Pills on legs

From a recent review of The Joy of Drinking (Barbara Holland) in the New York Times:

‘The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Holland writes, “claims that a moderate beer drinker — whatever that means — swallows 11 percent of his dietary protein needs, 12 percent of the carbohydrates, 9 percent of essential phosphorus, 7 percent of his riboflavin, and 5 percent of niacin. Should he go on to immoderate beer drinking, he becomes a walking vitamin pill.”’

More like a passed out vitamin pill, I’m sure.

Clearly whoever was writing for that journal was under the sway of Wilbur Atwater, the man responsible for our current hysteria around calories. It all started innocently enough; in 1896 Atwater put one of his students in a glass box, fed and drank him, and recorded his energy output. The experiment led to several others, the writing of various reports and, pretty much, (fast forward 100 years) the standardisation of what we know as “Recommended Daily Allowance”. Most people loved Atwater – it was some pretty groundbreaking stuff! – but not the The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who ‘organized an anti-Atwater campaign when he confirmed—by sustaining a test subject for six days on a diet “largely composed of alcohol”—that liquor was a food.’ (From Nick Cullather in The American Historical Review. Fascinating article; go check it out)

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