Picture a martini. A transparent glass, holding a clear and crisp liquid. Nothing seems further away from rotten fruit, wild fermented honey or grass seeds in a puddle. Yet that’s how ethyl alcohol was born. Natural yeasts floating through the air, and the sugars of a piece of ripe fruit are all you need to create a concoction most creatures will happily indulge in.
From shrews to elephants, even insects, they all like a drink. Whether it’s wild honey fermenting away or a durian that’s bubbling on the forest floor, most animals will happily consume it. Alcohol, and indulging in it, is as natural as it gets. When prehistoric man bumped into it, he wasn’t any different. Except for man’s brain that allowed him to recreate this natural process, which eventually gave rise to civilization.
This concept is called the beer before bread theory. It claims that man switched from hunting and gathering to agriculture not to create a larger and more reliable food supply and more so to have constant access to alcohol. It’s thought that grain was grown and stored to make beer long before humans figured out how to make bread. The fact that hunter-gatherer societies still exist today proves that man doesn’t need agriculture to have his fill.
Yet alcohol offered something too good not to settle down, and settle down we did. As this NY Times article says: “…alcohol freed up the rigid social codes that kept our clan and species alive, leading to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness, and experimentation.” Civilization in short.
Thousands of years later we’re still doing the same thing.
[Article by Alexander Eeckhout]