Post # 47 The Drink That Saved The World!

September 17, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I have a cholesterol problem.  It’s genetic and I don’t worry too much about it.  It doesn’t matter what I eat or how much exercise I take, my numbers always remain high.  Or low, depending on which one you’re looking at.  But they’re never good.  The only thing that has any real impact on my numbers is drugs.  When I take the little pills, the numbers plummet.  Or soar, depending on which one you’re looking at.  However, my liver doesn’t metabolize long-term medications well, and I always have to take time off of the drug(s) for my liver to recuperate, which sends my cholesterol numbers soaring or plummeting, and isn’t really all that good for other things I’m concerned about.

My doctor and I have discussed alternative therapies at great length.  I once went an entire half-year eating nothing but rice and vegetables with small amounts of olive oil.  Oh, and oatmeal.  I hate oatmeal except in a cookie.  For a short time, I went on a vitamin treatment but my whole body reacted badly to that one and after two and a half months, I had to stop.  And the numbers remained barely changed.  We were both flummoxed and discussing the situation.  He said, “Well, they say one glass of wine each evening is supposed to be good for you.”  I replied, “Well, that’s certainly why I drink it!”  We both laughed and went on to other areas.

The thing is, wine really is good for you in moderation.  So is beer.  And ale.  And mead.  And any of the other distilled alcoholic beverages.  The problems they pose are when they are taken in excess, just like anything else.  Hell, even water will kill you if you drink too much of it.  Ask any marathon runner.  Alcohol, though, saved civilization.

Water is a great drink when it’s pure.  It’s a simple combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms that work to make sure that humans can live.  It keeps the body regulated, and flushes out toxins and other nasty stuff.  The trouble is that water, for the greatest part of human history, hasn’t been all that pure.  Every municipality in the United States spends a large chunk of their budget making certain that the water that comes out of your tap is as safe as they can make it.  The bottled water industry is one of the largest in the world.  Water filtration systems for the home or the individual is so common place now that even small convenience stores sell some form of it.

Funny aside:  When I was in college I stayed with my sister and her husband.  The had some new gadgets for their house that they were explaining to me and one was a reverse osmosis water purification system.  It spit out water that was hydrogen and oxygen, and not much else.  It had the sweetest flavor I’d ever tasted in water.  A few weeks later, she and I were grocery shopping and she was picking out toothpaste.  I wondered why she didn’t get one with fluoride.  She said, “We get that in our water.”  I just stared at her and said, “You spend thousands of dollars on a filtration system to take everything out of your water.  What makes you think fluoride is slipping through?”  She looked startled for a moment then bought the toothpaste with fluoride.

Impure water has been the cause for literally hundreds of outbreaks of disease.  In the ancient world, water was always a suspect drink.  They didn’t know about germs or bacteria or other organisms living in water that might kill you, or make you wish you were dead.  They just knew that if you drank water you would die.  But what were they supposed to do?  There wasn’t much else.  Milk as food for humans wasn’t prevalent.  It was used mostly for animals.

Then some enterprising person, probably a monk somewhere, happened upon the distillation process and created alcohol.  Not alcohol in its pure form, but a fermented drink using grains and hops and malts.  Suddenly, people could drink brewed water and not die!  No one really understood the processes involved.  They just knew it worked.  Once the recipe was known, everyone could make their own beer or ale or mead.

Innkeepers became famous for making an ale that tasted great.  Peasants could make their own beer and use it to pay their taxes.  Huge tracts of land were given over to farming just the ingredients for it.  Because it would not kill you!

Over time, various innovations were added.  Different grains were used, different flavors were created, different methods and times.  Honey was used.  Grapes were used.  Suddenly, people could drink something and live!

Now, I don’t want you think that everyone everywhere were dying of thirst before beer showed up.  They weren’t.  They were drinking water from the rivers, lakes, and ponds.  They were collecting rain and melting snow, etc.  A large part of the time, it wouldn’t kill them.  But as humans gathered into cities, and waste disposal became an issue to be ignored, water became less and less healthy.  Water found outside the cities was a toss-up.  There were always micro-organisms growing in water that weren’t great for human consumption.  Some people found that boiling water and letting it cool before drinking would help.  But it was alcohol, the result of fermentation, that really allowed people to drink healthy for the first time.

People weren’t a bunch of drunkards in the early days.  The fermentation process was necessarily cut short on time because this was a commodity people needed and wanted.  They didn’t have much patience.  So it wasn’t fermented as fully as it could have been.  Ales and beer in particular were “short”, falling into very low levels of alcohol content.   People could drink whole pitchers without getting terribly tipsy.   Public convention, religious morals, the king’s taxes, they all played a role in regulating the production and strength of the things they were drinking.

So enjoy your favorite knowing that it’s the stuff that saved the world.

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