Monday, March 10, 2008

rising prices on tap

Add to the depressing stories I cited yesterday today's item on public radio's The World:

The price of beer is going up, too.

There is a short supply of hops and malted barley worldwide. The same increases in standard of living that stimulate the purchase of more bread and meat apparently cause a greater desire for beer. Accelerating oil prices affect the cost of shipping those two principle ingredients and the finished product. And changes in weather patterns - that's right, climate change - are affecting yields in hops and barley. Hops is apparently a finicky crop - so farmers may choose instead to plant corn or rapeseed, with more predictable harvests at the high prices paid for biofuel crops.

(According to the story, hops has to be grown in northerly latitudes, 49 N being ideal. This made me wonder why all the old hop kilns around here?)

There's a supplement to the story on The World's site, an interview with Tom Standage, author of "A History of the World in Six Glasses." Standage suggests that the accidental discovery of beer may have driven the beginnings of agriculture. We humans may have settled down and cultivated grain to slake our thirst. I suppose this makes sense, given Johnny Appleseed's true purpose. Why did we need Michael Pollan to tell us what we learned in elementary school was romantic twaddle? Why couldn't they have told us the truth? John Chapman was after a dependable source of applejack in every community.

So the desire for a little liquid merriment has driven a lot of farming.

Which brings me to a question. Didn't most cultures ferment what was handy - from cactus to grapes to rice to elderberries to molasses to potatoes to apples? Will it be part of relocalization to go back to local brews and spirits?

And there's a second question that runs through all these recent stories - our greed for energy from fossil fuels is now having multiple impacts on our food system, in many places, at many levels. Do we need to fast from our energy gluttony, so that once in a while all will be able to feast at the table?

1 comment:

John Leech said...

Somehow I got the idea that the rule of St Benedict included using "the drink of the country". Certainly from what I've seen on my travels - the medieval Lindisfarne Priory had a brewery room (now ruins) large enough to accomodate a good size vat - it seems like a worthy notion. "Think global, drink local" - as the bumper-stickers say.... it certainly leads to some pleasure as well as a sense of place.


Of the Quantity of Drink

"Every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner and another after that" (1 Cor 7:7). It is with some hesitation, therefore, that we determine the measure of nourishment for others. However, making allowance for the weakness of the infirm, we think one hemina of wine a day is sufficient for each one. But to whom God granteth the endurance of abstinence, let them know that they will have their special reward. If the circumstances of the place, or the work, or the summer's heat should require more, let that depend on the judgment of the Superior, who must above all things see to it, that excess or drunkenness do not creep in.

Although we read that wine is not at all proper for monks, yet, because monks in our times cannot be persuaded of this, let us agree to this, at least, that we do not drink to satiety, but sparingly; because "wine maketh even wise men fall off" (Sir 19:2). But where the poverty of the place will not permit the aforesaid measure to be had, but much less, or none at all, let those who live there bless God and murmur not. This we charge above all things, that they live without murmuring.