The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Brookston & Porter

ice-bucket
So you’ve probably noticed that one of the latest internet memes is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and money for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The idea involves “dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research.” Also, the “challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and challenging others to do the same.” I was challenged by my friend and colleague, Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the Celebrator Beer News, who also tapped Stephen Beaumont and Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association. So here’s my video, with my son Porter, who decided he wanted to join me.

You can find out more about how to donate at the ALS Association or the MDA.

THE ALS ASSOCIATION

I also challenged three friends:

  1. Fal Allen, brewmaster, Anderson Valley Brewing
  2. Justin Crossley, founder, The Brewing Network
  3. John Holl, Editor, All About Beer magazine

Now it’s their turn. No thanks necessary.

The Battle Over Beer Label Approval

TTB
The Daily Beast had an interesting profile of Kent “Battle” Martin, the person responsible for approving every single beer label at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, in Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator. I’d heard of Martin — um, Battle, I mean — before, but didn’t realize he was the only person approving or denying label applications. I think I assumed he was simply part of a larger staff. I can’t say having a single person in charge of interpreting a fairly vague set of laws in a particularly good idea. There have been some very strange, seemingly nonsensical and contradictory decisions over the years, and I’d always thought that was because those were made by various people interpreting the regulations differently, the way the California ABC does, or the arbitrary way that movie ratings are given. I have to say, I don’t think that should be left to just one individual, no matter how dedicated or hard-working, as Battle apparently is, according to the article.

lagunitas-censored

The Heart & Health & Beer

heart
I can’t tell you how sick I am of the unscrupulous tactics of prohibitionists; the way they bend the truth to suit their agenda, the way they play so fast and loose with the truth and the way they demonize those of us in the alcohol industry. I find their hypocrisy more than a little unsettling, especially when they claim to be “watchdogs,” keeping the alcohol industry honest, while being so dishonest in the process. Why they continue to receive positive press is bewildering to me. Here’s the latest example of this, from one of the most egregious of the bunch, Alcohol Justice. Here’s what they’ve recently added to their daily tweetings.

aj-tweet-8-3

Oh, Alcohol Justice, how do I hate thee, let me count the ways.

  1. Alcohol no benefit to the heart, even light use: You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that clicking on the subsequent link takes you to a story that says roughly the same thing, but that the study’s conclusion requires a great leap from one conclusion to another, with no obvious causation or relation of one to the other, as you’ll see below. AJ happily picks up on bad and sloppy reporting, and an apparently agenda promoting press release without ever noticing that the basis for all of it does not support the headline.
  2. Refutes bogus industry claims: Okay, this one really pisses me off. The claims about how moderate alcohol consumption can benefit heart health are not “industry claims,” but comes from numerous scientific studies, and dismissing them all as “bogus” with a wave of the hand over one so-called study, even if right on point, is so mindbogglingly disingenuous and dishonest to make them utterly fundamentalist prohibitionist wingnuts with absolutely no regard for honesty or truth whatsoever.

Unfortunately they’re lead down this rabbit hole partly by one media outlet, a press release by one of the universities involved in the study and even a weird, untrue statement by one of the researchers.

So let’s start with the news media report. Alcohol does not benefit the heart, claims new study is on the website Medical News Today, which in the past has also used misleading headlines and twisted analysis of studies to misrepresent the results. The article is written by a Catharine Paddock, who apparently has a PhD and despite writing numerous times about medical and health topics, has a background as a “technical writer in the computer and electronics industry.” She also “enjoys keeping fit, yoga, reading, [and] walking,” so she’s obviously qualified to write about complex medical studies. But to be fair, she pretty much uncritically reports and reworks the press release on the study. Despite Medical New Today helpfully providing links to both the press release and the original study, she appears not to have read or looked at the study itself, otherwise she might have noticed that the two don’t really agree.

Next, let’s look at the “news release” from Penn Medicine, titled New Study Shows Drinking Alcohol, Even Light-to-Moderate Amounts, Provides No Heart Health Benefit, subtitled “Results Call into Question Previous Studies Suggesting One Drink Per Day May Promote Cardiovascular Health,” so it’s obvious that’s where the mischaracterizations begin. Curiously, they don’t even provide a link to the study that’s the subject of their news release. But given that they’re pushing this study to toot their own horn, to promote the work of their own Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s not too surprising that they’d oversell its accomplishments. It’s slightly more surprising that the mainstream news media would not critically question it, but it’s still troubling and more than a little annoying given that most people expect that a news story has been vetted and checked for accuracy. But more often what happens is overworked journalists simply rework a press release into a story and often don’t bother investigating its veracity or interview anyone with a contrary opinion or even someone simply outside or not involved in the organization who put out the press release itself.

But let’s go first to the study itself, titled simply Association between alcohol and cardiovascular disease: Mendelian randomisation analysis based on individual participant data. Here’s the abstract:

Objective To use the rs1229984 variant in the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B gene (ADH1B) as an instrument to investigate the causal role of alcohol in cardiovascular disease.

Design Mendelian randomisation meta-analysis of 56 epidemiological studies.

Participants 261 991 individuals of European descent, including 20 259 coronary heart disease cases and 10 164 stroke events. Data were available on ADH1B rs1229984 variant, alcohol phenotypes, and cardiovascular biomarkers.

Main outcome measures Odds ratio for coronary heart disease and stroke associated with the ADH1B variant in all individuals and by categories of alcohol consumption.

Results Carriers of the A-allele of ADH1B rs1229984 consumed 17.2% fewer units of alcohol per week (95% confidence interval 15.6% to 18.9%), had a lower prevalence of binge drinking (odds ratio 0.78 (95% CI 0.73 to 0.84)), and had higher abstention (odds ratio 1.27 (1.21 to 1.34)) than non-carriers. Rs1229984 A-allele carriers had lower systolic blood pressure (−0.88 (−1.19 to −0.56) mm Hg), interleukin-6 levels (−5.2% (−7.8 to −2.4%)), waist circumference (−0.3 (−0.6 to −0.1) cm), and body mass index (−0.17 (−0.24 to −0.10) kg/m2). Rs1229984 A-allele carriers had lower odds of coronary heart disease (odds ratio 0.90 (0.84 to 0.96)). The protective association of the ADH1B rs1229984 A-allele variant remained the same across all categories of alcohol consumption (P=0.83 for heterogeneity). Although no association of rs1229984 was identified with the combined subtypes of stroke, carriers of the A-allele had lower odds of ischaemic stroke (odds ratio 0.83 (0.72 to 0.95)).

Conclusions Individuals with a genetic variant associated with non-drinking and lower alcohol consumption had a more favourable cardiovascular profile and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease than those without the genetic variant. This suggests that reduction of alcohol consumption, even for light to moderate drinkers, is beneficial for cardiovascular health.

So in this case, after all the scary headlines and statements like “[t]he latest findings call into question previous studies which suggest that consuming light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol (0.6-0.8 fluid ounces/day) may have a protective effect on cardiovascular health” they finally get to the truth, of sorts, well after many people probably stopped reading. Here it is: “Researchers found that individuals who carry a specific gene which typically leads to lower alcohol consumption over time have, on average, superior cardiovascular health records. Specifically, the results show that individuals who consume 17 percent less alcohol per week have on average a 10 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure and a lower Body Mass Index.” That’s right, the conclusion is about people with a specific gene.

In the study’s abstract conclusion, they go from stating that those people who have the specific genetic variant drink less and also had “a reduced risk of coronary heart disease than those without the genetic variant” to a conclusion that therefore “reduction of alcohol consumption, even for light to moderate drinkers, is beneficial for cardiovascular health.” But that makes no sense whatsoever.

But perhaps more annoying is a comment by one of the researchers at Penn, Co-lead author Michael Holmes, who essentially dismisses every study before his own as worthless as he arrogantly mansplains that those were all observational studies, just mere “observations,” unlike his study. His tone is clearer when you watch the video, but essentially it’s this, from the media report:

He explains how for some time, observational studies have suggested only heavy drinking is bad for the heart, and that light drinking might even provide some benefit, and this has led some people to believe moderate consumption is good for their health, even lowering their risk of heart disease.

And from the press release:

“These new results are critically important to our understanding of how alcohol affects heart disease. Contrary to what earlier reports have shown, it now appears that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health,” says co-lead author Michael Holmes, MD, PhD, research assistant professor in the department of Transplant Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “For some time, observational studies have suggested that only heavy drinking was detrimental to cardiovascular health, and that light consumption may actually be beneficial. This has led some people to drink moderately based on the belief that it would lower their risk of heart disease. However, what we’re seeing with this new study, which uses an investigative approach similar to a randomized clinical trial, is that reduced consumption of alcohol, even for light-to-moderate drinkers, may lead to improved cardiovascular health.”

In addition, his statement that people have been taking up drinking alcohol because previous studies showed a positive association between moderate drinking and heart health is utterly obnoxious. I’ve read a lot of these studies and every single one is overly careful to make sure nobody should ever take their study’s conclusion as a catalyst to start drinking. Between that and the incessant chorus in our society about the dangers of drinking or the idea that drinking’s a sin, this statement, I think, tells us more about his own personal issues with alcohol than any objective reality.

But despite the dismissive tone, waving aside every other study on this topic, suggesting this one study somehow supersedes and replaces them all, there have been perhaps hundreds, or more, studies around the world on the association between alcohol consumption and heart health. I have a hard time accepting that every one of them was “observational” or that they’re all now meaningless now that he’s done this one.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in U.S., but moderate drinking can reduce risks 40-60% [Journal, Alcoholism, 2004] and the benefits of alcohol on the heart has been known since 1904 [Journal of the AMA, 1904].

The Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wrote that “Numerous well-designed studies have concluded that moderate drinking is associated with improved cardiovascular health” and a Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association reported that “the lowest mortality occurs in those who consume one or two drinks per day.” On top of that, the World Health Organization Technical Committee on Cardiovascular Disease asserted that the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced death from heart disease could no longer be doubted. [AIM Digest (Supplement), June 1997].

And here’s just a sample of previous studies, taken from Alcohol Problems and Solutions. And none of them are bogus industry claims, either.

Heart Health

Medical research has demonstrated a strong relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and reduction in cardiovascular disease in general and coronary artery disease in particular. [Moore, R., and Pearson, T. Moderate alcohol consumption and coronary artery disease. Medicine, 1986, 65 (4), 242-267.]

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that moderate drinking is beneficial to heart health, resulting in a sharp decrease in heart disease risk (40%-60%). [Highlights of the NIAAA position paper on moderate alcohol consumption. Press release from the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, June 14, 2004; Berman, Jessica. Moderate alcohol consumption benefits heart, U.S. government says. Voice of America News, June 16, 2004.] This is important because cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and heart disease kills about one million Americans each and every year. [American Heart Association web site.]

The Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wrote that “Numerous well-designed studies have concluded that moderate drinking is associated with improved cardiovascular health,” and the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association reported that “The lowest mortality occurs in those who consume one or two drinks per day.” [Pearson, T.A. (for the American Heart Association). Alcohol and heart disease. Circulation, 1996, 94, 3023-3025.] A World Health Organization Technical Committee on Cardiovascular Disease asserted that the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced death from heart disease can no longer be doubted. [Wilkie, S. Global overview of drinking recommendations and guidelines. AIM Digest (Supplement), June, 1997, 2-4, 4.]

  • Researchers studied volunteers in seven European countries and found that people who have a daily drink of beer, wine or distilled spirits (whiskey, rum, tequila, etc.) have significantly better arterial elasticity, a strong indicator of of heart health and cardiovascular health, than nondrinkers. Moderate drinkers also had significantly better pulse rates than those of abstainers from alcohol.
  • A study of 1,795 subjects found that “the risk of extensive coronary calcification was 50% lower in individuals who consumed one to two alcoholic drinks per day than in nondrinkers.” [Vliegenthart, R., et al. Alcohol consumption and coronary calcification in a general population. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2004 (November 22), 164, 2355-2360.]
  • Research demonstrates that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better endothelial function, which contributes to better heart health and lowers risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. [Suzuki, K., et al. Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better endothelial function: a cross sectional study. BMC Cardiovasc. Discord., 2009, 9, 8.]
  • A study of over 3,000 men and women found that those who never drank alcohol were at a greater risk of having high levels of CRP and IL-6 (excellent predictors of heart attack) than were those who consumed alcoholic beverages in moderation. [Price, J.H. Light drinking lowers bad proteins. The Washington Times, February 11, 2004.]

Moderate Drinkers are Less Likely to Suffer Coronary Heart Disease and Heart Attacks (Acute Myocardial Infarctions) than are Abstainers or Heavy Drinkers.

  • A National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism review of research studies from at least 20 countries around the world demonstrate a 20- to 40-percent lower coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence among drinkers compared to nondrinkers. It asserts that “The totality of evidence on moderate alcohol and CHD supports a judgment of a cause-effect relationship… there are cardioprotective benefits associated with responsible, moderate alcohol intake.” [Hennekens, C. H. Alcohol and Risk of Coronary Events. In: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and the Cardiovascular System. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.]
  • Harvard researchers have identified the moderate consumption of alcohol as a proven way to reduce coronary heart disease risk.[Manson, J. E., et al. The primary prevention of myocardial infarction. The New England Journal of Medicine, 1992, 326(21), 1406-1416.]
  • A study of 18,455 males from the Physicians Health Study revealed that those originally consuming one drink per week or less who increased their consumption up to to six drinks per week had a 29% reduction in CVD risk compared to those who did not increase their consumption. Men originally consuming 1-6 drinks per week who increased their consumption moderately had an additional 15% decrease in CVD risk. [Sesso, H.D., et al. Seven -year changes in alcohol consumption and subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease in men. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001, 160, 2505-2612.]
  • The Harvard Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of over 44,000 men found moderate alcohol consumption to be associated with a 37% reduction in coronary disease. [Rimm, E., et al. Prospective study of alcohol consumption and risk of coronary disease in men. The Lancet. 1991, 338, 464-468.]
  • A British study of women found moderate consumption of alcohol to be associated with lower levels of cardiovascular risk factors. [Razay, G., et al. Alcohol consumption and its relation to cardiovascular risk factors in British women. British Medical Journal, 1992, 304, 80-83.]
  • A study of over 5,000 women with type 2 diabetes mellitus found that coronary heart disease rates “were significantly lower in women who reported moderate alcohol intake than in those who reported drinking no alcohol.” Women who drank more than 5 grams (about one-third glass) a day reduced their risk of CHD (fatal or nonfatal) by more than half. [Solomon, C. G., et al. Moderate alcohol consumption and risk of coronary heart disease among women with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Circulation, 2000, 102, 494-499.]
  • In a study of nearly 88,000 men, researchers found that drinking reduced risk of coronary heart disease risk among both diabetics and non-diabetics. Weekly consumption of alcohol reduced CHD risk by one-third (33%) while daily consumption reduced the risk by over half (58%) among diabetics. For non-diabetics, weekly consumption reduced CHD risk by 18% while daily consumption reduced the risk by 39%. [Ajani, U. A., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of coronary heart disease by diabetic status. Circulation, 2000, 102, 500.]
  • Light to moderate consumption of alcohol appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by as much as 80% among individuals with older-onset diabetes, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. [Valmidrid, C. T., et al. Alcohol intake and the risk of coronary heart disease mortality in persons with older-onset diabetes mellitus. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999, 282(3), 239-246.]
  • The Honolulu Heart Study found a 49% reduction in coronary heart disease among men who drank alcohol in moderation. [Blackwelder, W. C., et al. Alcohol and mortality. The Honolulu Heart Study. American Journal of Medicine, 1980, 68(2), 164-169.]
  • Harvard researchers concluded about coronary heart disease that “Consumption of one or two drinks of beer, wine, or liquor per day has corresponded to a reduction in risk of approximately 20-40%.” [Manson, J. E., et al. Prevention of Myocardial Infarction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.]
  • At a scientific conference, researchers from Korea, Italy, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United States reported finding striking reductions in death among moderate drinkers, with heart disease and total mortality rates about one half or less compared to non-drinkers. [Trevisan, M., et al. Drinking pattern and mortality: a longitudinal study; Gaziano, J. M., et al. A prospective cohort study of moderate alcohol consumption and sudden death in the Physicians’ Health Study; Keil, U., et al. The relation of alcohol to coronary heart disease and total mortality in a beer drinking population in Southern Germany; Waskiewicz, A., et al. Alcohol consumption and l l-year total and CVD mortality among men in Pol-MONICA study; Grobbee, D. E., et al. Alcohol and cardiovascular risk in the elderly. All presented at the 4th International Conference on Preventive Cardiology, Montreal, Canada, June 29-July 3, 1997, and published in Abstracts from the 4th International Conference on Preventive Cardiology. The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, June, 1997, volume 13, Supplement B.]
  • After over 6,000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study were followed for a period of six to ten years, researchers found that “when consumed in moderation, alcohol appears to protect against congestive heart failure.” [Walsh, C. R., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk for congestive heart failure in the Framingham Heart Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002, 136(3), 181-191.]
  • The American Heart Association, based on the research evidence, concludes that the “Consumption of one or two drinks per day is associated with a [CHD] reduction in risk of approximately 30% to 50%.” [Pearson, Thomas A. (for the American Heart Association). Alcohol and heart disease. Circulation, 1996, 94, 3023-3025.]
  • After reviewing the research, Dr. David Whitten reported that “The studies that have been done show pretty clearly that the chances of suffering cardiac death are dramatically reduced by drinking” one or two drinks a day and asserted that “We don’t have any drugs that are as good as alcohol.” [Whitten, D. Wine Institute Seminar. San Francisco, CA: 1987. Quoted in Ford, G. The French Paradox and Drinking for Health. San Francisco, CA: Wine Appreciation Guild, 1993. Pp. 26-27.]
  • Based on the medical evidence, noted investigator Dr. Curtis Ellison asserted that “abstinence from alcohol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.” [Vin, sante & societe. AIM, 1995, 4(2), 7-10, p. 9.]

The Moderate Consumption of Alcohol Increases the Survivability of Heart Attacks

  • Drinking alcohol in moderation throughout the year before a heart attack or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) has been found to reduce the risk of dying afterward. Moderate drinkers had the lowest mortality rate, reducing their risk by 32%, compared to abstainers. The health benefits were virtually identical for beer, distilled spirits, and wine. [Mulcamel, K.J., et al. Alcohol consumption after myocardial infarction. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2001, 285(15), 1965-1970; Alcohol and AMI: Benefits from beer, wine, and liquor. American Journal of Nursing, 2001, 101(8), 18.]
  • Men who consume two to four drinks of alcohol after a heart attack are less likely to experience a second heart attack than are abstainers, according to a study of 353 male heart attack survivors. Researchers found that men who consumed an average of two drinks of alcohol per day were 59% less likely than non-drinkers to have another heart attack. Those who drank an average of four drinks per day experienced a risk reduction of 52% compared to abstainers. [de Lorgeril, M., et al. Wine drinking and risks of cardiovascular complications after recent acute myocardial infarction. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, 2002, 106, 1465-1469.]
  • Research at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that drinking alcohol (beer, wine, or distilled spirits) in moderation reduced the damage to effected tissue following a heart attack. [Dayton C, DC Gute, P Carter, and RJ Korthuis. Antecedent ethanol prevents postischemic P-selectin expression in murine small intestine. Microcirculation, 2004, 11, 709-718.]
  • A study for a five year period of over 85,000 men who had suffered previous heart attacks found that “moderate alcohol intake was associated with a significant decrease in total mortality” compared to nondrinkers. [Gaziano, J., et al. Potential mortality benefits for drinkers with previous heart attacks. The Lancet, 1998, 352, M 1882-1885.]

Alcohol Abstainers Who Begin Drinking Reduce Their Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

  • During a ten year study of 7,697 non-drinkers, investigators found that 6% began consuming alcohol in moderation. After four years of follow-up, new moderate drinkers had a 38% lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease than did those who continued abstaining. Even after adjusting for physical activity, Body Mass Index (BMI), demographic and cardiac risk factors, this difference persisted.
      
    This study is important because it provides additional strong evidence that the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease among moderate drinkers is a result of the alcohol itself rather than any differences in lifestyle, genetics, or other factors. [King, Dana E., Mainous, III, Arch G. and Geesey, Mark E. Adopting moderate alcohol consumption in middle-age: Subsequent cardiovascular events. American Journal of Medicine, 2008 (March), 121(3).]
  • A study of men with high blood pressure found that those who averaged one to six drinks per week has a 39% lower risk of death from cardiovascular causes than were abstainers. Those who averaged more (one or two drinks each day) were 44% less likely to experience such death. [Malinski, M.K., Sesso, H.D., Lopez-Jimenez, F., Buring, J.E., and Gaziano, M. Alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease mortality in hypertensive men. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2004, 164(6), 623.]
  • Frequent Drinkers Enjoy Greater Heart-Health Benefits than Those Who Drink Less Often
    In a study of nearly 88,000 men, researchers found reductions in coronary heart disease risk with increasing frequency of drinking alcohol for both diabetics and non-diabetics. Weekly consumption of alcohol reduced CHD risk by one-third (33%) while daily consumption reduced the risk by over half (58%) among diabetics. For non-diabetics, weekly consumption reduced CHD risk by 18% while daily consumption reduced the risk by 39%. [Anani, U. A., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of coronary heart disease by diabetes status. Circulation, 2000, 102, 500-505.]

And that’s just a sample, obviously. While this new study is interesting, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the rs1229984 variant in the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B gene (ADH1B), it’s seems more than a little premature to throw out everything that’s come before it. But back to ADH1B. How many people have that gene variant. How can people know if they have it? Although curiously, it’s mentioned in passing that people with the gene variant are also slightly more likely to smoke. Doesn’t it seem at least as likely that the while the gene variant may have a positive effect on heart health, that not having ADH1B isn’t automatically a negative, but the norm? Without knowing the percentage of the population that has this gene variant, it seems odd to me that the conclusion is that the rest of us are somehow negatively impacted by not having what’s by definition a mutation. If having it is good for your heart, can it be synthesized?

Also, in their conclusions, they found that people with the ADH1B gene variant, in addition to drinking less, also “exhibited lower levels of blood pressure, inflammatory biomarkers, adiposity measures, and non-HDL cholesterol,” which could also be contributing to their heart health, couldn’t they? The most confounding conclusion, that simply because they used mendelian randomisation “that reduction of alcohol consumption, even for light to moderate drinkers, is beneficial for cardiovascular health” I confess I don’t fully understand. Not being a scientist, and not having come across mendelian randomisation before, I don’t fully understand how it can provide results that are so certain, despite it apparently being prone to misleading conclusions from “linkage disequilibrium, genetic heterogeneity, pleiotropy, or population stratification” or any of the biases or problems that you’d have with any study. Almost every preliminary study, or whenever one is the first of its kind, the researchers are always careful not to make too much of their results. They always caution people from drawing too many conclusions and usually state that further research is necessary to confirm or invalidate their findings. That’s how the scientific method is supposed to work, I always thought. But in this instance, one study is being touted as the be all, end all in understanding the relationship between alcohol and your heart. That seems very strange to me. Maybe that’s my ignorance, but neither the press release nor the news report on the study has done anything to clear it up. Considering that those are aimed at the general public, that seems like a big failure. But it certainly makes it easier for Alcohol Justice to jump in and claim victory that alcohol is now completely bad for everyone, no exceptions, despite society having endured quite well since the dawn of time with alcohol playing a fairly prominent role.

heart-beer

Blaming Alcohol For Rape

rape
Despite the title of this post, this is not about rape, it’s about alcohol, and prohibitionists. Okay, that’s not exactly true. It’s a little bit about rape, but it’s more about how alcohol is being blamed for it. Rape is without question one of the worst crimes there is, in some ways worse than murder because its effect on the victim never really goes away. Our society, however, doesn’t really take it as seriously as it should, especially if the rapist is from a prominent family, or plays sports. Having a mother, a wife and a daughter, I don’t really understand why we treat it so cavalierly, and often blame the victim, too. Since every man has a mother, and almost every one of them also has at least an aunt, sister, wife, daughter, niece, female cousin, etc., I really don’t get our society’s casualness with rape.

Yes, some other countries are even worse they we are, but that shouldn’t really matter, or excuse it. Time magazine recently put the topic on the cover of their magazine, in their May 26, 2014 issue, focusing on rape on college campuses. It’s a start. And at least it’s getting more attention, which it definitely should. I’ve seen a number of news outlets discussing it. And even the White House weighed in with a report, Not Alone, subtitled “The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.”

Unfortunately, it’s not all good. For example, it’s increasingly true that George Will is not just an out-of-touch old white man, but an asshole, too. But worse still, others are using the increased awareness of this abhorrent phenomenon for their own terrible purpose. Enter Alcohol Justice (AJ), who can’t help but see rape as alcohol’s fault, not as a crime of violence and power, like it actually is. Here’s what they’re tweeting:

aj-tweet-rape

To be fair, they didn’t come up with the title “Colleges can’t discount role of drinking in sexual assault,” but they certainly jumped on it to flog their faithful with more tales of the scourge of alcohol. They took it from an internal UB Reporter website and spread it far wider, in order to further their agenda. The “new data from UB,” as if anybody would know who UB is, comes from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

What’s upsetting the RIA, and by extension AJ, is that the White House report didn’t focus enough attention on binge drinking, which they believe is the heart of the problem. Just stop people binge drinking, and that will solve the rape issue on college campuses, goes the thinking.

“Research consistently shows that heavy alcohol use is a factor in a majority of college sexual assault cases,” Livingston says. “Therefore, reduction of binge drinking on campuses must be recognized as a crucial goal in assault prevention efforts.”

Not everybody agrees, of course, and the lone comment to the UB article is from an Anne Taylor, who takes exception:

The researchers are going about this wrong. Men who commit acts of rape and sexual assault will commit these crimes regardless of whether or not alcohol is present. Clearly, these researchers are ignorant about rape culture and its effects on society at large. Men who are rapists use alcohol (and drugs) as an aid to committing acts of rape. Do these researchers honestly believe that reducing binge drinking will reduce the number of men who are rapists? No, these men will simply find another way to prey on their chosen victims.

Maybe these researchers ought to do a little research on rape culture and the patriarchy before conducting their study? As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I am absolutely livid at these researchers for perpetuating one of the many myths of rape culture (i.e., that alcohol and “drunk women” are the only reasons why men rape, never mind the fact we live in an extremely sexist society that devalues women’s bodily autonomy).

The RIA does seem to acknowledge some of what Taylor expresses, when they say. “Some advocates worry that acknowledging the role of binge drinking in assaults is tantamount to blaming the victim, but our common goal here is to prevent sexual assaults by better understanding the conditions under which they are likely to occur.” But I think blaming the alcohol is exactly what they’re doing. At a minimum, that’s the result of shifting the focus from the crime to the question of whether anyone had been drinking. Not only does it blame the victim, but it also provides an excuse for the rapist. And while I’m certain that some students do use drinking alcohol as their way to take advantage of another person, making it about the alcohol removes the responsibility of the rapist, allowing him, and society, to blame it all on binge drinking. Whether binge drinking, or any drinking, is involved muddies the waters and shifts the focus of the rape away from where it belongs: on the heinous crime itself.

The RIA has apparently “conducted groundbreaking research on the association between binge drinking and college sexual assault,” and there’s a link to a fact sheet entitled Alcohol and Sexual Assault. Unfortunately, and not to take away from their efforts, there’s nothing “groundbreaking” here, it’s just an overview of some research and factoids addressing their displeasure with the White House report not making enough of drinking. Even if some of it were true, which no doubt some of it is, it ends up being an excuse for why it was acceptable in the mind of, in some cases, both parties. But this is one of the instances where there should be no ambiguity, a strict liability. Drinks or no drinks, it’s completely unacceptable, so why make it about the drinking?

Blaming alcohol, as RIA and AJ seem to be doing, is doing exactly what they’re claiming not to be doing, making the “role of alcohol” a “stumbling block when discussing prevention efforts.” Because a crime is a crime, whether someone’s been drinking or not. If we discovered that more robberies were perpetrated by people who’d been drinking, would we focus our attention on stopping everyone from drinking, or continue trying to stop robbers from committing the crime? If it was found that criminals who’d been drinking considered robbery more acceptable morally than sober criminals, would that in any way change our view of the crime? And I think that’s why the more serious reports, including the White House’s, are concentrating on stopping the crime, not looking for a bogeyman.

Here’s another way in which one of the rape myths is addressed, from Chapter 7: Violent Crimes Committed Against Women and Children of the Office of the Attorney General for the State of California Department of Justice.

Many people have the wrong idea about sexual assault. They mistakenly believe that rapists are overcome with sexual desire or that a woman who is raped may have dressed too seductively or “asked for it” in some manner. These ideas assume that rape is only a sexual act, a crime that is motivated by desire. It is not. Rape is a violent crime, a hostile act, and an attempt to hurt and humiliate another person. Sex is used as a weapon, and rapists use that weapon against women, strangers and acquaintances of all ages, races and body types.

People may think of it as somehow “okay,” but that doesn’t change what it really is: a terrible crime. You can find information about rape being a violent crime all over the place, from Abstract Nonsense, the Minnesota State University and even the National Institute of Justice. Anybody claiming that they thought it was okay, or was okay if they were drunk, is a Neanderthal that should be removed from society, period. I know that’s not how our society currently approaches rape and sexual assault, but making this a question about how alcohol does or doesn’t contribute to the state of mind of either party to this crime is not helping. In fact I think it’s doing more harm, because not everyone who drinks, or even binge drinks, is a rapist, or thinks sexual assault is acceptable. But that’s the most common prohibitionist tactic. If anything bad ever happens, even just once or twice, and someone involved had been drinking, then the only possible response is for everyone to stop drinking. It must be the alcohol’s fault, and personal responsibility apparently doesn’t really exist. If one person can’t handle their booze, then no one should ever be allowed to drink. The fact that we don’t approach any other societal problem in this manner never seems to matter, and there’s always some excuse about “alcohol” being somehow different because it has, well, alcohol in it. Or it’s a sin, or toxic, or some other ridiculous notion. Oh, and did you hear? It’s made with antifreeze, too, because brewers want to kill all their customers.

When you read more about this, it’s clear that there are a minority of sexual predators on college campuses, and some of them use alcohol as a weapon. According to research as early as 2002, we’ve known this to be the case. In a respected study at the University of Massachusetts, they found that rapes were perpetrated by only 6.4% of the male college students, but that each of them was a serial rapist, with an average of almost six sexual assaults. As is the case with a lot of social problems, alcohol included, a small number of people are making it awful for the rest of us. And our usual response it to let those bad actors determine our response, which inevitably punishes everyone. The White House was right, I think, in focusing on the crime itself, and not on any of the weapons, or on other distractions.

What AJ, and possibly the RIA conveniently seems to forget, is that one of the major causes of binge drinking on college campuses is that prohibitionists forced the minimum age from 18 to 21 by getting Congress to tie it public highway funds. In a sense, binge drinking on college campuses was an unintended consequence of trying to curb drunk driving. The RIA does acknowledge that “underage drinkers who are victimized may fear legal or disciplinary consequences for alcohol use.” That’s what drives college drinking underground, and into secret, and creates the conditions where binge drinking can flourish, and so can sexual predators. So if their real goal was to stop binge drinking in college, they should at the very least be questioning the minimum age and talking about how it would help bring drinking into the open, and thereby possibly reducing many of the negative aspects of binge drinking that they believe are increasing sexual assaults. That’s the entire point of the Amethyst Initiative, which has 136 chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States signed up to change the law for that very reason. I understand why AJ would never entertain that idea. It’s simply not possible for them to view alcohol in anything but the most negative way imaginable, but I’m baffled why the RIA wouldn’t at least suggest it as one possible solution.

Obviously, education is suggested by everybody, but alcohol education is all but nonexistent, apart from the “just say no” variety, which does no good whatsoever. In some states, it’s actually illegal to teach children about alcohol, even by their own parents. Changing the age from 21 back to 18, along with allowing parents (or others) to give teens real information about alcohol and its effects might go a long way toward reducing binge drinking in college, though I suspect it would have only a minimal effect on sexual assault. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it, or at least just talk about it.

According to RAINN (The Rape, Assault, Incest National Network), in 30% of sexual assaults the perpetrator was intoxicated with alcohol. That also means in 70% of cases, the rapist was not drunk. I accept that it’s possible that the figure is higher among assaults on college campuses. I’m not trying to downplay the crime here; just the opposite in fact. The point I’m trying to make is that the drinking should be beside the point. It should definitely not be the focus, because it simply shouldn’t matter if either victim or rapist was drinking, or drunk. And that’s what pisses me off about Alcohol Justice. In their rush to highlight anything negative about alcohol, they’re shamelessly blaming alcohol for rapes on college campuses, when it’s clear that bad people are are responsible for them. Good people don’t turn into rapists by drinking too much. Bad people are already bad, whether they drink alcohol or give it to their victims. I just wish Alcohol Justice, and the other prohibitionists, would stop blaming alcohol for every problem facing society.

The New Yellow Journalism

yellow-journalism
While to a certain extent it’s easy to understand the reaction of the big brewers, it’s still just sad. It’s the equivalent of negotiating with terrorists, in this case the food terrorists, so to speak. If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about yet, it’s the so-called Food Babe, and her weird crusade against beer, among many other foodstuffs. She’s the modern version of yellow journalism, all sensationalism and almost no substance. It’s described as “a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.”

Her first salvo was last year when she sensationally claimed to expose The Shocking Ingredients in Beer. Almost every one was as un-shocking as it gets, especially if you understand the brewing process. But that’s the new yellow journalism, and unfortunately you see it all over the internet. A provocative headline to grab page views, link bait or something just overly sensational is all you need. It’s happened so many times since I’ve been writing online that I’ve lost count. And it works. The beer community rushes in to correct egregious mistakes, faulty reasoning, uninformed opinion while the hit count spikes, advertisers smile and websites raise their advertising rates. It rarely matters that what’s written is often wrong, sometimes so utterly wrong that it should be embarrassing for not only the author, but the publication, too. And yet curiously, it’s not. And for me, that’s why it’s yellow journalism. It’s not intended to be factual, or well-researched or reasoned. It’s sole purpose is to get eyeballs on the page. And facts apparently are boring. The truth is somnambulistic. Controversy, even the manufactured kind, is what brings the traffic.

food-babe
The “Food Babe” with her comically large magnifying glass.

I don’t need to rehash all that was wrong with the original missive by the Food Babe, The Shocking Ingredients in Beer. Plenty of people dissected it at the time, though none better than Ambitious Brew author Maureen Ogle, who enlisted the help of several respected brewers in her lengthy, comprehensive denunciation What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery, which she later summarized in All About Beer Magazine as Don’t Be A Knee-Jerk, Research the Facts. As Ogle notes, the Food Babe started her “research” with a “baseline list of ‘legal’ additives allowed in beer from the book ‘Chemicals Additives in Beer’ by the Center of Science and Public Interest.” Despite its name, the CSPI is a prohibitionist organization that rarely has anything to do with actual science. It’s one of the most egregiously dishonest of the bunch, in my opinion, an opinion assembled from following them for many years. They’re hardly a good place to begin an honest attempt to look at the ingredients in beer. Plus she begins by stating she’s not even a beer drinker, but prefers wine, even though many of the process chemicals she accuses beer of being composed of are also used in making wine.

A close second, there was also Thomas Cizauskas’ take in Beer Wars: The Calumny of The Food Babe. But others, before and since, have noted that Vani Hari (the Food Babe’s given name) has zero credentials in food sciences, or any other science, apparently. See, for example the RationalWiki or Joe Schwarcz: The Food Babe is anything but an expert on GMOs, writing in the Montreal Gazette. There’s no shortage of people writing about what she’s saying — pro and con — and that, of course, is the point. She’s so out there that people can’t help it; the Ann Coulter of food punditry. Despite so many people crying foul, it’s had no effect whatsoever, which is exactly what you’d expect if truth was never really the goal.

So yesterday, she doubled down and penned an open letter and petition: Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors: Tell Us What’s In Your Beer! This, despite the fact that beer is hardly a mystery, and its ingredients and processes are not only well know, but readily available to anyone who wants to learn about them. But learning about what’s really in beer has apparently no interest to Hari whatsoever. There’s no angle she can sell in that. But ignorance is indeed blissful, and over 40,000 possibly well-meaning but similarly misguided people signed her petition, despite not really understanding the current law regarding alcohol is different for most other food products.

And she even contradicts herself with the basic premise. In her ridiculous graphic, she says that we know what’s in Coca-Cola and Windex, but not beer (even though she claimed to unearth what’s in beer last year) even though anyone paying attention already knows what’s in beer, how it’s made and the process chemicals that are not in the finished product. It’s hardly the #MysteryBeer she claims it to be. That’s a joke, a lie and a very effective way to drum up visitors. There’s no mystery to end, and she knows it. But it’s a fabulous way to get more attention for herself. And boy is it working.

But worst of all, earlier today ABI quickly caved. As a public company, I presume they concluded that the publicity was bad for their image, despite the absurdity of it. Of course, if she’d done even a modicum of actual research, she would have known that since at least 2012, ABI created a website (probably in response to the watering down claims) called tapintoyourbeer.com , which lists for every product they make, the ABV, fat, energy, carbohydrates and proteins. Now they’ve begun listing the primary ingredients for some of their products. For example, for Budweiser they list: “Water, Barley Malt, Rice, Yeast, Hops (ingredient listing is consistent with the FD&C Act).” In their official statement, they say they’ll be expanding that information with additional beer ingredients.

We provide significant information about our beer and their nutritional content through both our consumer hotline (1-800-DIAL-BUD) and our global consumer-information website www.tapintoyourbeer.com, which we have expanded over the years. This exceeds what is required of alcohol producers and is beyond what many other beer, wine and hard liquor producers provide. However, as American consumer needs evolve, we want to meet their expectations. Therefore, we are working to list our beer ingredients on our website, just as you would see for other food and non-alcohol beverage producers. We are beginning immediately, having incorporated this information earlier today on www.tapintoyourbeer.com for our flagship brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, and will be listing this for our other brands in the coming days.

To which, the Food Babe is claiming victory for her and her “Food Babe Army,” which is apparently what she calls her followers or fans, and states that they have “change[d] the policies of a multi-billion dollar company overnight.” But she’s not done, not until every brewery falls in line with her demands. She’s now posted a new graphic crowing about ABI caving in to her demands and asks what MillerCoors is hiding now that they’re “drinking in the dark,” whatever that means.

FB_AnheiserBuschHappyBeer
It’s curious how she had this photo of herself in front of a wall of beer cans all ready to go.

But according to Brewbound, MillerCoors also listed their primary ingredients on their Facebook page earlier today.

At MillerCoors, we put quality and safety above all else. Our beers are regulated by the TTB and every one of our products meets all federal and state regulatory requirements.

We’re proud of the care that goes into the production of all of our beers and have been brewing great-tasting beers with the highest quality ingredients for more than 440 combined years.

From the purity of the water we use to the highest-quality hops and malted barley, our brewmasters go to great lengths to ensure the quality and consistency of our beers.

We also value transparency and are happy to comply with the request for additional information. Earlier this year, we led all alcohol companies by voluntarily placing a nutritional label on our Miller64 brand and we will be putting more ingredient information online in the days ahead.

We will be including the ingredient list starting with our most popular brands, representing the overwhelming majority of our brand volume:

Coors Light, Miller Lite, Blue Moon Belgian White, Coors Banquet, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Keystone Light and Miller Fortune.
Coors Light: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Lite: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller High Life: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Keystone Light: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Blue Moon Belgian White: Water, barley malt, wheat, oats, yeast, hops, orange peel and coriander
Coors Banquet: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Genuine Draft: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Fortune: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops

Maybe she didn’t have time to update her graphics again. Certainly she knows Miller Coors posted these, because she’s posted on their Facebook page, with this:

I have an email from you that says you use “corn syrup” and it’s a main ingredient in your beer – also – you said via email that bluemoon and banquet both have corn syrup. Where’s the full list of ingredients?

They replied, trying to explain that “the corn we use is a liquid corn brewing adjunct, but it is not high fructose corn syrup.” The ignorance about brewing displayed in the comments, presumably by her Food Babe Army, is as alarming as it is remarkable.

The problem is with the first expose, where the Food Babe brought up many different chemicals and items which are used in the brewing process but are not ingredients. Some are used to cool the beer through the process, some for cleaning, and some for other purposes that don’t end up in the beer you drink, some of which never touch the beer at all. For just one example, she claimed glycol was in beer. But that’s merely a coolant used to chill beer in the brewing process. It never touches the beer … ever. If it did, it would ruin the beer. But it’s still there in her list, displaying either a comic ignorance or a malicious intent to mislead. But that’s the irony. She’s claiming to be holding brewers’ feet to the fire to be truthful and transparent, while she herself is being completely dishonest. If her intent was honest, by now she would have modified her earlier attack to reflect the reality she would have, or should have, learned in the year since she first made her absurd claims about what’s in beer. If she was being honest, she’d admit some, if not all, of what she’d claimed was in beer, really wasn’t, for the simple fact that it’s not. That she appears to have learned nothing in the year since she first made her sensationalist claims, and stands by every one of her absurd statements, tells us everything we need to know about her veracity and her real intentions.

Most brewers I know don’t have a problem rattling off their beers’ ingredients nor would they probably mind listing them on the bottle or can, if they were required to do so. It’s not a conspiracy that they don’t have to currently. They do have to list them when they submit each beer for approval to the TTB, who regulate beer and other alcohol at the federal level. There’s already been discussions about listing nutritional information and/or alcohol and servings information. So nobody’s getting away with anything, or trying to poison you with chemicals, as the Food Babe suggests. That’s just bullshit. Whether or not you like the beers made by the big brewers, they’re very well made and modern breweries are industrial and technological marvels. For the most part, they’ve perfected the science of brewing. It’s too bad the fizzy yellow color of their beer is now the same color of the journalism attacking the beer industry.


UPDATE (6.13): To further prove my point, throughout the day, several people have commented that the Food Babe does not allow any dissenting opinions on her Facebook page, removing and banning anything challenging her point of view. And I’m not talking about anything insulting or harassing, I’m talking about science that refutes her. For example, the gentleman who writes the Facebook page Science Corner told me he was “blocked when I pointed out her inconsistencies and lack of fact checking. As a scientist I referenced my comments with actual facts taken from peer reviewed scientific journals.” Nothing says “honesty” like not allowing any debate. To makes matters worse, apparently her minions are now attacking me personally. Not my arguments, mind you, just my character. For example, one Food Babe Army soldier asked me if I was “bought & sold by Monsanto” or speculated that perhaps “Most of [my] investments [are] in big AG.” Hilarious, they really know me so well. I’m not exactly sure why dissent is so assiduously forbidden, if — as her followers insist — she’s just trying to get at the truth. As one commenter claims, “she’s trying to help WE THE PEOPLE make better decisions so we don’t become sick.” Apparently her plan to help these people with their decision-making will be accomplished by not allowing honest debate. Yet I’m the one who is “the YELLOW JOURNALIST,” as one of her wingnuts spat at me. It’s simply amazing.

Big Chin Superhero

UPDATE 2 (6.17): Several other rants about how dishonest Hari is being with her anti-beer campaign are worth taking a look at. First, Maureen Ogle wrote some new observations in Beware the Dangers of [Profit-Driven] Dumbassery. A couple more include Trevor Butterworth writing in Forbes, Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall For The Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe, and Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe): The Jenny McCarthy of Food by David Gorski, writing in Science-Based Medicine. We’re all continuing to get trolled by the Food Babe Army, which is almost funny. One interesting troll tried to find fault with my take on glycol as a coolant, but mistook propylene glycol for another similar-sounding food safe compound used in salad dressing, among other things. For him it was a “gotcha” moment and (despite being wrong) he then declared (again) that I was “the yellow journalist.” This brings up two points in my mind. First, what the hell is wrong with these people? Why are they even using the term “the yellow journalist,” as if that’s a thing? They clearly don’t understand what yellow journalism is. I helpfully included a link to an overview of yellow journalism so that anyone unfamiliar with the more than 100-year-old term (almost everybody, one presumes) could see what I was talking about. The second point, and the more troubling of the two, is the idea that if Vani’s Army found one mistake in what I’ve written then that invalidates my entire argument and means that I’m the one engaging in yellow journalism. It’s a curious argument. They’re holding Vani’s critics to a standard of perfection that they’re not willing to impose on her. As far as I can tell, this has become about emotions and belief, and the facts no longer seem to matter, if indeed they ever did. That’s a scary prospect, but how else to explain why so many people seem to believe what she’s saying so uncritically and continue to do so when faced with numerous refutations disproving what she’s saying, and which are actually backed up with real science or expertise or experience. And speaking of being uncritical, it’s quite remarkable how many mainstream media outlets have given Hari a forum, and are passing on her misinformation without ever doing any fact-checking or maybe getting a second or contrary opinion. So much for being fair and balanced. But again it comes down to sensationalism, and the fact that controversy is what people what to see, the truth be damned.

UPDATE (7.14): Maureen Ogle today mentioned a new piece about the Food Babe in the Charlotte Observer, ostensibly the Food Babe’s home paper, Charlotte’s Food Babe has lots of fans – and some critics. Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly a fluff piece although at least it does address some of the criticisms leveled at Vani Hari. But it lets her get away with more than a few howlers, such as “Hari says she is simply trying to help people understand what’s in their food and hold companies accountable. She says she has researched her critics and that they attack anyone who opposes alternative nutrition.” Really, she’s “researched her critics?” I’d feel a lot better if she’d research their arguments and the science behind her original absurd claims.

Interestingly, the article mentions that she, and her husband, left lucrative “six-figure incomes” to run the website full-time, one that’s “packed with advertising and product endorsements. You can even buy an eating-plan subscription for $17.99 a month.” As someone who makes zero from writing this blog (and that’s on purpose I should add), I’d say you have to sell an awful lot of snake oil to make that work. Of course, the “babe” in food babe all but guarantees that she’ll get television time since we love people who are telegenic over substance so you’ll not be surprised in the least that she also has a “William Morris Endeavor agent to handle her TV appearances.” Frighteningly, a publisher is even putting out a book, “The Food Babe Way,” so that doesn’t sound like a cult or anything scary.

As to where she makes her money, something her “Army” loves to level at her critics (for example, commenters asked if I was being paid by Monsanto, oddly enough), it’s been revealed that she was a paid consultant to Chick-fil-A, but also claimed victory over the fast food chain when they announced they’d “use chicken that was free of antibiotics within five years,” posting “We Did It Again!” According to the Charlotte Observer, “Hari has confirmed that she was paid by Chick-fil-A for her work as a consultant on their ingredients, a fact she appears to have not mentioned on her website.” Yet none of her followers apparently have a problem with or see any contradiction in that.

Then there’s this headline: “Debate is her sport.” That’s almost funny, if it wasn’t so crucial to what’s wrong with someone like like Hari. She may claim to love debate, but she assiduously avoids it by banning anyone who questions her “findings,” even politely. The comments section of any piece written about her is rife with people telling tales of being banned, even this post.

Under “Science or silliness?,” the Observer brings up the nonsense about glycol, thusly:

Her claim about “an ingredient found in antifreeze” being added to beer also draws criticism. Actually, the ingredient used is propylene glycol alginate, a kelp derivative used to stabilize head foam, not propylene glycol, a coolant. She later clarified this on her website.

While she sort of updated information about her original claim, under Big Update: The Truth That Beer Companies Have Not Made Public Yet, under the subheading “‘Propylene Glycol Alginate’ is added to beer as a foam stabilizer,” she continues to mistake Propylene Glycol Alginate, or PGA, for “Propylene Glycol” that’s used in antifreeze, even though they’re two completely different animals. And in the original post, The Shocking Ingredients of Beer, still lists “Propylene Glycol (an ingredient found in anti-freeze)” exactly the same way as when it was first posted last fall. So the that misinformation is still being disseminated, despite her claim to have “clarified” it. Considering she keeps talking about “transparency,” why not update the original post? Well, the real reason is she’s still not even close to understanding what she’s talking about, and as far as I can tell she no intention of even trying to.

Pints For Prostates Urges Men To Get Checked During Men’s Health Week

pints-4-prostates
Today is the first day of Men’s Health Week, which is an international effort “to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.” In the week leading up to Father’s Day, health organizations around the world celebrate International Men’s Health Week, including our our own CDC.

Rick Lyke’s wonderful Pints for Prostates has been “Reaching Men Through the Universal Language of Beer” since 2008, when Rick launched it after he was “diagnosed and successfully treated for prostate cancer.”

Pints for Prostates is using the occasion of “Men’s Health Week,” and the observance of Father’s Day, to ask people to focus on Dad and how he is taking care of himself. At the events they attend they regularly meet men in high risk groups that still do not know that they need to get tested. In addition to funding their awareness mission, they put donations to work providing free men’s health screenings in partnership with the Prostate Conditions Education Council and they help fund the support groups for men and families fighting prostate cancer through a partnership with the Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network.

Most people do not realize that 1 in 6 men will develop prostate cancer and that this number is 33% higher than the 1 in 8 women who will face breast cancer. Last year we lost 30,000 men in America to a disease that is nearly 100% survivable when detected early and appropriately treated. Every week about 4,500 men in America hear the words “You have prostate cancer.” The nation’s leading prostate cancer organizations urge men to get screened starting at 40 years old, or at 35 if you have a family history of the disease or are African American.

Pints for Prostates is focused on getting men to take charge of their health. Their message to guys is simple:

  1. Get Tested
  2. Live Longer
  3. Drink More Beer

For more details, check out their website at PintsForProstates.com or their Facebook page.

Pints for Prostates ad

What Does Family Friendly Mean? Alcohol At Farmer’s Markets

vegetables
At farmer’s markets throughout California, you can buy locally grown food, fruit and vegetables, nuts and berries, prepared food, jewelry and other crafts and all manner of other products. The main difference between farmer’s market goods and others is that for the most part they’re grown or made in a relatively modest radius. The one product you can’t purchase, or sample, is alcohol. California Assembly Bill AB-2488 seeks to correct that. Not surprisingly, the shrill sheriff against all things fun, Alcohol Justice, is opposing this bill, and is strongly urging its supporters to help defeat the bill. I realize they can’t help themselves, having positioned themselves against absolutely everything and anything having to do with alcohol. Not to mention, every action they take is more about bringing attention, and potential donations to line their coffers, and not about common sense. Indeed, they’ve been veering farther and farther into ridiculous fringes of fanaticism recently.

farmers_market

Naturally, you can distill their complaints down to the most pernicious criticism of all: it’s about the kids. Of course it’s really not, but let’s look at their arguments:

[It] will negatively impact public health, an impact that is antithetic to what farmers’ markets largely stand for: improving community health through more healthy food choices.

Alcohol anywhere, in their sober brains, always impacts public health negatively, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. It really doesn’t matter where, or when, they’re firmly against it. But “more healthy food choices” includes the moderate consumption of alcohol, although they now are taking the position that even moderate drinking is harmful, going against the FDA and a majority of American’s personal experience. But from the simple perspective of being healthy, beer, wine and cider from small producers contains no additives or chemicals and are made from only natural, mostly agricultural ingredients. Many use local raw materials whenever possible. Beer, wine and cider are very healthy and local producers are very much in keeping with the spirt of farmer’s markets.

Farmers’ markets are family-friendly events commonly held in unrestrained public spaces, like streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Allowing for alcoholic beverage service in such venues is a recipe for increased alcohol-related harm.

I’m increasingly hearing this term “family-friendly.” What exactly does that mean? For Alcohol Justice, it appears to mean no alcohol, no anything that is strictly for adults. I believe they’d like the entire world to be family-friendly, which means making alcohol illegal again. But that’s complete bullshit. Family-friendly should not mean a world only Rated “G” with nothing adult in it. But that’s how they take it, for them Family-friendly means kids-only and the two are not the same, nor should they be. We’re training or raising our kids to be adults, and our job as parents is to prepare them to be adults. But for Alcohol Justice, and many other prohibitionists, they believe the best way to do that is for our kids to never, ever be exposed to anything adult in nature. That until they’re 18 — or 21 — they should never be exposed to or learn anything about the adult world. Then on that magic day when they’re declared an adult, we push them out into the world, utterly ignorant of anything they’re about to face. That’s the reason binge drinking at college is such a problem now, because of this idea of keeping kids sheltered from the adult world, another name for which is “the world.” There’s only one world, but prohibitionists think we should keep a wall between children and that world. It’s completely absurd, and counter-productive. It’s actually doing more harm than good, in my opinion. Family-friendly should mean anyplace where kids are not in any particular danger and are safe, but who doesn’t what that to be literally every place? I want to feel safe wherever I’m at, too, kids are not really part of the equation. With some limited exceptions (and not including farmer’s markets), kids should be able to be anywhere their parents choose to take them, period.

Children do not need to see their parents drinking wine or hard cider when they shop for fruit or vegetables; that practice is most damaging to impressionable young minds as youth expectations and attitudes will become more accepting of underage alcohol use. That “normalization” will be the message that youth will take away if this bill passes.

This one is the most obnoxious, and wrong. Children very much do “need to see their parents drinking wine or hard cider when they shop for fruit or vegetables.” It’s called modeling behavior, and how else would kids know what is proper drinking behavior unless they see their parents practicing it? It is absolutely not “damaging to impressionable young minds” to see their parents engaging in perfectly acceptable and legal behavior in a responsible manner. If that makes them “more accepting of underage alcohol use” then you’re not doing your job. There are many things that kids can’t do that their parents can. Do kids somehow start to be “more accepting” of driving a car before they get a license just because they continually see their parents driving? Are kids “normalized” into believing they should be stealing their parents’ car to go for a joyride just because they saw their Dad drive them to school? Of course not. They understand that it’s something they’re not allowed to do until they turn sixteen and obtain a license. It’s not that hard. To say otherwise is complete propaganda to further an absurd agenda.

This is especially true in Sonoma County — where we live — where there are currently 23 breweries, 5 cideries, 3 craft distilleries and 450 wineries. As a result, there are plenty of opportunities to be at local farmer’s markets. The cideries use local apples and many of the wineries grow their own grapes, too. Why shouldn’t they be every bit as welcome at a local farmer’s market as the nearby strawberry farmer or cattle rancher? They’re already a part of their community, usually donate time and money, not to mention all the positive economic impact they have in their area. It’s quite frankly insulting to say they’re not welcome because a child might see their Mom or Dad having a sip of wine.

As one of my favorite brewery slogans makes clear, “Beer is Agriculture.” It’s only natural it should be allowed at a farmer’s market.

almanac-beer-is-agriculture

Beer Outmaneuvering Wine

beer-vs-wine
Here’s some interesting news from the wine world, h/t to Jenn Litz from Craft Business Daily. Charles Gill, who runs Wine Metrics, which creates “on-premise wine distribution information in the U.S. market.” According to Litz, Gill has been saying lately that he believes that craft beer is taking market share from wine, which is curious, because “trade show rhetoric has often been the exact opposite.”

On Gill’s blog, Wine List USA, he claims that Craft Beer is Outmaneuvering Wine, and lists ten ways in which he believes that’s happening. Here’s his raw list.

  1. Value
  2. Innovation
  3. Promotion
  4. Community
  5. Venues
  6. Cross-Fertilization
  7. New Traditions
  8. Customer Loyalty
  9. Food Compatibility
  10. Gatekeepers

For a better understanding of that list, read his explanations for each one at the source, 10 Ways Craft Beer is Outmaneuvering Wine. I don’t tend to think about wine and beer as an us versus them proposition, but obviously the pie that is all alcohol consumption is divided into wedges of how much is spent on each type. There’s no getting around it. If more people buy beer, something else isn’t doing as well. It’s theoretically possible that the pie is just growing and people are buying more beer, but are not buying less wine, spirits, cider or what have you, but that’s not exactly realistic. If anything, the pie’s been shrinking, sad to say, as people are drinking less overall than they used to.

As to Gill’s list, I definitely agree with Value, Innovation and some of the Community aspects he mentions. And I also think Food Compatibility and most of what he says about New Traditions ring true, but I’m less convinced by the others. Do you agree? Or Disagree? If, so why, and to which ones?

beer-wine

More Beer At Starbucks: Let The Whining Begin

starbucks
Several times I’ve seen the anti-alcohol wingnuts claim that alcohol is the most addictive substance on the planet, typing that as they sip their morning coffee and dip their doughnut into it. I’m pretty sure worldwide, and certainly in this country, many more people are addicted to caffeine and sugar than alcohol.

A few years ago, Starbucks tested selling beer in the evenings at one of their locations in Seattle. It must have went well, because they quietly expanded the test to 26 Starbucks locations, and then 40. Recently, however, they announced via Bloomberg and the USA Today that Starbucks would expand what they call “Evenings Stores” to many more locations. No exact figure has been released, but there are over 20,000 Starbucks worldwide, with around 11,500 (or 13,000, depending on the source) in the U.S., and so far they’ll only be adding “Evening Stores” in America, selling only beer and wine, not spirits.

You have to figure most sales of caffeine are in the morning or earlier in the day, at least, when people need that pick-me-up. As the sun moves farther west toward its daily sunset, less and less people want caffeine, for the obvious reason that it will keep them up at night. There are, of course, people who work different shifts and who therefore will be exceptions, but by and large caffeine — coffee and tea — is a daytime drink. So it makes sense that when sales inevitably and predictably fall at night that Starbucks, any company really, would be looking for something to keep sales flowing when their core product ebbs. They already have a comfortable infrastructure where people come and sit for hours, so why not extend that at night, with beer or wine instead of coffee or tea?

starbucks-beer

But, not surprisingly, delight over the prospect of Starbucks selling beer and wine is not universal. The Sheriff of Notinmyworld, Alcohol Justice, as usual thinks anything they don’t like is a “bad idea.” They tweeted as much, saying “Bad idea Starbucks,” along with a link to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Greg Williams, “who has been in recovery from alcohol and drug use for more than 12 years.” Williams is also a filmmaker, and is promoting his documentary film The Anonymous People which appears to be at least in part about traditional recovery stories, i.e. ones using the 12-step or AA model. As I’ve written numerous times, that’s the sacrosanct abstinence method that most Americans, and most of the medical community who makes money off of addicts, believe is the only way to treat addiction, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

So what is Williams’ problem with Starbucks selling beer and wine? It’s all in the headline. By serving alcohol, Starbucks risks losing key customers: people in recovery. Yup, you read that right. If a coffee shop sells alcohol, then alcoholics and other addicts won’t be able to go there. Because nothing signals recovery better than the inability to be in the same building as alcohol. Never mind that alcohol is sold, in most of the civilized world, in grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, virtually every restaurant, sports venue, and countless other places. Whew, that’s a long list of places that people in recovery can’t go. I guess they might as well move to an Islamic country or some other place where alcohol is illegal to be really sure.

Every day, people in recovery meet up in Starbucks cafes to support one another, to talk to their 12-step sponsors and, most of all, to be welcomed in one of the few lively, popular, alcohol-free gathering places in their community.

I understand that they might be afraid of backsliding and ordering a beer if it’s offered on the menu, but alcohol is available to adults in countless other places, and yet most AA members have somehow managed to safely navigate the world. I certainly haven’t heard of there not being enough safe places for them to go before now. But even in an alcohol-friendly venue, in a meeting setting, with their support network in place to help them, that really shouldn’t be an issue, should it? Not to mention, in my view, you’re not really anywhere close to a cure if you can’t sit in a coffee shop and not order something you shouldn’t, especially when you’ll face the same issue in every restaurant, grocery store, etc. you set foot in. But with the next sentence it turns weirder.

Starbucks should pay special attention to them.

Huh?!? Why? That reminds me of those annoying “Baby On Board” signs suggesting that I have to drive extra careful when I’m near a car with a baby in it. We all live in the same world. Either figure out how to survive in it, or get the hell out. We all have the same responsibility to one another as a member of society. People who can’t handle themselves should not be entitled to special treatment. The world doesn’t owe you “special attention” because you’re incapable of acting responsibly, usually of your own making.

I know that sounds cold or callous, but it’s not meant to. I’ve known plenty of alcoholics and addicts in my life. But you can’t let them determine how you act, or how society as a whole acts, without making society a different and altogether worse place. I’m sorry you’re struggling with your own demons, but making me act differently whenever you’re around is dragging me, and everybody else, down with you. You have to stand up, on your own terms, and without our having to bend down to meet you. Otherwise, it’s not really a cure, is it?

Williams notes that the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research “found that 88.5 percent of those studied who were in recovery from alcoholism drank coffee. Thirty-three percent of those coffee drinkers drank more than four cups a day.” (I can’t help but see that as a sign that AA members are trading in one addiction for a more socially acceptable one, but that’s another story.) Based on that factoid, he’s extrapolated that to mean that many of Starbucks’ patrons must be alcoholics, too. Maybe some are, but then again, perhaps not. There’s no causation shown by the statistic in the study and the fact that Starbucks sells coffee. Williams, in concluding, suggests that if “executives studied this market demographic, perhaps they would think twice about this move.”

Hmm, let’s see. “Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with 20,891 stores in 64 countries, including 13,279 in the United States, 1,324 in Canada, 989 in Japan, 851 in China and 806 in the United Kingdom.” Their revenue was nearly $15 billion, with a “b,” last year, and they had a net income of $8.8 million and assets totally more than $11.5 billion. But he thinks Starbucks didn’t analyze their demographics before making this decision? They tested the concept for four years, in different metropolitan markets, before announcing they were planning on rolling it out to more locations, and would do so slowly over the next several years. But he thinks they acted rashly, without thinking it through?

Industry analysts, such as Mintel and Beverage Daily, seem to think the move will be a good one for Starbucks, especially if they focus on local craft brands, as current rumors suggest they will. Alcohol Justice and Williams’ “people in recovery” may now have to buy their coffee elsewhere, but I’ll be very surprised if enough to make a dent in the coffee giant’s marketshare actually do stop buying at Starbucks.

starbucks-beer-3

Camille Paglia’s Take On The Minimum Drinking Age

21-and-over
While I don’t often opine about America’s idiotic minimum drinking age, one of the oldest in the civilized world, I do believe it should be 18 for a variety of reasons. Author Camille Paglia, in the current issue of Time magazine, had a rather forceful, nicely angry piece on why she believes It’s Time to Let Teenagers Drink Again, which is the title in print. Online it’s called The Drinking Age Is Past Its Prime.

She’s pulling no punches, and believes it should be “repealed,” if indeed that’s even the right way to change it. She writes: “It is absurd and unjust that young Americans can vote, marry, enter contracts and serve in the military at 18 but cannot buy an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant. The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.” I don’t necessarily agree with everything she has to say, but enough. Plus it’s great to see such an unabashed argument in favor of relaxing that particular law in so mainstream a media outlet.

But my favorite line is the way she characterizes alcohol’s positive attributes. “Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interaction, inspires ideas and promotes humor and hilarity.” She concludes.

Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media. Clumsy hardcore sexting has sadly supplanted simple hanging out over a beer at a buzzing dive. By undermining the art of conversation, the age-21 law has also had a disastrous effect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and mediocrity. This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!

Here, here. Few things in society are better than the simple pleasure of sharing a beer with friends. I didn’t realize it was improving our nation’s “arts and letters,” but hey, I’ll go with it.

21