The Spirits of the Season!

4168355718_b5c8cfccf4_oHo ho hold my beer.   Holiday season is here.

Time to eat turkey and fall into a couch coma.

Time to tolerate our extended family by sousing ourselves with gin and Wink soda.

Time to set up the Elf-on-the-Shelf surveillance to ensure a few weeks of good behavior.

Consume many products.  Venerate the notion of Santa, and the goodness he represents. Generously give a few bucks to the folks jingling the bells at the LCBO.

Feel the spirit.   No, no, really.  Pause and feel it.

Buy a tag from someone in front of the grocery store.  Wrap gifts.  Go to large distribution outlets and buy more things.  Breathe.  Listen to carols.  Hang stuff on the tree.  Hang lights on the trees outside.  Make stuff out of chocolate.  Eat chocolate.  Breathe again.

This is Christmas, X-mas, Yuletide. Feliz Navidad and Happy Holidays.

It is a crazy, whirlwind season.  Nowadays, it’s near impossible book anything non-Christmas into December, because everyone is so busy, well, doing Christmas.  Office parties, family parties, dance squads… curling clubs, hockey teams, gymnastics organizations…church societies, parades and downtown business associations.  They are all doing Christmas. It’s fun, it’s nuts and it’s beautiful.

But part of much of that, and part of the holidays on the whole…is drinkin’.  Lotsa drinkin’.

And eatin’.  Like it’s our last meal before the last dawn, generally.

You know that feeling, when you feel like a beached and inebriated whale, washed up on Aunt Margaret’s couch?

Is it any wonder, then, that many people choose to ‘go dry’ in January as a way to slowly allow for the reintroduction of water and vegetables…?

This Christmas season – try to go easy.  And if you don’t – get Ready to be Thirsty!

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Photo by Katrina Cole, via Flickr.  Creative Commons license, no changes.

A Brave New Way Home

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As the Toronto Star reported last year, there is no lack of controversy as the Way Home festival hits the Orillia area.   This is massive music festival coming to Burl’s Creek, a big open-ground event center, just north of the city.

Complaints from local citizens include the volume of the music, zoning violations when the grounds are used for camping, the re-purposing of prime farmland, garbage, traffic, and other problems.  Essentially, the controversy has been rolling since the property was purchased by its new owners and enlarged.  Check out the highlights from last year:

What’s more, there’s Boots and Hearts, a huge country music festival that comes in August.  Check out the ‘movie trailer’-style video:

Obviously, these are gigantic parties.  Whether or not local citizens are happy with the events in their backyards, it’s obvious that mass gatherings are places for much raucous behavior, drinking and debauchery.  There wouldn’t be much fun at these types of events if those elements were missing.  But yet, we know that alcohol is a BIG part of the down and dirty, and wherever alcohol lives in mass quantities, we have the potential for harm.   Violence, injury, overdose.

This raises the larger issue as to where where social and individual responsibility meet in regards to alcohol.  Do the consequences of consumption belong exclusively to the drinker, or do they also belong to the planners and organizers of the social context, where alcohol is deeply embedded and entrenched?

Big Culture, Big Alcohol

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Alcohol is part of our culture.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that in the past of number of years, the breadth of alcohol culture has increased, -its availability has widened.

It’s a lot more places than it ever used to be…

We see the possibility of booze being consumed where we get our haircut, at Starbucks, at the whole darned festival instead of just the beer tent, on the golf course, at the Farmer’s market.  We can buy it at the Supermarket.

This is in part due to market forces – economics.  Connected to economics and money as a driver, is marketing.  Marketing is the communication between corporate entities and consumer audiences, trying to entice changes in our choices and behaviour.  Marketing is a huge part of how we think, imagine, behave and define our social expectations.

For example, the diamond ring as an engagement present is a relatively new idea, perpetuated through mass marketing of diamonds by the DeBeers corporation.  Essentially, marketing convinced us as a society that diamonds are a symbol of love and commitment…and they sold a whole lot more diamonds after that.  It’s a very famous story.

The same principles hold true to alcohol marketing.  While economics have created pressure to allow alcohol to be available in more places, marketing has worked to create alcohol as a normal, everyday thing – a symbol of fun, ceremony or social exuberance.

Yet, let’s think for a second:

  • no one hands out samples of other recreational drugs at the Supermarket
  • there are no other recreational drugs that are advertised in print, or on television to make us feel we’ll be more attractive, popular, or likely to find a sexual partner if we partake…
  • no other recreational drugs have posters at the bus stop, or on huge billboards, or have hilarious commercials during sporting events
  • no other recreational drugs have massive sponsorship deals to support sports, athletes, car-racing or the arts…

Yet we have all this and much, much more for alcohol, convincing us that alcohol is a normal, fun, exciting, sexy, dynamic, funny, crazy, wonderful thing.  And while any one of us might feel this way in regards to booze for a social occasion or two, the truth is that over-consumption of alcohol is killing us, and costing us billions as a society.

 

Summer Cometh with Booze in Hand

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Here comes summer, and we’re about to see our favorite activities come to life.  Camping. Swimming.  Festivals and music.  The Beach.  Canoeing. Hiking. Boating. Water-skiing.  Backyard parties and get together’s – Family Reunions.  Okay, maybe that’s not your favorite, but whatever you like to get up to in the summer…I am sure that you’ll notice that so many of these activities have one thing in common – booze.

Summer never met a drink it didn’t like!

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When the weather is fine, you got drinkin’, you got drinkin’ on your mind!

Sure, we understand the impulse to let loose, to relax, to enjoy sunny weather and vacations.   But when we encourage restraint (and we’re just about to), we do so for the good of your health.  And of course, there’s a reductionist theory out there that as long as we don’t drink and drive, nothing is amiss.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth – such oversimplification.  Drinking and driving, while idiotic and dangerous, is only one measure of a complex and multi-layered alcohol mosaic, that includes cancer, injuries and falls, impulsiveness leading to sex, STI’s and unwanted pregnancy, aggression, dependence.

At least one of those things you’ve seen.  And if none of the above apply, how about over-eating, needless calories, rash thoughts turned into regretful words, embarrassment, or relationships put under strain…?  Alcohol has many impacts beyond laughter and reduced inhibitions.  And you kinda know it, but your go there anyway – because it’s a habit, or you love it, or it’s what expected, or all three.

So when your vacation or your weekend or your afternoon at the cottage begins…we encourage you to enjoy in moderation, mostly because you know you should, most of the time. To adhere, if you can, to the low-risk drinking guidelines.  Yes – by all means – enjoy your vacation.  You deserve it.

Relax.  Read.  Ponder. Indulge.  Bask in the glow of the sunset and forget every thought.   But also, please, for you…when you crack open that Chianti…come back around and think.  You deserve that too.

Alcohol, for Fun and Profit

16827367425_7da4053571_kI’ve been doing a little reading.  I’ve been following some election buzz and media coverage, that’s been so much focused on the economy.   I’ve been perusing online articles and following the evolution of the alcohol industry.

It goes on.

It seems obvious to me that everyone is looking to use alcohol to make a buck.  Stimulate economies. Spur the tourism industry.  Lubricate businesses in need of free flowing dollars.  Sell beer and whisky.  Profit.

Everything else seems to be posturing to my eye, and spin to my ear.

Look at a few examples:

I’m not naive – I know that money makes the world go ‘round.   But I cannot determine if our wants and needs are being met – as governments and the private sector work to fulfill our profound desires for a cold one….

…or is it instead that our interests are being dictated or fabricated by industry, profiteers and government lobbyists?  Were we truly, genuinely so unhappy with where we bought beer, historically?  How booze was distributed or marketed or sold?  The hours we might run a downtown street party, or a Jack & Jill?

Since alcohol is such a risk factor for chronic conditions…and such a short-term risk factor in injury and death…I am unsure what to think in terms of anyone’s motivations, save that they all might be short-sighted.

Nobody likes to hear about a guy who fell down a flight of stairs, an abusive relationship, or the death of some young boaters.  Nobody likes to imagine risk factors for cancer.  But money?  We sure seem to enjoy imagining more of that.

 

Photo by Got Credit, Creative Commons.  No changes.

Is Booze the Main Event?

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Sometimes we draw odd lines.  For example, a recent survey reported on by the CBC seems to suggest that we are okay with alcohol being served at public events.  Or folks from Halifax are.  And I’ll make a leap here to imply that this study might somewhat reflect our larger attitudes as Canadians – as the study was pretty rigorous and scientific.

Some events close to home:  RibFest, Lawn Chair Luminata, or  Promenade Days in Barrie. Or in Orillia, there is Movies in the Park, the Mariposa Downtown Stage and the Scottish Festival. Some of these include alcohol, and some don’t – a mix, to get you thinking.

In Simcoe and Muskoka, we have events in high season, as we milk summer to maximize tourism and festival-like feelings.   Can we be blamed for our frivolity, and the desire for a beverage or two?  As in all such things, it’s about moderation.

The same survey from Halifax discovered that 80% of respondents thought it permissible for their municipality to partner with an alcohol company to facilitate an event.   On the other side, there was a majority who didn’t want their municipality to allow alcohol advertising on public or municipally-owned space, such as park benches, or inside arenas.

So, it appears we don’t mind booze being available at these events (in fact, many times, we expect it).  And we are okay with the alcohol companies with their sponsorship money, their banners and tents, their swag and giant inflatable beers, etc etc…as long as they are temporary and when the party is over, they take it all away.

[Blink. Pause. Blink.]

Now, other research has proven that alcohol advertising has bad effects, raising consumption among youth (especially), as it plays a big role in normalizing booze and making it part of our culture.   This summer, this advertising is temporarily everywhere.

Festival Double Take

26774874_lSometimes you see a local story echoed in faraway places.  This is because it’s common for communities to similarly endure the learning curve of new rules and new developments.

Close to home, we have Burl’s Creek, a big mass of land used for events, camping, and other activities.  Recently, the property was purchased by new owners, and immediately they got ambitious.  They acquired additional adjacent lands, and in an effort to put them to use, they promptly made way for two major music festivals for this summer, starting with the Way Home festival, and later Boots and Hearts.

In case you don’t live around Orillia, Barrie, or Oro-Medonte, let me tell you that there has been no shortage of controversy with local residents doing whatever they can to kibosh or limit these festivals.  Coverage has been steady in the local paper and online.

Among local residents, there seems to be concern in regards to noise, traffic, garbage, vandalism, and safety.   Yet, the unmentioned menace is alcohol, especially as recent changes to the Liquor Licence Act allows for more liberal rules for festivals, dispensing with traditional beer tents and allowing for much larger licensed areas.

Let’s face it – as people consume alcohol, their willingness to engage in rowdy or risky behavior increases.  And this concern about festivals is reverberating in places all over – such in British Columbia, where the same loosened rules have created similar concern, and are creating debate about risk versus economic benefits.  Mass gatherings with liberal access to booze seem to be imparting apprehension – are similar things happening in your community?