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Thinking Drinking

Experts promote Guidelines for Sensible Wine Drinking

By Christina Waters

FIRST THERE WAS Prohibition, Then there was Nancy Reagan scolding people to "Just Say No!" America's Puritan roots show every time we try to force or shame people into totally abstaining from alcohol. And statistics show that outlawing or forbidding simply does not work. Interestingly enough, in societies where wine is consumed as a part of shared customs and daily dining habits, like Italy and France, alcohol abuse is low. And we all know that wine plays an important part in religions rituals, from the Seder to the Mass, at celebrations of marriage and the start of each new year. So the trick is to make sure that we all know how to handle our wine, so that we don't have to abandon cultural traditions in the name of public safety.

The six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's mark the mega-season for the nation's wine retailers, when upwards of 30 percent of annual wine sales occur, for both consumption and gift-giving. So this is the perfect time to go over the Guidelines for Sensible Wine Drinking formulated by scientists at a recent meeting put together by Oldways, the Cambridge-based think tank that promotes healthy eating through education, and which authored the acclaimed Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

Experts from the Boston University School of Medicine, Brown University and Harvard School of Public Health kicked around the various issues of the newly discovered "French paradox"--namely that wine, especially red wine consumed in moderation, actually benefits health. They considered the role wine plays in so many traditional (i.e., non-urban, sustainable, agriculturally based) ways of life, and they agreed that education rather than prohibition is the most sensible approach to wine drinking.

The guidelines reflect research findings that the health benefits of moderate wine drinking (defined as two glasses daily for men, one glass daily for women) are greatest when it is consumed with food rather than alone. Exactly what winemakers have been telling us for years. The Oldways panel agreed that wine drinking has been an important ritual and pleasure in human life through history, and that moderate wine consumption contributes to a healthy diet because sensible approaches to consumption can actually help to prevent alcohol abuse.

The experts also suggest that we all have responsibility to educate young people (and everybody else), using the following guidelines. Remember the word "guideline" means just that--it isn't written in stone, but it gives some enlightened direction.

  • Wine should be consumed by healthy adults only in moderation. Self-explanatory.

  • Wine is seen as a part of social, family, celebratory occasion, but not the central focus. Your sister is not getting married in order for you to get plastered.

  • Wine is best consumed with food or around mealtimes. Duh!

  • Education helps prevent alcohol abuse, and we're all responsible for conveying the lessons. Teachers, friends, families--we can all speak up, and help set examples.

  • Moderate drinking is a social activity; excessive drinking violates both legal and social standards. Spend five minutes with a surly drunk and you'll get the idea. Or consider how much suffering and damage is done to others by individuals driving (illegally) under the influence.

  • Parents should set an example of moderation. Parents are the key educators in any child's life. Period.

  • The choice to not drink, for whatever reason, must be respected. Being pushy is bad enough, but pushing alcohol is both rude and dangerous.

  • Wine drinkers should know the difference between moderate use and abuse--above all, don't drink if doing so might endanger someone. (Including yourself!)

  • Drink wine slowly, savor it, taste it, enjoy it. Remember you're enjoying the moment, not obliterating it.

See how intuitive these guidelines are? It's stuff we all already knew, but now is a perfect time for a reminder. And for those who have young adults at home, rather than forbidding them to touch wine--thereby making it something they want to run out and guzzle--take some quality time to introduce them to imbibing fine wines with food. Educate them now, and they'll understand how to enjoy wines for the rest of their lives. Educate them now, and they'll have a "rest of their lives."

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From the December 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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