The Lush Chronicles: Why We Drink- Because We Can

The Lush Chronicles: Why We Drink- Because We Can

November, 2010: Prohibition continues in America. Well, marijuana prohibition. And alcohol after certain hours. And tobacco in certain places. And generic versions of long-monopolized medications. And flavored cigarettes for a series of thoroughly asinine reasons. And horse meat because our country is still in love with the romanticized version of the genocidal gunslingers of the Old West. And a long list of other things that are banned for no good reason whatsoever.

The United States has such an odd relationship with vice, or even innocent indulgence, because our culture has struggled with the puritanism of self-denial ever since white people set foot on the soil that would become a maddeningly pervasive empire. Everything about the American approach to indulgence is restrained in some way. Say what you will about our society's propensity for sugar, fat and oversized food, a lot of that stuff isn't so much indulgent as negligent. European pastries have as much sugar and butter per ounce as a Twinkie but they use those ingredients to incredible effect. Would you ever really describe a Twinkie as "buttery"? No, of course not. It's greasy rather than buttery, sickly sweet rather than rich. In essence, it's an indulgent pastry done wrong. The pleasure of excess is ignored while the physical necessities of fat and sugar in the baking process remain. And why? Because Americans want a nondescript cake that costs 99 cents rather than a $6.00 eclair. The latter is just too damn indulgent.

Look elsewhere in our star-spangled palate and you'll see similar things. We drink millions of gallons of coffee that has all the caffeine of an Italian roast but it's vile, acidy stuff dripped through the plastic of an automatic percolator. We drink bland, lukewarm tea instead of the piping hot stuff enjoyed by everyone west of Asia Minor. We smoke stale, non-committal tobacco instead of sweet, full-flavored leaves and we eat tough, grainy meat because we'd rather pay factory discounts than local farm prices.

In the same vein, Americans want to drink alcohol but we won't let ourselves enjoy it with too much leisure. It's all about rushing to the liquor store before it closes, making sure children never so much as sit at the same table as alcohol and making sure to be contrite about the very existence of the stuff. What distiller today feels comfortable advertising their product without chaining it to the phrase "drink responsibly"? As if to say, "don't you know that stuff will turn you into a car-crashing, sex-crazed animal?" It's all echoes of the 18th Amendment, of a culture that has never been willing to call alcohol or any other indulgence better than something you hide in shame, like a little boy with a nudie magazine.

Those of us who drink (and I mean really drink, preferring good stuff and strong stuff) do so in America knowing full well that it's not a natural, human right in our country, but a privilege hard-won against those who would shame us for doing so. We drink because we can, at least for today. In America it's an act of defiance just to completely enjoy anything.