Barkeep: Another 'moderate' round, please!

Health experts say that "moderate" drinking is practically no drinking at all, but that's not what they show on Mad Men. Nor would it sustain the Northwest economy.
Crosscut archive image.
Health experts say that "moderate" drinking is practically no drinking at all, but that's not what they show on Mad Men. Nor would it sustain the Northwest economy.

File this story under belaboring the obvious: "Drinking Your Way to Health? Perhaps Not." Is it really news that consuming booze isn't the way to fitness and health? I always thought of winos as the paragons of physical specimens, akin to Greek Gods.

Maybe there are a few idiots who think that, but I doubt it. The real question addressed in this story is whether so-called "moderate" amounts of alcohol can be beneficial. Some studies indicate, for example, that red wine seems to be good for some folks (all those anti-oxidants, etc.). Drinkers, like chocolate lovers, love to wave these reports around to justify their cravings and indulgences. It reminds me of Woody Allen's Sleeper where Rip Van Woody wakes up to discover that steak is health food in the future.

The fact that these studies get publicity, alongside articles on the perils of obesity, suggest that we're desperate for science to enable us and feed our denial. So much so that health officials feel they have to mount a counter-offensive to remind us that boozing is bad. One reason, it seems to me, is the terminology. For example, what is "moderate" drinking? My bet is that few people reading this would have the same definition, let alone live by it. According to health experts, moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women, two for men, in the following quantities:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer or wine cooler
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor

Now in the Pacific Northwest, where we cater artisanally to our bad habits (wine, microbrews, caffeinated beverages, hand-made cupcakes and French breads), I cannot imagine that this level of alcohol consumption would be seen as moderate. A man who drinks a mere pint and a half of beer per day is moderate? A woman is allowed one Budweiser? In another time, this would have been seen as being on the wagon. I remember a line from the TV series Mad Men where an executive is described as being a recovered alcoholic because he "drinks only beer now."

Of course, in the fantasy world of Mad Men, everyone looks great, drinks and smokes with abandon at work and on the job, and you can make it into your mid-30s without showing the least sign of road wear. I spent some time in the 1980s working on a project with J. Walter Thompson in New York and I can vouch for the levels of booze consumption (only, it being the '80s, add drugs). In fact, J. Walter had a bar that set up every night in a lunch room so employees could have a toot before heading out for a drink. Hey, why not keep some of that money in-house? But I must say, no one looked as good as Don Draper.

Drinking is physical, bio-chemical, but it is also cultural, and so is the idea of moderation. I suspect Seattle's bars and restaurants would go broke if we adhered to American Heart Association standards. Instead of moderation, they should be more honest and say that only a tiny amount of alcohol might have a benefit, though that doesn't measure the fellowship that can be had in the imbibing process. On the other hand, the idea that drinking is like eating your fruits and veggies is an exercise in wishful thinking, even if that's what you see on TV.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.