Living in an alcohol soaked society makes a an alcohol free life more difficult than ever. In the U.S., craft beers, hard ciders and local wineries have become all the rage, especially in terms of misguided attempts to boost economic development.
As a woman in long term recovery, I find it is more difficult to live alcohol free at this time than I did 23 years ago when I took my last drink. This is not for the reason one might suspect. Something has changed. At least, in American culture and cuisine, something has changed.
I am confronted with alcohol from the moment I walk into a licensed establishment.
It has become cool and hip (or chic, high class, innovative – you pick the adjective) to cook every sort of food imaginable with alcohol as an ingredient. Restaurants cook with beers, wines, liquors and hard ciders. And when the alcohol is not cooked into the dish, suggested alcohol pairings are often listed in the description of the dish. I often have to flip through a page or two of alcohol offerings or set aside the wine list (which is placed on top of the menu) to simply get to the entrée selections. I am confronted with alcohol from the moment I walk into a licensed establishment.
I share this not because I’m afraid of relapsing, but this because I just don’t want to consume alcohol. It’s that simple. I used to be fairly well convinced that alcohol in recipes wasn’t a big deal because of the myth that alcohol “cooks off” when it is prepared in a heated dish. This is not so. With some cooking methods (such as boiling), up to 85% of the original alcohol is retained. Flamed dishes retain about 75% of the alcohol. To remove all alcohol, it takes approximately 3 hours of baking. Unfortunately, I have had many a server attempt to convince me that “all” of the alcohol is cooked off. Recently, I even had to challenge this belief with a food and beverage manager who felt the need to assure me that all of the alcohol was gone.
Call me naïve, but it never once occurred to me that butter would taste better with alcohol.
It has become a challenge to find tasty, attractive dishes that don’t have alcohol infused into them in some way. And, it’s just not cool to order a hamburger at a seafood place (if you can find a hamburger not cooked with beer). I have had to learn to ask about the alcohol content of any food I order. Alcohol, as an ingredient, is not always listed in the description of a dish. It seems odd to have to ask because it hasn’t always been necessary to do so until the recent push toward alcohol as an economic driver. But, I do ask; especially after I recently found that the butter for my bread was mixed with champagne. Butter. With alcohol. Call me naïve, but it never once occurred to me that butter would taste better with alcohol. Alas, butter is now a new addition to my “better be sure” list.
It seems like it should be an easy thing to be able to have a meal without alcohol. Yet, in this current social atmosphere of all-booze-all-the-time, it is not easy. It is not even easy to request that a dish be served without alcohol because some ingredients are prepared ahead of time. So, for now, I ask. Although we are in an era of finding your voice and asserting your rights, this one still tickles a nerve with people. I seem like the prude at the party to most people. For those who know me, they get it. Thankfully.
In my next blog, I will talk about some potential policy solutions to eating alcohol free. There is much more than my own desire to live fully alcohol free, there are genuine health questions that need to be addressed.