Alcohol, religion, health, sexiness, food and wine – the debates over how much or how little wine you can or should or should not drink and when and with what or whom: the talk goes on and on.
Meanwhile, women have nearly caught up with men when it comes to drinking, and that doesn’t just mean your best friend – it means you and me.
A just-published Australian study – international data, covering vast numbers of people for more than a century – shows that over the past 20 years women have been catching up with men, where drinking is concerned. Part of this is most likely that men are drinking less, but the big part of it is that women are clearly drinking more.
It’s good, and it’s bad
The gap between men and women on alcohol consumption — the question, do you drink at all? — shrank steadily over the last 70 years. Men born in the early 1900s were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol than women. Men born in the late 1900s are only slightly more likely to drink alcohol than women.
The gap has also narrowed when it comes to the prevalence of alcohol abuse and alcohol-related health problems. That’s most evident among young adults, Slade said, which suggests health officials should keep tabs on today’s millennials as they age to monitor shifting alcohol use patterns.
I’m cheering us on, my dear women friends, because this is a side effect of getting closer to overall equality. But I mainly want to cry out, wake up! If you want to drink wine or any other alcohol-based beverage, stop being stupid and learn about it, be more honest about yourself. The good, bad and ugly of booze – men have been drinking and observing the impact of alcohol on themselves far longer than women in most parts of the world.
Few women have the example of a mother who drinks intelligently, to learn from – just consider the statistics about women drinking. We drink and then we drink a bit more, and we think that somehow all these health and social concerns about alcohol don’t really apply to us. I hear women saying that wine is good for your iron, that champagne doesn’t count because it’s weaker, that several glasses can’t hurt because, just look at the Mediterranean diet.
Bull. Half of the “science” we love to quote in cute FB cartoons is dubious at best, and the other half we just plain get wrong, possibly because we’re a bit pickled when it catches our attention.
Women are a wine marketer’s dream now. We are the wine buyers and, increasingly, we are the drinkers. All of the things we think we want in life are neatly packaged into pitches that are designed to encourage us to buy more, drink more. Beauty, fitness, sex and more sex, a great job, money, terrific home, etc. – keep drinking.
Enough, please. A little wine helps you relax, can enhance romantic or sexual moments when you’re emotionally naked, reminds you how nice your friends and family are when you share a bottle, even allows you to overlook the fact that the pants you just bought are not flattering and that the man you’re with is a nerd, etc.
I sometimes drink alone, only a very good wine, with a good book, possibly with a meal, often by candlelight: I appreciate my own company and this is a good thing. Popular rules suggest drinking alone is a bad idea but like most rules you need to understand why they exist and if they really make sense for you. You have to be honest with yourself.
A little more wine and you’re over the line into sloppiness and moodiness and relationships turning rocky; you feel that you’re not a success and no one loves you. More than that and – never intended and it happens to nice people – you’re in the headlines as a rape or murder victim or, more likely, you’re not making headlines anywhere because you’ve headed down that slippery slope to alcoholism and friendless anonymity.
Wine isn’t evil, nor is it inherently good. It’s a beautiful food product created by artisans, at its best, and it can teach us to respect the land, work, creativity, the joy of good food, shared moments of love and pleasure – in short, it is a means to a bonus of happiness, as long as we are smart enough not to get sloppy drunk on it. I don’t agree at all with the UK health minister who suggests the only right amount of wine is none, and I’m quite sure there are scientific studies to back up both of us.
I love wine, for all that it adds to this already rich life. But two people I’ve recently spent time with come to mind, and they exemplify where wine can take you. One of my oldest, closest friends has become an alcoholic. Gone is the beautiful person I once knew, taken over by demons, and I assure you she never expected this to happen.
At the other extreme, I’ve just met a man who is 108 years old, alert, calm, smiling, happy to be surrounded by a proud family, several generations. It was in the context of a visit to Sardinia to learn about Cannonau wines, and a lecture on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet of fresh fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, olive oil and of course, the wine. But it only works if you also have: love, exercise, physical work, minimal stress.
Let’s stop being stupid about wine, which we women too easily use as a crutch – the more of it and the faster the better – and learn to appreciate it. Drink it, learn how it is made, talk to the winemakers, visit the vineyards, admire the grapes. And share it. Sensibly.