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Alcohol, Caffeine, Addiction and Art

3 min read

Wine. I know many people who like talking about wine incessantly and insist it's “culture” in a way that suggest importance. If culture is the "the customs [...] [and] [...] social institutions of [...] people" (Oxford Dictionary) then sure, it's “culture”, but that doesn't explain why it’s important. If culture is "the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively" (Oxford dictionary) then similarly, yes, it’s culture, but why is it important? I’m aware that most people find anything important that most other people already find important, though I dislike the idea. The question is, how did we get there?

I haven't had a full glass of anything in the past eight years, but make a point of taking a tiny sip of whatever drink people are gushing about and trying really hard to perceive the depth of flavors. This probably makes me about as knowledgeable about wine as the average upper-class college grad, and my conclusion so far is that the differences in quality and taste of wine and beer are about as relevant and real as the difference in different varieties of orange juice. Just talking about alcoholic drinks for a second, every virgin cocktail will taste slightly different depending on the quantity of ingredients added. Why are those changes so much less "relevant" than the almost imperceptible differences brought about by aging a certain spirit a year more or less. Sure, it's amazing that a different kind of soil and crop can make a certain wine taste slightly sweeter, but what if I take a different wine bottle and add a spoon of grape sugar to replicate that difference? What if I vary the sugar amount? Why is the soil more important than the additive method? Even the name “virgin cocktail” assumes that importance is derived from a closeness to alcohol, not based on ingredients or methods. Maybe we just ascribe value to complexity of single ingredients, or maybe we ascribe value to whatever our current addiction is. Or it’s possibly that I’m just born with deaf taste buds.

Similarly addicting is caffeine, and sure enough, we make an art out of it's consumption too! There's nothing wrong with picking coffee as your hobby of choice, but I'm offended by the shallowness of our reasoning for how we choose our food-related interests. How easy it seems to make an industry of what we hold dear. How easily we are abused by coffee-bean subscriptions and wine labels when all we want is a raison d'être for our continued addictions. I rejoice when I meet someone who passionately tells me about their interest in a non-addictive food, like all the lovely breadmakers in my life (assuming for a moment that carbohydrates aren't addictive). More than that, I applaud and support the crazy people, the real chefs of the world, who spend hours experimenting to find out the exact amount of honey that their honey-fried fish needs to achieve the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

Is brewing a good coffee and art? Sure. Is wine? Sure. Are they an “art regarded collectively”? Sure. But is it truly art to replicate what others have done, is it art to form one’s tastes after others’, is it art to lie to ourselves in what we consider important, in what we consider beautiful? I might be alone in this, but I think the answer is no.