Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Britain’s binge drinking: It’s not about age but about culture

Last Sunday I made the snap decision that for dinner I was going to cook a nice bowl of lentils and chorizo. On the surface this doesn’t pose an issue. The lentils I had at home, all I would need from the shop would be chorizo, chopped tomatoes, and a small bottle of... RED WINE!

And what I bought really was a small bottle of red wine – a borrowers sized bottle of Sainbury’s own brand merlot. Yet I got ID for this tiny bottle of merlot. A bottle that had such insignificant amounts of alcohol inside, that a toddler would have struggled to get drunk on it – although don’t take my word on that because toddlers and alcohol is a bad mix, unlike vodka and cranberry which is an excellent mix (#tangent).

Luckily for my food snobby taste buds, I had some ID on me yet I recall a time when I was not so lucky. I had been seventeen and I had wanted to cook a nice chicken cacciatore, which unluckily for me, involved getting hold of some white wine – AN ILLIGAL SUBSTANCE FOR SOMEONE OF MY AGE! Why not just go without the wine? I hear you cry.

Because wine is to cooking as to what good foreplay is to sex, in that without it the experience is just boring and a little bit painful.

Now at the time I couldn’t buy the wine, so I had to get a grown up to pick it up for me. So it became one of those situations that you see in the movies, where the under aged person is huddled outside in the cold, waiting for the 18 year old to appear with the magical substance known as booze.

Now I bet good money, that from the outside, this transaction of money for booze looked a little sad. I bet most people would assume that I was going to take that wine down to the park and get hammered with my friends in the woods. They would not have guessed that I actually used that wine to make a fucking tasty dish of chicken cacciatore.

And this is the problem I have with British culture – or more specially, its culture of drinking.

Because there is this persistent idea that alcohol is good for getting drunk on, and nothing else. Not for taste, not for cooking, not sampling or vintage – for binge drinking, getting pissed, or at the very least, getting tipsy enough to flirt with the opposite sex on.

This is chicken cacciatore, infinitely more appealing than white lightening 

Very few European countries take the same stance that we brits do.  Wine is not seen as something to be downed, or mixed with lemonade and guzzled, but as a way to complement meals and flavours. I can’t help but think that if more kids were introduced to alcohol in this context, fewer would be inclined to run off behind some bushes and drink synthetic cider in the rain.

Just think of all those food classes you took in high school, and all those fairy cakes you made and then threw in the bin as soon as class was finished. Wouldn’t it have been a better use of our time, and the teachers, to get us viewing the dynamics of flavour in a better light? Maybe by making a nice risotto, or a beef and ale pie.

Every year the restrictions on alcohol get tighter and tighter. There’s challenge 21, challenge 25, bar raids, undercover police – I once worked at a bar, and was told, that if I was caught serving someone under the age of 18, even if I was unaware of the fact, I would get a criminal record and a £1000+ fine. And are these restrictions solving anything?


Because the problem isn’t the availability of alcohol, it’s our own mentality.  We humans are a tenacious bunch, and if we want something, chances are we’ll get it. And so, if at 16, you want to wankered behind a bike shed, chances are you’ll find a way to do it.

Maybe if what we wanted was a decent tasting risotto, and a complementary pinot grigio – binge drinking in Britain wouldn’t be such a problem.

And I wouldn’t need to take my passport with me every time I wanted to make a red wine reduction.


  1. i say this about a lot of things and it fits with what you're saying here- social problems can only be resolved by a change of culture, not by a change of legislation...

  2. Sadly it's a lot easier to change a law than it is to change a society.


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