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10. Southern Europe vs. US: Differences in Alcohol Consumption

Per capita wine consumption

Indeed the difference in alcohol consumption between Southern Europeans and Americans is astonishing. The prime wine drinking countries of southern Europe drink wine almost exclusively, and mostly with meals, which are almost always an event of sorts. In the 70s the French consumed 32 gallons of wine, the Italians 29 gallons of wine, Portuguese 26 gallons of wine, and the Americans 1 gallon of wine per person. By the 1990s European consumption of wine had dropped and the American consumption had risen, but not by much. Below is a chart of the top 30 wine drinking countries of which the US is number 29.


for 1991 in Gallons (1998 Grolier Interactive Inc.)

1. France ------------------------------------------- 17.65

2. Portugal ----------------------------------------- 16.38

3. Italy -------------------------------------------- 16.37

4. Luxembourg --------------------------------------- 15.93

5. Argentina ---------------------------------------- 14.53

6. Switzerland -------------------------------------- 12.47

7. Spain -------------------------------------------- 11.22

8. Austria ------------------------------------------- 8.90

9. Greece -------------------------------------------- 8.56

10. Hungary ------------------------------------------ 7.93

11. Chile -------------------------------------------- 7.79

12. Germany ------------------------------------------ 6.90

13. Uruguay ------------------------------------------ 6.71

14. Denmark ------------------------------------------ 6.23

15. Yugoslavia (former) ------------------------------ 5.84

16. Belgium ------------------------------------------ 5.57

17. Romania ------------------------------------------ 5.10

18. Australia ---------------------------------------- 4.65

19. Netherlands -------------------------------------- 4.36

20. Cyprus ------------------------------------------- 3.49

21. Sweden ------------------------------------------- 3.38

22. Bulgaria ----------------------------------------- 3.28

23. New Zealand -------------------------------------- 3.20

24. Czechoslovakia ----------------------------------- 3.12

25. United Kingdom ----------------------------------- 2.72

26. Canada ------------------------------------------- 2.41

27. South Africa ------------------------------------- 2.38

28. Finland ------------------------------------------ 1.97

29. United States ------------------------------------ 1.85

30. USSR (former) ------------------------------------ 1.84

Americans drink a lot of beer and spirits

What are the Americans drinking if not wine? In the 1980s, in addition to their one gallon of wine per person, Americans consumed, 1.5 gallons of distilled spirits, and 16 gallons of beer. While the consumption of beer and spirits has dropped, they have not dropped by much.[1][2]

Americans get their alcohol from grain products, Southern Europeans grapes

To convert the alcohol of beer and spirits into wine units -> Americans got 8X more alcohol from beer than from wine and 6X as much alcohol from hard liquor than from wine. Of course Americans drink much more wine now in the early 2000s than they did in the early 1980s, but we still get more of our alcohol from spirits and beer than we do from wine. On the other hand the Southern Europeans get most of their alcohol from wine. Liquor is distilled beer, which is fermented roasted grain. Both beer and American spirits are grain products. We get most of our alcohol from grain products while the Southern Europeans get most of theirs from grape products.

Americans not a wine culture

Further while getting most of their alcohol from fermented and distilled grains, Americans consume 28 gallons of coffee and 8 gallons of tea per person. Therefore they drink 28X more coffee than wine and 8X more tea. Including soft drinks and waters, wine constitutes less than 1% of all the liquids that Americans consume. It is easy to see from these statistics that wine is not the liquid of choice in America. It would be safe to say that we are not a wine culture.

Wine is from a foreign culture

Interestingly enough it has been found that culture plays a major role in determining individual attitudes towards drinking, its patterns and use.[3] Indeed one of the major differences between the Moslem and Christian worlds is that they donŐt drink and we do. Similarly a major difference between America and Europe is that we drink whiskey and they drink wine. For many Americans drinking wine is foreign. Those who drink wine feel sophisticated because they are aligning themselves with European culture, while those who donŐt feel those who do are putting on airs, trying to be more cultured than the common folk. Therefore in certain circles there is a foreign stigma associated with wine drinking. Football and baseball stars advertise beer not wine. Wine comes from those countries with the Romance languages, not the Germanic ones in the north. The American choice of liquor and beer has a lot to do with our Germanic and English cultural roots.

Americans fermented their grains for beer and then distilled their beer

Our agricultural population was busily growing grains and corn for bread for food, not grapes for drinking. Those American pioneer farmers were a hard working breed – with little time for planting vineyards. They were clearing land and plowing fields to produce the Ôamber waves of grain.Ő that America is noted for. - With cows for milk and beef, and pigs for ham and bacon, and of course chicken for eggs and meat. Separated by thousands of miles from big bodies of water, fish was not a big part of the pioneer farmerŐs diet. At first wild game was a major supplement to the diet. But as the land was tamed, increasingly the farmers relied on meat that they could raise rather than that they had to hunt. Thus our early pioneer farmer ancestors fermented and distilled their crops for intoxication. That crop did not include grapes.

Northern Europeans, early settlers of America, not grape cultures

The early settlers in what was to become the United States were from Northern Europe, i.e. Germany, Scotland, England, Scandinavia. This was true especially after the French and Indian Wars of the mid 1700s when the English established their dominance in this part of the New World. These northern cultures were not grape cultures. They didnŐt grow so many grapes because of the cold. Wine grapes thrive in the more temperate regions of the world. The broad Midwest between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains is also a land of temperature extremes, i.e. hot summers and cold winters. This was another reason that grapes were not the crop of choice in America.

Two sides of America, religious and hard drinking

Simultaneously two sides of America emerged. The men of adventure, i.e. trappers, hunters, cowboys, were drinking their whiskey and beer in the local saloons, while the religious pioneer families, toting their Bibles, looked down upon liquor as evil and from the Devil. There were regular religious revivals from the 1800s on - where too much drinking was regularly on the agenda. Both sides were independent and wild, in the sense of being uncultured. Living as pioneer farmers in the Wild West, one was fairly detached from the culture of the city much less the culture of the East Coast or Europe. Thus in America two sides emerged - both hardworking - one whiskey and beer loving - the other very religious and Puritan, Bible reading, church going, but no drinking. These two cultures merged to give us the WomenŐs Temperance Movement and the hardest drinking people in the world.

Americans drinks more alcohol than French

From studies done in the early 1980s: Americans who drink consume 30% more total alcohol than people in France and the other Southern European countries. Note that 1/3 of the Americans donŐt drink, primarily for religious reasons, where in Southern Europe almost everyone drinks. Also the European countries consume 60% more alcohol per capita than most of the rest of the countries in the world.

Americans tend to drink to get drunk

The American cultural ambivalence towards alcohol leads to a high rate of alcoholism. In the Southern European countries drinking wine is part of the way of life while drunkenness is looked down upon. Everybody drinks but nobody gets drunk. In America many donŐt drink but many of those who do, drink to get drunk.

Getting drunk shrinks the brain

Alcohol consumption tends to shrink the brain. This is not good. The brain and thinking both get mushy. While the brain shrinks continuously depending upon consumption, the operations of the brain degenerate over time in a step like fashion. The last to go are the speech functions. Therefore one can function for years as an alcoholic before the degeneration is apparent to any but those in the know.

Brain shrinkage correlated with amount of alcohol consumed in a sitting

However the amount of shrinkage is not correlated with the amount of alcohol that is consumed yearly, monthly or even weekly. Brain shrinkage is instead correlated with the amount of alcohol consumed in a sitting and the frequency of those sittings. In other words: Two people drink an equivalent amount of alcohol. One person drinks a little wine with dinner each night: the other person doesnŐt drink at all during the week but then gets drunk on the weekends. The second suffers much greater brain shrinkage than the first. Regularly getting drunk is far worse for the Brain than drinking regularly.


[1] ŇPer capita consumption of wine and beer in the United States was relatively stable over the period beginning in the early 1980s and continuing into the 1990s when overall alcohol consumption was falling (Williams et al., 1995; cited by NIAAA, 1997). Most of the decrease in U.S. alcohol consumption can be attributed to decreased consumption of spirits. Though wine has made much less of a contribution to the total volume of U.S. alcohol consumption than beer or spirits, per capita consumption of wine was the same in 1993 as it was in 1977, while consumption of spirits fell by almost 35% over the same period. Per capita consumption of beer decreased from 1981 to 1985, fluctuated thereafter, and in 1993 was 1% below 1977 consumption levels (NIAAA, 1997).Ó

[2] ŇDrinking Patterns

Research studies demonstrate the major role culture has in determining individual attitudes toward drinking, patterns of alcohol use, and the types of alcoholic beverages consumed. In some religions, such as Islam or Hinduism, drinking is either forbidden or frowned upon. Abstinence from alcohol has also been the goal of temperance movements in Northern Europe, Canada, and the United States. National surveys in the United States report that around one-third of the drinking-age population abstain; the major reason for not drinking is religious beliefs. Conversely some cultures, especially those in the European Mediterranean basin have a permissive attitude toward drinking but a negative one toward drunkenness. The proportion of alcohol users in these cultures is high but the rate of alcoholism is low.

In some ambivalent cultures, such as the United States and Ireland, the values of those who believe in abstinence conflict with the values of those who regard moderate drinking as a way of being hospitable and sociable. This accounts for the plethora of laws and regulations that restrict the buying of alcoholic beverages. Some psychologists say that this ambivalence in the culture makes it harder for some people to develop a stable attitude toward drinking.

Drinking behavior differs significantly among groups of different age, sex, social class, racial status, ethnic background, occupational status, religious affiliation, and regional location. In the United States the legal purchase age for alcohol is 21 years of age. Alcohol consumption decreases with increasing age and females consume less alcohol than males. Since the early 1980s in the United States per-capita alcohol consumption has been decreasing.Ó Alcohol consumption: ©1998 Grolier Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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