“Indigenous” is a bit of a buzz-word, since now not much is. Expanding the worthy cult of rediscovering the local but also reminding us of its historical origins, this “Whole Foods”-style map of the wide world of intoxicants is an appreciation of diversity and a true big picture. In its most recent issue addressing the theme of Intoxication, Lapham’s Quarterly has backed a boggling collage of historical snippets of moments of intoxication past–Casanova’s night on the town; Stephen Crane on opium; Honore de Balzac on the delights of coffee; or the Apple in Eden– with the dimension of space. The map offers a nicely complementary map to an image of the inhabited world, even if one you won’t see on the walls of elementary school classrooms soon: is it where there are inhabitants, there are media of intoxication, or that societies grow up around intoxicants? (Although given teenagers’ habits for self- experimentation, perhaps it should be mandatory to post it in every US high school to encourage global awareness in a provocative DIY way.)
Intoxicants are a measure of sociability, at least. Beer seems missing from the list, or diminished in the face of Michael Jackson’s claim for the “perfectly reasonable academic theory that civilization began with with beer” in his World Guide to Beer some years ago, a theory that brewer Dave Alexander of Brickseller Brewery summed up that “beer is probably the reason for civilization.” Archeologist Brian Hayden of Simon Fraser University has both pursued and refined this argument by suggesting that the Neolithic domestication of cereals was largely for domestic brewing, linking beer to the “emergence of complex societies, leading Charles Q. Choi to broadcast that “Beer lubricated civilization,” based on archeological evidence that maps beer to the analysis of human remains found in the Nile delta. (This is not only an argument in Canada.)
But these theories beg the big picture. If beer is bread, let’s expand our basket of intoxicants by cocktails that offer grounds for socialization beyond the sixpack in a site-specific map: rather than a map of where you can go to get intoxicated, the above map takes a wider view, timed for St. Patrick’s Day, by amply recognizing the Mediterranean grape, honey, barley of Mesopotamia, palm wine, beside the grain and hops it calls indigenous to Europe. Broadening our horizons by embracing the prickly poppy, mushroom, peyote, beetroot, embracing the glorious juniper berry as well as the Sonoran desert toad, which join cannabis and coca or the Kola nut, to picture the origins of human sociability in more variegated and broader landscape. No doubt toads and prickly poppies weren’t as easily domesticated, not to mention Arctic Club Moss, but the big picture provides a nicely bucolic view of varied ecological habitats, as well as providing a new sort of level for what Italians have come to call Agriturismo, just in time for Spring Vacation. It may give fieldwork a good name, even after Napoleon Chagnon took the dark-green slime dripping from noses of hallucinogen-induced violence among Yanomani as signs of their state of perpetual warfare.
One response to “Intoxicants! (Choose Your Poison)”
Love the paean of praise to beer, which is certainly basic to civilization. The hopping bread basket, as it were. Who is that snotnose Chagnon?