America has a tendency to dangle alcohol in front of its youth like a freshly baked forbidden brownie: booze is all over highway billboards, in the windows of the fluorescent-lit liquor stores that line our streets, and at the core of nearly any MTV or VH1 reality show.
But it’s the same old story: old enough to die in uniform, too young to drink. In August, former Middlebury College president John McCardell enlisted more than 100 university leaders, including Lawrence S. Bacow from Tufts and Jack M. Wilson from the UMass system, to form the Amethyst Initiative — a group calling for nationwide “re-examination” of the age when people can legally buy or consume alcohol. The Amethyst campaign implies, but never states directly, that the United States should once again lower the drinking age to 18, as it was in many states until 1984, when the feds blackmailed states with federal highway funds to raise it to 21.
“Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries, and enlisting in the military,” reads a statement on the Amethyst Initiative’s official Web site (amethystinitiative.org). “But are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.”
The fairly obvious argument goes that the illegality of alcohol makes it more appealing to those under 21, the same way that Prohibition did. And the fact that it’s against the law isn’t really stopping anyone, anyway. In Europe, offering a glass of wine to a teenager at dinner is no big thing; in America, it’s almost grounds for accusations of child abuse. Consequently, the first two or three years of college for Americans are usually spent scheming to find that sweet, prohibited nectar — an older (and willing) sibling or a fake ID suddenly become vital to one’s partying existence — and then consuming it as quickly as possible.
Binge drinking, that nasty frat-house habit that college presidents are also seeking to abolish, may indeed have something to do with the fear of being caught — an attempt to consume as much as possible and get rid of any incriminating evidence before dawn. My theory, though, is that students chug because their drinks-of-choice taste so bad. Anyone who’s ever imbibed cheapo light beer or, god forbid, malt liquor will agree: that stuff’s not easy to get down. And the mixed-drink options at your average college party are even worse: gin mixed with Pepsi, vodka mixed with Diet Coke (for those avoiding that freshman 15), and, on special occasions, the syrupy TGI Fridays–brand strawberry daiquiri mix paired with suntan-lotion-flavored rum.
These are not kind ways to treat your taste buds.
Whether or not this whole lower-legal-drinking-age thing works out, I have a possible solution for the binge-drinking quandary: be more discerning about what you pour down your throat. There are certain easy-to-make alcoholic beverages that are so delicious, you’ll want to consume them slowly so as to fully experience each note of flavor. And, as an added bonus, you may not feel as terrible the next day. (At the very least, you’ll have fewer beer cans to clean up.)
Of course, we responsibly recommend these superior treats only to those of legal drinking age. Got it?