When I lived in France, doing research on the brain, I ate in the neurological hospital every afternoon. When you eat in the neurological hospital, with all its doctors, here’s what you do. You start by getting your plastic tray, on which you build an amazing lunch: your crunchy half-baguette, maybe a little fresh fish in a wine sauce, some herbed veggies, spiced couscous, a piece of cheese or fruit, and two empty glasses.
After you pay, you have a few options for filling your empty glasses. There’s water, soda, juice, and a cask of red wine. A cask. With a tap. I don’t know how to say this differently: free refills … on the wine … for the doctors … over lunch!
This is enough to tip the Baptist brain right off the pier. (Note to self: schedule any surgeries for the morning.) But what was interesting about all this was that I never saw anyone go back for seconds — and I was watching. I never saw anyone get sloppy, either.
In French culture, wine is considered to be a food. And, if you’re having food for lunch, why not have wine to go with it? After all, it’s a food, too.
By contrast, in the U.S., we don't see wine as a food, but rather as the sum of its pharmacological properties. It's as an intoxicant, laced with resveratrol, antioxidants, tannins, and other bioactive chemicals. That’s why, from an American viewpoint, it makes no sense to have an intoxicant in the middle of the day. Why in the world would you drug-up on an intoxicant and then expect to go back to work? What employer would allow that? The very idea is insane.
What’s cool about this little inter-cultural comparison is that “wine over lunch” is both obviously correct AND it's obviously stupid, all at the same time. The only thing that flips the switch from smart to stupid, from right to wrong, is our cultural assumption about wine.
Think about it. If your culture teaches you to assume that wine is a food, then having a glass with lunch will make sense to you. Conversely, if your culture teaches you to assume that wine is a drug, then the very same act performed in the very same way will suddenly seem absurd.
Either way, you think you’re making a rational choice, but are silently influenced by your culture. But supposing that wine is just the sum of its chemical properties is like saying a kiss is just two people mashing lips.
It’s time to unplug from our reductionist thinking about food, including wine. To do this, start by becoming a more sensual consumer and treat wine is the food it is, rather than a bunch of inert molecules swimming in a glass.
Focus on the experience: the aroma, the way its flavors marry with the food on your palate. When you do this, you enjoy it more, taste it more and, yes, are more likely to consume it in control.
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