Cornhill Magazine,  6 (1862), 319–29.

Does Alcohol Act as Food?

[Francis E Anstie]




Narcotics, Temperance, Physiological Chemistry, Nutrition, Controversy, Error, Degeneration, Anaesthesia, Medical Practitioners

People mentioned:

Justus von Liebig , Adalbert Duchek , Edward Smith , Maurice C Perrin

Publications cited:

Brinton 1861

    Contends that at a time when 'highly-coloured statements of the results of the new French researches [into the nature of alcohol] are being somewhat disingenuously placed before the lay public, there should not be a total silence on the part of those members of the [medical] profession' who have not 'become the obsequious mouthpieces of the teetotal party' (329). Impugns the 'imperfect chemical or physiological experiments' (329) of 'our chemical anti-alcoholists' who seek to show that alcohol is not a food, but rather a poison or medicine which depresses the nervous system (328). In obtaining their so-called 'proofs' these men follow 'such an eminently unscientific procedure as the attempt to estimate the amount of a substance present by the tinge of colour given to the reagent, and guessed by the eye!' (327), but like 'many physiologists [they] strangely overlook a set of facts [...] viz. the frequent instances which are to be met with, among regular dram-drinkers, of almost total abstinence, for years together, from any food except alcohol and water' (323). While the 'effect of long-continued habits of alcoholic excess upon the general health of the body [...] may be summed up in brief by one word—Degeneration' (322), it is nonetheless true that alcohol is still a food, although it is a 'bad and insufficient food' on its own (323). Moreover, for the 'labouring man [...] who drinks, in ordinary times, two pints of beer per diem', his 'beer is itself a nutriment' and it contributes to his ability to perform his labour (325). The 'newly-made teetotal convert' may warn of 'the "slavery" of alcohol' (325), but on the beneficial effects of moderate drinking 'the instinct of common sense overpowers the influence of even a chemist's obstinate theorizing tendency' (327).

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