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The Fashions of Our Addictions

Did shamans pack tobacco leaves into leather pouches only for symbolic reasons?


Illustration Credit: Mood Swings by Samone Murphy

Many years ago, on a teenage bicycling trip in Europe, my brother and I returned to the hostel to find our companions roaring drunk. While we were out riding, they bought beer—the cheapest they could find. Now the beer was gone and our friends were flying, or at least they were until my brother read the German label and pointed out that the beer was cheap because it contained no alcohol. Never have kids sobered up so fast.Today we have the opposite problem, and one reason is craft beer. Not long ago, “two beers” meant two 12-ounce bottles of 5 percent alcohol for a total of 24 ounces of beer, 1.2 ounces of alcohol, and 300 calories. But craft beers are served in 16-ounce pints and often contain 6.5 percent alcohol or more. So “two beers” is now 32 total ounces, 2.08 ounces of alcohol, and 545 calories! Two beers and you’re flying—or would be, but you’re too fat.Afterward, we wake up in the morning to a choice: Make coffee or hold out for Starbucks—and we now often choose to drive and to pay much more. Is it the ambiance? Or is it because Starbucks feeds our addiction with the highest caffeine content in …

Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.

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