Alcohol

Mark Bittman, Who Happily Drinks More Alcohol Than the CDC Says He Should, Thinks Any Amount of Soda Is Too Much

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Fred R. Conrad / The New York Times

It was with some trepidation that I clicked through to see what New York Times columnist Mark Bittman had written under the headline "The Drinker's Manifesto." But Bittman, who is generally more knowledgeable and interesting as a food writer than as an op-ed pundit, makes some valid points about the traditional "public health" approach to alcohol:

Two-thirds of us drink, and many of us either underestimate the amount we do or actually lie about it. In Britain, for example, drinking reported to health professionals accounts for only about 60 percent of the alcohol sold. I lie to my doctors about drinking, because by official standards I drink too much and I don't want to be scolded.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that men drink too much when we consume 15 "drinks" a week (a drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, a shot of spirits or a beer); women get to have only 8. (Women generally weigh less than men, and alcohol may have more ill effects on women.) You also drink too much if you consume five drinks within three hours; that's a binge. And, according to the C.D.C., one drink is one too many for people under 21 years of age. Which is absurd, even if it's the law.

The C.D.C. flatly says drinking too much is "dangerous," which is pretty vague, and can "lead to heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, sudden infant death syndrome, motor-vehicle crashes, and violence."

Many of these dangerous effects are indirect and can be mitigated: If you don't have sex or get into a car after drinking, you can't possibly get pregnant or in a car accident….The more direct ones, like heart disease and breast cancer, have so many risk factors that drinking may perhaps be discounted, especially in moderation. And there's evidence that drinking "the right amount"—which is less than "too much"—can be good for you….

If we're reasonably responsible individuals, these are private matters whose consequences are borne by ourselves.

Bittman is right to be skeptical of the CDC's drinking recommendations, which lack a firm scientific basis. The existing evidence suggests that the CDC's guidelines are excessively conservative, which helps explain why other governments' definitions of moderation are often more generous. Furthermore, the scientific literature on this question is almost certainly biased toward less drinking because of the underreporting that Bittman notes. If people routinely underestimate how much they drink, the actual levels of consumption associated with good health are probably higher than the research indicates.

Bittman also makes the point that pleasure, which the CDC's analysis completely ignores, should count for something. "We drink because we want to, not because it's good for us," he writes. "Whether you believe that alcohol is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy…or that God has nothing to do with this, it's clear that alcohol can bring both joy and pain."

Bittman's discussion of drinking is admirably calm, presumably because he likes to drink. That suspicion is confirmed by his conclusion:

Of course there are people who really drink too much, and we should continue to discourage overconsumption, but once again when it comes to public health we fail to prioritize correctly. The C.D.C. says that excessive alcohol consumption causes 88,000 deaths a year and "costs the economy about $224 billion." Obesity-related illnesses cause somewhere around 112,000 deaths, and cost maybe a trillion dollars.

You don't see the C.D.C. saying that people under 21 years of age "drink too much" if they consume a can of soda. But it should.

In short, there is nothing wrong with consuming more alcohol than the CDC thinks you should, but any amount of sugar-sweetened soda is too much. Note that the death tolls and cost estimates cited by Bittman were generated by the same agency whose drinking advice he distrusts. But even assuming they are accurate, they do not prove what he thinks they do.

Like Bittman, I eschew sugar-sweetened soft drinks and have been known to consume more alcohol than the government deems proper. Still, I recognize the absurdity of the distinction he is trying to draw. If it is possible to drink alcohol responsibly, surely if it is possible to drink soda responsibly. And if the consequences of drinking alcohol, provided you are "reasonably responsible," are "private matters," it is hard to see why the consequences of drinking soda are a legitimate subject of public concern. Like Bob TyrrellBittman is simply elevating his own tastes into moral imperatives under the guise of science.

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  1. The CDC should stick to dealing with the spread of communicable diseases and building defenses against biological attacks and get out of the healthy living business. That is all.

    1. The CDC should stick to dealing with the spread of communicable diseases and building defenses against biological attacks and get out of the healthy living business.

      I like that better.

      1. The problem is that there will come a day when we need the CDC, or something like it. Now, a voluptuary group of medical professionals who maintain facilities and connections on their own might be preferable, but I have my doubts. So, if there is going to be a government agency to combat real epidemics of actually communicable disease, then they are going to have to play political games to get the funding they need between outbreaks. Maybe they shouldn’t have to, but since the American people show little sign of ceasing to elect representatives with room temperature IQs, they do.

        So, the end up playing the health scare game.

        MY concern is that they not get so wrapped up in flogging the scare du-jure that when we get a Cholera epidemic, or a killer flu like the one in ’18, or something of that sort, their resources aren’t all hip deep in bovine excreta.

        1. MY concern is that they not get so wrapped up in flogging the scare du-jure that when we get a Cholera epidemic, or a killer flu like the one in ’18, or something of that sort, their resources aren’t all hip deep in bovine excreta.

          My worry would be that instead of having infectious disease specialists they will be staffed with dietitians.

          1. Or public health experts.

        2. Mmmmm….voluptuous group of medical professionals…..

          1. Glad I’m not the only one who noticed. Now to go to Bing.

    2. The CDC should stick to what they know best:

      Dog Fucking

  2. Bittman is simply elevating his own tastes into moral imperatives under the guise of science

    You mean like every other narcissistic moron “journalist” other than a rare few?

    1. First, they came for the artisanal mayonnaise lovers, and I was OK with that, cause they’re fucking douchebags….

      1. and sloopy cheered them, and helped load them into the boncetration bamps.

        1. Go on….

          /death porn

  3. So when banning soda has absolutely no effect on the “obesity epidemic”, what will they go after next?

    1. Whatever else the bien pensants don’t like.

    2. Imagine how bad it would be if we hadn’t banned soda! You’re not suggesting giving people more ways to make themselves obese, are you? Think of the poor minorities that will be exploited!

  4. As always, there’s an Iron Law this schmuck should ponder:

    Me today, you tomorrow.

  5. Bittman is simply elevating his own tastes into moral imperatives under the guise of science.

    Not unlike what the Climate Change? hysterics do: elevate their political mores into moral imperatives under the guise of science.

  6. No relation to Bobby Bittman I hope.

    http://i17.photobucket.com/alb…..s/sctv.jpg

  7. Bittman, who is generally more knowledgeable and interesting as a food writer than as an op-ed pundit

    In the same sense that a prokaryote is more interesting and knowledgeable than a protozoa, then yes.

  8. (FFS you all are going to make me defend Bittman. Anyhow…)

    I don’t see the inconsistency in Bittman’s point. I don’t agree, but I’m not arguing about its validity, rather its rational basis. He specifically calls out the CDC for diving into a realm better handled by individual responsibility. When bringing up soda and CDC priority, he specifically says “under 21 years” i.e. for the children.

    Regardless of your own opinion of a for the children focus, it is not inconsistent to ask the CDC to focus on issues where one doesn’t consider individual responsibility to be a factor.

    1. Two things:

      He flips seamlessly from skepticism of CDC claims (on booze) to reciting those claims as authoritative (on sugar).

      If you but “for the children” laws and regulations as somehow consistent with “individual responsibility”, you need to ponder a couple of things:

      (1) What about parental responsibility, and how laws supersede that?

      (2) How exactly are laws “for the children” confined in their effects on the children? Tell me how we regulate the sugar intake of children, by law, without also regulating the sugar intake of adults?

      1. The CDC neither issues laws nor regulations. They issue advisories.

        And generally, laws “for the children” are sales bans requiring ID based DOB verification. The function fine.

        And just because one is skeptical of one set of CDC advisories does not mean that one should automatically discount all of them. And in fact, he does no such thing. He has a belief that childhood obesity is tied to excessive carbohydrate consumption and he is calling out the CDC for not falling in lockstep with his belief.

        Again, I’m not defending his belief. Just attacking the charge that he’s being inconsistent.

    2. Except that he manfully rejects for the children when it’s about alcohol, damn the law:

      And, according to the C.D.C., one drink is one too many for people under 21 years of age. Which is absurd, even if it’s the law.

      Seems inconsistent to me.

      1. No he doesn’t. He specifically rejects the “one drink is too many” claptrap. He’s not claiming that there should be a complete absence of health advisories related to non-adults.

  9. God I fucking hate Bittman. I went to an Anthony Bourdain show and it was evident he wanted to nut-punch the guy. So I keep hoping that’ll happen.

    Also, I, um, have been known to drink occasionally.

  10. I don’t see a purpose to sugar water except to dilute ethanol. That said, fuck this guy.

  11. This asshole is saying 150 calories from wine is okey dokey but 150 calories from a soda is a problem.

    About as much brains as Bobby Bittman.

  12. Empty calories are OK as long as they get you drunk.

  13. I remember when the cigarette companies (not the tobacco companies, because at the time the nutrias weren’t attacking cigars and pipes) told us that if the Crusaders were allowed to scapegoat them for choices freely made by adults, then the next thing would be to demonize food.

    And I remember how the Progressive Left mocked them.

    And I wonder, did the Left mock because they were too stupid to know the truth when they saw it, or because they were already planning to make their personal dietary choices the law?

    1. This was all predicted.

      Sort of like that Venuzuelan revolutionary complaining about restrictions on what she can buy.

    2. for “nutrias” read “nutsies”. I don’t even know what a nutria is, though my computer seems to.

      1. There are fur hats made of them in Russia.

      2. We used to have them in our backyard in Louisiana. They have big yellow teeth, are an invasive species, and are generally a nuisance, but they never bothered me.

        1. Because you paid protection, right?

  14. I drink too much and I don’t want to be scolded.

    Full stop, Bittman. Find mirror. Start punching yourself in face.

  15. You know, I remember when the anti-smoking histeria of the ’90s really started to amp up wondering aloud “What’s next? Are they gonna go after soda?” and being told that that was an absurd, idiotic slippery slope fallacy. I think some people owe me an apology.

    Also, Mark Bittman has a very punchable face. Why is they all have punchable faces?

  16. LOWER THE DRINKING AGE. That is all.

  17. Sudden infant death syndrome?? How does that figure in excessive boozing?

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