"No! No! No! They don't mean the shuttle! They don't mean the shuttle!"
Much of what we believe about Prohibition is wrong. In the prevailing mythology, militant church ladies, some of them wielding hatchets, achieved a complete ban on alcohol. The ban was so despised, the story goes, that liquor flowed even more freely in a wild outbreak of speakeasies, and so the “noble experiment” failed.
But “Prohibition” was never a complete ban: It was much easier to drink spirits legally under the 18th Amendment than to smoke pot legally today. You could get a prescription for medicinal whiskey in any state, drink liquor you had stocked up before the law went into effect, or make your own wine. Not only was it not a complete ban, it did not fail — at least not as a public health measure. Liquor became scarcer, American drinking habits shifted, and alcohol consumption remained relatively low for the next three decades. Another misconception: we assume that Americans drank like fish before (and during) Prohibition, much more than we do now. In fact, we now drink about as much as we did in 1910.
Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State is dry and tendentious, like certain counties in Tennessee. But anyone with a serious interest in drug policy should read her book to understand how we arrived at our present tragedy.
It’s a bold opening: a story that sets up a metafictional diving board and leaps from it with misanthropic glee. I cackled at Finnegan’s takedown of the tourists who flock to Dublin for Bloomsday: “fat, mental penguins”, indeed. As the Ulysses approaches port, however, Finnegan lapses into self-absorbed mumbling and doubt creeps in. Readerly doubt follows. Is the diving board a plank? Is this collection itself in the paltry realistic mode? This isn’t going to be deliberately shit, is it?
The overarching question is how we acquire our tastes and what, if anything, might be done to change them – both for our kids and for ourselves. That is a refreshingly different way of structuring a discussion of how we eat now and how we should eat better.