A Liquor Love Story: Humanity’s Relationship with Alcohol

sustainability.safety.happy.drinks.alcohol.newyear.love.give.care.saynotofoodwaste.food.foodwaste.sustainability.happy2With all the celebratory drinking going on over the holidays, it’s interesting to consider how and why people began consuming alcohol. After all, alcohol is a toxin, as anyone who has ever had a hangover can attest – so, what motivated humans to ingest, much less deliberately manufacture it?

Evolutionary biologist Matthew Carrigan has found the answer 10 million years in the past, before ‘humans’ had even been evolved. As their forest habitats were being affected by climate changes, animals began eating fallen fruit off the forest floor. To safely eat fermented fruit and use its sugars, vitamins, and proteins for energy, animals developed enzymes to break down the alcohol’s calories. By 10,000 BC, humans – the evolutionary descendants of these animals – had started fermenting beverages for themselves, unknowingly relying on the enzyme ADH4 to allow them to drink.

Over time, alcoholic beverages became appreciated throughout the world for a wide variety of uses in addition to pleasure. Firstly, they were actually a far safer means of quenching thirst than water, since water was unfiltered and lacked alcohol’s microorganism-killing antioxidants.

High levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins also made alcoholic beverages valuable nutritional supplements, and their medicinal and therapeutic uses trace as far back as Sumer, 2000 BC. Ancient Egyptians revered Osiris for bestowing the world with wine and beer (which was considered a life necessity), included alcohol in their offerings to gods, and stored drinks in tombs to be enjoyed in the afterlife. In ancient China, “alcohol was considered a spiritual (mental) food rather than a material (physical) food” (Hanson); drinking took place during memorials, ceremonies, and celebrations and before battles and even executions. Alcohol was embraced for practical, pleasurable, and ritual purposes worldwide.

sustainability.safety.happy.drinks.alcohol.newyear.love.give.care.saynotofoodwaste.food.foodwaste.sustainability.happy1Even though alcohol was prominent in all early cultures, drinking in moderation seems to have always been the norm. The adverse effects of drunkenness were recognized as shameful, if not dangerous, and alcohol was considered too precious to be irreverently imbibed in excess. Given how widespread drinking and intoxication is today, one might be tempted to say that those principles were lost to history – but that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Fact is, whenever drunkenness is seen in the media, be it in fiction or the news, it’s portrayed as something to be ridiculed, pitied, or learned from.

Modern society still values moderation, but we focus on the consequences of inebriation rather than the ‘preciousness’ of alcohol. Instead of being told to cherish drinks as holy gifts, we get reminded that the penalties of getting drunk range from making a regrettable decision to ending up in the hospital. We also have more sympathy for alcoholics, though, recognizing them as sufferers of a disease rather than vile sinners. Today’s variety and availability of alcohol has developed with an important understanding of how to take advantage of it responsibly.

So, drink up! Or don’t! There is neither shame in sobriety nor in controlled drinking. If you take advantage of those prehistoric enzymes and the delicious beverages that have been perfected over the course of history, just don’t take it too far. Alcohol is a toxin, but it’s a very enjoyable one in the right quantities.

Wishing everyone a wonderful New Year, regardless of whether or not you’re guzzling champagne,



‘80 drinks’ graphic credit: wineinvestment.com, Joe Shervell

Barclay, Eliza – Our Ability To Digest Alcohol May Have Been Key To Our Survival

Hanson, David J. – History of Alcohol and Drinking Around the World

Maynard, Lynnsay (NPR) – What Would Jesus Drink? A Class Exploring Ancient Wines Asks

How to Enjoy the Holidays: Don’t Overeat

saynotofoodwaste.food.overeat.holidays.sustainable.helathy.1Thanksgiving was last week, and most Americans gorged themselves on delectable dinners of turkey, various rich vegetable sides, and sugary pies. While holidays like Thanksgiving are wonderful occasions to bond with families and friends over delicious meals, many people quickly find themselves regretting how much they indulged on food. Even though one day of gluttony is not enough to pose serious concerns to a generally healthy person, the ‘food coma’ feeling of being stuffed to the point of extreme tiredness and intense stomach discomfort is something everyone would like to avoid.

Overeating on the holidays is largely psychological: when you see huge amounts of food before you and are surrounded by people eating, it can be hard to tell yourself to stop. You don’t realize how full your stomach is getting until it’s too late, at which point you feel terrible. Although the past can’t be changed, these are some suggestions for making sure your next holiday festivities don’t end in painful regret:

  • Don’t starve yourself beforehand! The growling in your stomach will only cause you to lose all self-control once the food is served. It’s especially important to eat breakfast to stimulate your metabolism, so that your body burns calories leading up to the meal.
  • Remember leftovers: the food isn’t going to disappear if you don’t immediately eat it. If there are really enough people partaking in your meal that leftovers aren’t guaranteed, then remember a) that this is not a fight for survival, you don’t have to take all you can get, b) that it’s an annual holiday, there’s always next year to enjoy basically the same food, and c) to be courteous of everyone else – don’t take it all for yourself!
  • Consider all of your options: if everything looks delicious, take small portions of everything, rather than loading up on one or two things with the intent of adding more later on. In fact, you’ll get more pleasure from a diverse plate of flavors than from a huge portion of one food.
  • Drink water, rather than calorie-laden beverages. This will also help your digestion.
  • Not all vegetables are light. Casseroles, for instance, are typically packed with fats and starches that will feel like lead in your stomach. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat them, just that you shouldn’t trick yourself into thinking that these can be enjoyed in larger portions because they’re vegetables. Guiltless options would be leafy greens with minimal dressing.
  • Watch your condiments. Sauces can be packed with sugar, salt, and fat, so prioritize getting full on real food over filling yourself with add-ons.
  • Don’t eat quickly. Savor the flavor of every bite, drink, talk to the people around you, and, most importantly, give your body time to notice that it’s getting full.
  • Pause before taking seconds! Your brain can take up to half an hour to register the stomach’s fullness, so don’t assume that you can keep piling it in.
  • Don’t forget dessert! Even if it isn’t on the table immediately, or no one is eating it yet, dessert is coming, and chances are you’re going to want some. Don’t get full on dinner if you have a sweet tooth. That being said, don’t let yourself go and undo all of your hard work once dessert starts, either.

In case you still end up in the dreaded ‘food coma’:

  • saynotofoodwaste.food.overeat.holidays.sustainable.helathy.2Drink water or herbal tea to calm your stomach and flush your system.
  • Go for a walk, rather than sitting down and letting all of the food settle at the bottom of your stomach. Light stretches, like raising your arms above your head and leaning side to side, will also help your stomach feel less weighed-down.
  • If you really feel unwell, lie down and apply heat to your stomach to relieve bloating. A warm towel or heating pad across your abdomen feels incredibly soothing on an aching stomach.

With all this in mind, be grateful that you had the opportunity to eat all of that delicious food. These tips should help you to enjoy your meal and foster fond holiday memories (rather than binge-remorse).


Don’t Waste – It’s Thanksgiving!

The Spirit of Thanksgiving: Don’t Waste Those Leftovers

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.39.56 PMIf you’re American, live in the United States, or are aware of American culture to any degree, you know that Thanksgiving is a mere two days away. Distant relatives and friends are excited to come together to share a huge, delectable meal in celebration of the founding of the US (controversy aside) and, much more importantly, in recognition of what we have to be grateful for. Do we truly appreciate all that we have, though? I’m not so sure.

Somewhere between one-third and half of all of food produced in the US goes to waste. This translates to around 34 million tons of discarded food per year, in which each American is responsible for at least 200 pounds of annual food waste. Meanwhile, over 49 million Americans experience food insecurity: an insufficient or lack of reliable access to food. Not only do Americans not value all the food at their disposal, but heaps of food that is shamelessly, largely unknowingly, thrown away could be put to greater use feeding people in need. The sad truth behind Thanksgiving is that people feel obliged by tradition to express how thankful they are for their meal, but most are ignorant of humbling facts on food waste and insecurity.

The holiday teaches us that a way to show appreciation is through mass-consumption, buying and eating all that we can simply because we can. This seems entirely backwards, considering that value is derived from scarcity. But, on the other hand, at least the whole idea of reflecting and ‘giving thanks’ is emphasized. In other words, it feels wrong to celebrate humility with excess, but at least people are being reminded, albeit superficially, to be grateful when they might not otherwise count their blessings.

If this seems confusing, it’s because it is; Thanksgiving is quite paradoxical. So, rather than weighing the rights and wrongs of celebration, the easiest ethical way to approach the holiday is to minimize waste. Someone truly thankful for food should know better than to throw it out. The tradition of serving gravy already enables cooks to save meat drippings that would otherwise be wasted and put them to a tasty use. Vegetable juices and scraps can also imbue other dishes with flavors, such as when stuffing a turkey. What poses the biggest challenge to many families, however, is the notion of leftovers. I personally love mixing bits of all of the Thanksgiving leftovers together on a plate, but many people are put-off by the idea of eating ‘remnants’ or simply tire of having the same meal over and over again. In the same spirit as last week’s vegetarian post, I decided to compile another recipe list – this time, creative re-workings of some common Thanksgiving remnants.

Miscellaneous Leftovers

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.39.42 PM1. Sandwiches and wraps.
The simplest leftovers solution: pile as much as you want of whatever you want on a couple slices of bread or in a tortilla. For example, you could drizzle gravy on one side of a slice of bread, smear on some mashed potatoes, add a few green beans and some turkey, drizzle one side of another bread with cranberry sauce, and sandwich everything together. Feel free to also add other ingredients from your kitchen, such as using cheese for a turkey quesadilla.

2. Crostini.
Cut up some baguette and top the slices with whatever leftovers you like to make dainty appetizers.

3. Salad.
Pairing any leftovers with leafy greens will alleviate some of the post-feast guilt.

4. Pizza.
Swap tomato sauce for cranberry (or gravy) and toss whatever else you’d like on a pizza crust.

Mashed Potatoes

1. Loaded Mashed Potato Cups.
Use puff pastry or Pillsbury dough to make adorable tartlets filled with mashed potatoes and typical baked potato toppings.

2. Potato Pancakes.
Soft, fluffy, and cheesy latke variants. These are closest to American buttermilk pancakes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.40.10 PM3. Mashed Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Waffles.
Transform your potatoes into a comforting weekend brunch.


Muffins: Mix the remaining stuffing with an egg or two, fill it into a muffin pan, and bake at 300°F for 20-25 minutes to make a nice batch of snacks.


1. Croutons.
Cube the bread, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, or other desired spices (such as rosemary), and bake on a cooking sheet at 400°F for 15 minutes. They will keep well for a couple weeks and spice up any salads.

2. French toast.
Slice the bread and soak it in a mixture of eggs, milk, and any desired spices (such as nutmeg and cinnamon) overnight, then cook it in a pan the next morning for a sweet breakfast.

3. Bread pudding.
There are thousands of other bread pudding recipes that are also great for leftover bread, but this one will also help take care of those leftover sweet potatoes.

Let’s really show how thankful we are for our food by not wasting it!