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But Judge, I Didn't Swallow

July 21, 2006
Sincere thanks to a Colorado State Senator for introducing the funniest legislation I have ever encountered. His bill is actually well-meaning and pro-hospitality but goes far in illustrating the absurd priorities of our country. From Hospitality News, the monthly newsletter of the Colorado Restaurant Association: “Alcohol Testing in Culinary Schools - Senate Bill 82 allows students under 21 years of age enrolled in a restaurant or culinary program of study in a post –secondary school to taste but not swallow, alcohol beverages as part of a school course in a classroom.”

Okay, this is progress. Students taking culinary courses should obviously learn the delightful dance of pairing food and wine but for a post-secondary student to have to spit it out is absurdly absurd. The Bill reads, “The person is a student who: tastes but does not imbibe an alcohol beverage.”

What if the students inadvertently let slip a smidgen of the forbidden substance into their gullet? Can you hear the pleas? “But judge, I did not mean to swallow. But judge, it’s impolite not to swallow. But judge, I can go to war and not only carry a gun, I can shoot maim and kill. But judge, I can go into a voting booth and pull a lever and use my judgment to decide who to elect into office. But judge, I can marry, mate and procreate. But judge, I find it hard to believe that I can’t swallow a sip of the wine that pairs so elegantly with the food I am preparing. But judge, but judge, but judge.”

All of these activities are allowed to be preformed by adults, those that are “legally of age,” but are not legally of the age to have a sip of wine. The consequences of a slip of a sip I imagine, must be too grave to fathom.

In his Critic At Large article in The New Yorker’s Food Issue, (September 6, 2004) entitled “Through A Glass Darkly” Adam Gopnik quotes Saul Steinberg, “Wine is the only thing that makes us happy as adults for no reason.” But these earnest post-secondary culinary school “adult” students are not adult enough to imbibe a sip of what is an enjoyable and in the school venue an educational activity. They are adult enough for all the aforementioned responsibilities but due to our puritanical bent and misplaced laws, must expunge the wine from their mouths before it is fully appreciated. Never down the gullet!

Mr. Gopnik goes on to state that, “Wine is a ritual thing before it is any other kind of thing.” Why not teach these students all about the joys of wine and its inherent traditions? It all gets back to the “forbidden, desired, abused conundrum.” Do we really think that these same students never consume beer, wine or spirits during their time off?  And are they not laughing at how crazily hypocritical the powers that be are? Underage college drinking belies the naiveté of our leaders.

Another French trip recently and again I witnessed the horror of children sipping wine with their parents in a bustling, charming Deauville restaurant. These are most likely not the binge drinkers of the future since they have been exposed to the fruits of the vine at the tender ages of approximately eight, ten and twelve. And as I have stated in a previous article, their parents, their server and the restaurant owner would be considered criminals in our country. Child endangerment most likely would be the charge but not instructing our kids about the art of dining and imbibing seems more dangerous than allowing a few controlled and monitored sips and swallowing of wine. Teaching youth the importance of responsible consumption makes much more sense.

But making sense is not what America seems to be all about. My hat is off to the smart Colorado Senator for introducing this amazing commonsense bill, this is progress in the right direction but it sure is hard to swallow the wacky priorities of the good ole USA