Common Ground is that wonderful place where most people would congregate if it were nearby, that place where common sense and common decency would unite and embrace. It is the place, clearly violated, in the widely seen photo of four armed French police, surrounding a Muslim woman sitting on a beach with her children, forcing her to eliminate part of her clothing because it somehow presented a security risk. By focusing on security, the French are giving up other equally valuable conditions for civil life, like fairness and, yes, common sense. Today, wine consumption is subject to the same extremist mandates.
Abuse is a legitimate concern, of course, but we give up too much when we focus on abuse alone, or worse, fear of abuse, just as we do when we focus on security alone.
Health authorities and others are so obsessed by addiction that they ignore the common ground, that the use and enjoyment of alcohol has ancient roots as deep as the history of humans. When consumed in a responsible way, alcohol validates our humanity.
After each yearly physical, my doctor admonishes me for drinking two glasses of wine a day instead of the recommended one glass for women. Two glasses of wine a day is not ”too much” by any sensible definition. My doctor admits that she never drinks alcohol and that, statistically, her risk factors are the same as mine, according to prevailing research, which is just that, prevailing, and that means that it could change after the next new study.
I recently read an article in National Geographic of all places, not Wine Spectator or any other wine periodical. The journalist questioned Dr. Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, asking him why he brewed ancient beers.
“We were born to drink—first milk, then fermented beverages.” (What about water?) “Our sensory organs attract us to them. As humans came out of Africa, they developed these from what they grew. In the Middle East, it was barley and wheat. In China, rice and sorghum. Alcohol is central to human culture and biology.”
Dr. McGovern goes on to say, “Anthropologists debate which came first, bread or beer. I think it was beer: It’s easier to make, more nutritious, and has a mind-altering effect. These were incentives for hunter-gathers to settle down and domesticate grain. In the process, they set up the first permanent villages and broke down social boundaries between groups. Most of the world’s religions use alcohol, and the earliest medicines involve wine. The beginnings of civilization were spurred on by fermented beverages.”
In a world of slipping “common ground” and diminishing “common sense,” McGovern reminds us that humans have been consuming alcohol for as long as they have been human. And to make policy on either a community or personal level based on abuse ignores the satisfaction and pleasure that we take from moderate consumption. And always have. Cheers!