I was raised in a kosher household, which meant that I grew up convinced that bacon, lobster, pepperoni pizza and cheeseburgers were the promised land of food. (I assumed the banning of trafe was part of God’s punishment for Eve and the apple.) I’m no longer kosher, which means that I’ve since learned that I was right: bacon really does make everything taste better. If I see shellfish on a menu, especially when the shellfish is combined with a pork product (scallops wrapped in prosciutto?) I can’t not order the dish.
My point is that we learn to crave what we are denied. It’s a perversity of human nature, but it’s also rather universal. My friends who couldn’t drink Coke as kids now chug it for breakfast. If sugary gum was forbidden, then they now chew a pack of Bubbalicious every day. And so on. Nothing is more rewarding than rewards that feel a little illicit – just ask Eliot Spitzer.
Which brings to me to this bit of research:
Dr. Vaillant compared 136 men who were alcoholics with men who were not. Those who grew up in families where alcohol was forbidden at the table, but was consumed away from the home, apart from food, were seven times more likely to be alcoholics that those who came from families where wine was served with meals but drunkenness was not tolerated.
He concluded that teenagers should be taught to enjoy wine with family meals, and 25 years later Dr. Vaillant stands by his recommendation. “The theoretical position is: driving a car, shooting a rifle, using alcohol are all dangerous activities,” he told me, “and the way you teach responsibility is to let parents teach appropriate use.”
“If you are taught to drink in a ceremonial way with food, then the purpose of alcohol is taste and celebration, not inebriation,” he added. “If you are forbidden to use it until college then you drink to get drunk.”
In a more recent study of 80 teenagers and 80 young adults in Italy, Lee Strunin, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, found that drinking wine in a family setting offered some protection against bingeing and may encourage moderate drinking.
In other words, people who were never exposed to alcohol as young adults treated booze the way I treat bacon. The end result is that they didn’t know how to consume it (they’d never been taught the proper rituals) and were convinced that alcohol was this incredible reward, which is why they had to wait 21 years for it. And then they binge, which is why I always order the bacon cheeseburger.
Here’s an experiment I’d like to see: take a bunch of kids raised kosher and flash them pictures of bacon in an fMRI machine. Then, compare these scans to people with no dietary restrictions who were also shown pictures of trafe. (You’d need some non-kosher Jews for control.) Look for activity in the dopamine mid-brain. My hypothesis is that people who have never eaten bacon would be most excited by images of bacon. The forbidden fruit is the sweetest fruit.