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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Book Review: "Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization" by Edward Slingerland

Just by going back into the articles on this blog, it should be no secret to you that I'm a huge science and history geek. But I'm especially geeky about evolution and the cosmos. I've delved into so much Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Dawkins that it's ridiculous. Clearly, I'm also a wine geek, so when you combine those things together I'M IN!!!

I saw Drunk while browsing Barnes & Noble one day, trying not to lose my six year old and making sure the books my thirteen year old wanted were appropriate. I was like "Cool! A history of our drunk asses! SOLD!" but it was not like what I was expecting. Rather than accounts throughout history on our said drunken asses, this book asks the question:

How has evolution not eliminated our enjoyment of getting drunk? It's clearly harmful to your organs, leaves you with awful hangovers, and is a very common cause of death around the world, so you'd think those who refrained from booze for whatever reason would produce more offspring, and through evolution we'd have some reaction that would stop us from consuming ethanol. 

But this book goes through it all from the very beginning, and it goes deep into who we truly are as a species. How our primate lineage and instincts mixed with our worker-ant mentality and societies butt heads within our heads often, and because of this we need to shut down our prefrontal cortex to open up our creativity and inspirations.

Drinking and dancing together at the ancient ceremony or local pub builds trust and creates friendships. This has made the act of community drinking an important part of the human experience, and lead to the great ideas and progress we have made throughout history.

But the book also goes into a relatively new threat: the rise of ABV in wine (from 5% average to 12% average) and beer (we're seeing it get even bigger now with craft beer), the creation of distilled spirits (allowing you to get sloshed very quickly), and the ability to completely isolate ones self (drinking alone). Is this why evolution hasn't done anything about alcoholism yet? Is this drastic change to the alcohol we consume, the advancement of our technology, and social changes too new? And if we keep going in the direction we are, will evolution react?

At one point he wonders if there should be a different legal age for buying and consuming distilled spirits than wine and beer, and to me that completely makes sense. An earlier age for the lower ABV products of beer and wine would create a greater appreciation and respect for drinking, and there would be less abuse when the brain is developed enough for distilled spirits. For defending this, he uses the drinking cultures of southern Europe vs northern Europe.

Slingerland sticks up for the community pub and believes it's worth a hit to the liver to enjoy yourself, because if you can't enjoy yourself and your friends and be merry, then what do you have? But he takes a step back... well, many steps back and then moves closer and closer to a step back, to really analyze what's going on with us and our love of intoxication. He sees it through the eyes of both Spock and Kirk, and he's great at it.

I recommend this book to all the science, history, and wine geeks out there. It will reel you in and not let go until you're done.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Book Review: "Fermentation as Metaphor" by Sandor Ellix Katz

Fermentation as Metaphor by Sandor Ellix Katz
"Just as people can project irrational fear of bacteria upon fermentation, people can project any number of irrational fears of contamination by the other upon the race/nation/culture."
Sandor Ellix Katz is obsessed with fermentation. He experiments with it, he writes about it, he takes pictures of it, he teaches about it. In his book "Fermentation as Metaphor" he not only goes into some of the science of fermentation, but sees the act of fermentation in human society and culture.

As he states, and I'm paraphrasing, things don't change effectively by fire. That burns everything down. It takes a slow fermentation, a "bubbling up", to make cultural changes and form social behavior. Actual fermentation breaks down nutrients into more accessible forms. Metaphorical fermentation breaks down the old and creates the new. He connects this to politics, religious beliefs, general ideas, racism, climate change, overuse of sterilization in everyday life, and even the differing ideas of purity. And it's all done in an intricate, detailed way that keeps you reading and doesn't lose you at any point.

This isn't a woo-woo magic/spiritual book, it's based on science, but this might sound just like that to some: One part of this book that I really connected to was the idea of emotional composting. Where you can turn your negative emotions into creating positive ones. Rather than suppressing these terrible things, you embrace and accept them, you cry about them and let them out, and then you use them as motivation to turn it all around. That's what I did to get through something that hit me pretty hard a few years ago, and left me with some pretty effective trauma. I was able to ferment all of that into improving and getting away from it. I now have a term to use for how I got through it all.

With 50 beautiful photographs of fermentation taken using microscopes, this is a beautiful book in both its visuals and its words. It's 108 short pages (many of them photography) and you can finish it easily in one sitting. I highly recommend that you do so.
"Fermentation is a force that cannot be controlled, and the changes it renders are not always desirable."

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