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Drinking History

Drinking History
Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages
by Andrew F. Smith

Columbia University Press, 2012

Food historian Andrew F. Smith takes some 300 pages in his latest book to examine the wide assortment of beverages that Americans consume, try to figure out why certain drinks have become popular, and distill his findings down to 15 pivotal events that defined the culture's drinking habits.
Drinking History

Those "pivotal" events include Prohibition and the Tea Parties, of course, as well as the diversity of beverages introduced to the continent with colonial settlement from Europe. The growth of the rum trade in the Americas was pivotal, as was the development of local whiskeys, hard cider, and beer.

Subsequent chapters focus on the development and impact of milk, cocktails, fruit juices, soft drinks, kids' beverages, wine, bottled waters, and coffee on Americans.

"Although this is primarily a book about America's past, it is also about how we think about beverages today," Smith explains. "For those who believe that American beverages are on the right track, this book offers a partial history of how we arrived at a system that has emphasized convenience, massive diversity, corporate concentration, and consumer choice. For those interested in changing the current system, this book offers insight into how we ended up where we are today -- and perhaps even provides inspiration for alternative approaches for the future."

Losing Its Fizz?

In the 1960s, the sales of soda in the United States surpasses the consumption of coffee, formerly America's number-one beverage.

By the 1990s, Americans were drinking more than 57 gallons of soda per capita. Although this number declined appreciably in subsequent years, soda remains the most commonly consumed beverage after water in the United States.

Since 2001, US soda consumption has dropped by 16 percent, according to the Beverage Information Group. Americans now down an average of just over 40 gallons of soft drinks a year. Bottled water, meanwhile, has doubled in popularity to over 30 gallons and per capita consumption of sports drinks and fine spirits is also on the rise.

Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion

Rum and Catholicism may have made the 1884 presidential candidate James G. Blaine the first Republican to lose the presidency to a Democrat (Grover Cleveland) after the Civil War.

Some historians believe Blaine lost the election for not disavowing comments made by Rev. Samuel D. Burchard at a public meeting of the Religious Bureau of the Republican National Committee, proclaiming the roots of the Democratic
Party as "rum, Romanism, and rebellion" -- an alliteration that branded Democrats as opposing temperance, being pro-Catholic, and disloyal to the Union.

"The Catholic vote had been leaning toward Blaine," Smith points out, "but when the candidate did not immediately disavow Burchard's statement, Democrats reprinted it and circulated it in Catholic precincts...

"Although Blaine subsequently distanced himself from Burchard's statement, the damage had been done. Blaine lost New York and three other states by slightly more than 1,000 votes each."

180 Gallons

One hundred and eighty gallons.  That's how much liquid the average American drinks each year. The question is: 180 gallons of what?

The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch offers the following figures for the year 2011.

  • Milk (22.9 gallons). Thirty percent less than in 1975.
  • Juice (5.17 gallons). Declining steadily.
  • Soft Drinks (44.15 gallons). Down 16 percent in a decade.
  • Bottled Water (26.27 gallons). Up 56 percent in a decade.

  • Coffee (26.82 gallons). Holding steady.
  • Tea (7.03 gallons). Up 5 percent in a decade.
  • Powdered Drinks (3.9 gallons). This includes protein shakes, Instant Breakfast, chocolate mixes for children and powdered ice teas.
  • Wine (2.36 gallons). Up 21 percent in a decade.
  • Distilled Spirits (1.51 gallons). Up 20 percent in a decade.
  • Beer (19.79 gallons). Down 10 percent in a decade.
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