinking that happens today. Not only direct, but also indirect advertisements. I suggest you pay close attention to sitcoms, TV shows in general, and once you do, you will be shocked by the widespread underlying message of drinking as equal to living the good life. Today’s alcohol industry is exactly like the cigarette industry decades ago. We fought against them to stop false advertising, to stop selling the association of smoking with a great time. Why do we grant the alcohol industry a free pass to lie to us? Why do we help their cause by sharing cute jokes and spreading articles that reinforce the fun but look away when scientific data offer a different perspective?
The “responsible drinking” lie. Did you know that alcoholics account for 47% of the profits of alcohol sales? Just think about that for a second. The consequence of this fact is that the industry has no interest in moderate drinking, or in articles that warn about the dangers of drinking. Instead, their goal is to make sure that the proportion of heavy drinkers stays at the current level or even grows to protect their profits. Like everything else, it’s all about the money. They completely disregard a few annoying facts like: alcohol has been linked to about 200 illnesses (World Health Organization, 2014); alcohol is associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx (organs that alcohol directly contacts), liver, and breast (National Cancer Institute). Some individuals become addicted to alcohol from the first taste, for reasons not well understood, probably genetics is involved (I could not find precise statistics about it). That’ should be enough to give us all a pause. What if that person is someone you deeply care about? A nephew, a niece, a sibling. Drinking does not make problems go away or life easier. It does not make us happier or more fun and interesting in conversations. However, most people believe that it does (I am not excluding myself, it is a very ingrained belief), and the alcohol industry is more than willing to feed those beliefs. Why wouldn’t they? It keeps their sales up.
So, what’s my point? My main message is that alcohol demands more attention and respect for what it really is: a toxin with addictive properties. Approach it with the caution it deserves. Consider real instead of pseudo-moderation. Talk to your kids about it in those terms. Be aware of the false aura behind it, even if you think you are totally immune to it. You may want to look into the role that drinking has in your own life. Does it help you deal with stress … is that the way you’d like your kids to face stress too? Do you need it to have fun socially … is that the way you’d like your kids to approach it too? We must acknowledge and deal with the darker side of drinking in honest terms. I’ve had my share of encounters with people I admire, respect and love, but noticed with some sadness that they turn into different versions of themselves when drinking. Sometimes they become overly argumentative, aggressive or depressed, only because they drank over a certain threshold. Alcohol-induced happiness can be fleeting. And what comes after ranges from mildly annoying to sad, to ugly, all the way up to dangerous. Drinking and driving is one example, as are arguments, fights, black outs, the list is long, you get the picture. I once said things I regretted, because wine made me lose some self-control. It involved politics and interactions with a conservative couple. Even today, 15 years later, I don’t like to remember that evening. But still, that episode made me feel the dark side beneath my own skin.
Now back to my personal experiment. For starters, t shocked me how much better I felt once I stopped having alcohol with dinner, particularly considering that I didn’t drink that much and not even every evening. Gone was a persistent, low-level headache that forced me to take a couple of aspirins a few times a week. Gone was waking up in the morning with bags and puffiness under my eyes, and a sort of pale complexion. Lastly, I have renewed energy late at night, and sleep better too. Those are nice, unexpected bonuses. Because I get up early, I thought that being exhausted by 10 pm was normal. Feeling overall quite a bit better makes it trickier to justify going back to drinking. For the time being I am surfing through these new waters, with a “naked” mind. Honestly, I don’t know what I will do in the long run. I believe in moderation for everything, so quitting alcohol forever seems too drastic and not at all what I had in mind when I started my “experiment.” The bottom line is, I am conflicted and struggling to find my own balance. That’s all I can say for now. So, if you wanted all the answers, I am sorry to disappoint you, I don’t have them. Not yet, that is…
But I am not at all conflicted about my views on the alcohol industry and the need to fight against it. All alcohol bottles should come with better warning labels, just as cigarettes now do, more than “Alcohol…may cause health problems.” The health warnings should be as bold and restrictive as they are for cigarettes. The more aware we become, the less alcohol will harm us as a society.
To close this post, I will share two links. One takes you to a book that is sure to help people struggling with alcoholism or who have a hard time moderating their consumption. It is called, This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace. Even if you drink in moderation, the book is worth reading. The second link takes you to an article in The Washington Post, that I read when I was about 75% done writing this post. I was pleasantly surprised to see my views confirmed by others much more qualified than me to talk about the subject. I suggest you at least watch the short video included in the article, pretty interesting, she is quite articulate.
And just to end on a happier note, here is a pretty festive drink. It has a negligible amount of alcohol with the drops of bitters, but they add a nice kick to the taste. Do not omit them.
CRANBERRY BLISS: Place a few glass cubes inside a tall glass. Add 1/4 of pure cranberry juice, 5 drops of bitters (any kind you like, Angostura for instance), fill the glass with 3/4 sparkling water. Drink and enjoy!
ONE YEAR AGO: Candy Cane Cookies
TWO YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend
THREE YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner
FOUR YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce
FIVE YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip
SIX YEARS AGO: Gougeres
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night
I like to think I’m in control of my life. Efficient could very well be my middle name.
Or so I thought.
We traveled to Portland for a few days this week, and I had a blog post more or less ready to wrap up and publish during our trip. Efficient, remember? We left very early on Monday. I woke up with a serious case of bad hair day which should have been the first indication of trouble. It was so bad that I wore a hat to meet Phil downstairs for our cappuccino, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Of course, a nice shower solved the important issue, and by the time we left to go to the airport I felt I could be seen in public. It was cold. Very cold. Cold as in hat and glove and scarf, and heavy coat cold. Very heavy coat. You should take note of that, it will be important. There might be a quiz.
We did not have printed boarding passes. We went full-blown techie and got mobile passes only. Looking back, that was a mistake. When boarding started, we noticed the seat info was not there, so both Phil and I were messing with our phones while walking the line to board, trying to retrieve the darn email with the full trip info. It was a bit hectic. I do not recommend you try it.
Finally, we got to our seats and took a deep breath of relief. I wondered what to do in the reasonably short flight to Dallas, a little over one hour-long. Should I get my iPad and read a little? Nah, let me tackle a Sudoku instead. Grabbed the American Airlines magazine, hoping the Sudoku page would be untouched by previous travelers (you never know…), and there it was, waiting for me, a clean, pristine page. Big inner smile, I went straight for the most difficult one, of course. How could I not? The darn thing was hard indeed. Super challenging. I got so involved with it that I refused club soda, coffee, and even those spice cookies I love so very much. I could not peel my eyes off the page. I managed to finish it just as the plane was landing, how about THAT for efficiency? I was on top of the world, particularly because Phil was still struggling with it. Disclosure: he always beats me in Sudoku. I wanted to do a victory lap dance as soon as we left the tight plane, but my world was about to be violently shaken. I grabbed my coat, my handbag, and then… went to get my laptop from underneath the seat, but it was NOT THERE. Did it slip away to the seat in front? No, nothing there. Big huge shiver up and down my spine. Could I, could I possibly….. have left it behind at the airport? I knew it went through security screening…
By that time I was already in full hyperventilation mode, hands shaking, could barely put two logical thoughts together. I had never done anything quite like that in my life. Could I be losing it? (no need to answer, thank you very much). Phil found the number for the airport, I called, first they said they found nothing, which made me hyperventilate even more. But, they promised to call back. Very long 10 minutes passed, then I got the news that they found my laptop resting next to a seat at the gate. There is only one gate in the little airport of our town, that definitely helped my case. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was.
We should always try to learn from our mistakes. Get to the root of our problems to overcome them. So, after a lot of inner thought, I saw the light: it is all this miserable weather’s fault. Cold temperatures that forced me to carry around a very heavy coat. It was so heavy that it tricked my mind into thinking I had the computer bag with me. Simple as that. Case closed. Page turned. Absolutely nothing wrong with me. HA!
Spring, I am ready for you!
A new, food related post should be coming soon to a food blog near you… I promise!
If you find yourself in New York City, I highly recommend a visit to Mario Batali & Bastianich’s Eataly. I heard about the place even before its grand opening in 2010, but confess I was completely mistaken about it. I thought it was a regular trattoria with the celebrity chef behind it. Nope. It is not. If you’ve been to Paris, think about La Grande Epicerie de Paris, and you’ll be on the right track to grasp what Eataly is all about. In fact, its original location in Turin is simply THE largest Italian market in the world. Mind blowing array of all things food and drink related, from charcuterie to fresh truffles, from wonderful patisseries to freshly made panini and mouth-watering steak sandwiches. That’s what we had for our lunch, by the way, their signature steak sandwich. Nothing could be simpler: thinly sliced rib-eye steak, piled on a sourdough bread drizzled with a touch of a bright green olive oil. The meat was perfectly seasoned, I could taste oregano in the background. Superb. I share a few photos of the place, always crowded and with a very upbeat atmosphere.
First, how about these beautiful full wheels of Parmigiano?
If Parmigiano is not your thing, what’s wrong with you? Ok, fine, taste is a personal thing. You can choose one of these other cheeses (just a small sampling of what the store has to offer)
At this time of the year, Panettone is a must. They had countless brands, from the very traditional with dried fruits and Fiori di Sicilia, to creative departures, like chocolate….
Top left, their panini station, where you can choose from a big selection of flavors. Top right, espresso to get you pumped up to cruise the huge place. Bottom left, the fantastic steak sandwich stand, where you can have it plain and simple or splurge on their version with truffle butter. Sausage sandwiches are also available there. Bottom right: a spot to savor all things truffle. You read me correctly. In case you are not sure they have the real thing, this is standing nearby.
You can buy amazing seafood… a big selection of oysters is available too.
Impressive offering of charcuterie (again, this is just one small sampling)…
They also sell wine and other alcoholic beverages, spices, coffee, tea, honey, breads, cookbooks, kitchen stuff, and when we were about to leave I spotted on a corner – get ready for it – a Nutella crepe station. Having just savored a very satisfying steak sandwich, I could not bring myself to order one. In retrospect, it could have been my lunch. Well, we might have to plan another trip to New York City to cross that off my list.
If you find yourself in the Big Apple, make sure to visit Eataly, truly an amazing place!
ONE YEAR AGO: Spaghetti Squash Perfection
TWO YEARS AGO: Skinny Eggplant Parmigiana
THREE YEARS AGO: Supernova Meets Wok
FOUR YEARS AGO: 500 Posts and The Best Thing I ever made
FIVE YEARS AGO: Back in Los Angeles
SIX YEARS AGO: White House Macaroni and Cheese
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Korean-Style Pork with Asian Slaw