Quality vs. quantity. There’s only three letters of difference between them. But those three letters mean everything.
Those three letters are the difference between eating well and feeling like you had enough, and eating too much because what you ate didn’t satisfy you. They’re the difference between drinking a little of something really good or drinking a lot of something cheap and plentiful.
The two words came to mind when I was writing about the 10th anniversary of Pop the Cap, the legislation that raised the limit on alcohol by volume in beer sold or made in North Carolina. Yes, it meant we could make and buy beers with higher alcohol levels. A lot of people worried, and still worry, about that idea. They feared the state had unleashed a tidal wave of cheap, high-alcohol malt beverages with easier access for underage drinkers.
Some of that did happen. The Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which oversees North Carolina’s alcohol industry, wishes it could limit things like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and other so-called “alcopops” that taste like sodas but pack a wallop.
But a bigger thing also happened. Craft brewing took off. That’s not about easy-to-drink, high-octane beers. It’s about making beers in better quality, with better ingredients.
It’s hard to drink most craft beers in quantity. They cost more, for one. The flavors are big, for another. Those flavors also can be challenging. It takes a mature palate to handle some of them.
Quantity vs. quality works the same way in food. Buy a bucket of fast-food fried chicken and it’s easy to mow through a lot of it. Buying a farm-raised chicken and taking the time to fry it yourself generally means you won’t eat more than one or two pieces. It costs more, and you don’t get as much. It also tastes better. Spending more and working to cook it make you take it seriously.
When my son was little, I let him go to McDonald’s occasionally. I would tell him it was OK once in a while, as a treat. I thought I was teaching him about balancing cheap with good, living a life with room for all things. What happened surprised me. By the time he was 10, he had developed a hate of McDonald’s. He would complain when trips with friends meant stopping there.
Funny thing is, the same thing happened with drinking. He was raised in a craft-crazy family. As a teenager, he loved to sniff my wine. He could identify a surprising number of flavor notes for someone who never tasted. While he’d do it, I’d talk to him about how wine is made, how it’s an expression of the place it’s grown, how you don’t waste what someone worked to make.
Steering kids toward sanity in their choices is a dice roll. I can’t tell you how to do it. But when this kid grew up, he held out on drinking at all until he was 21, and then developed a love for craft beer. A self-regulating love: He can’t afford much, and he refuses to settle. If the only thing available is cheap beer, he skips it.
He’s not rude about it, or pushy. He doesn’t criticize people for not having what he wants. He just skips it, and waits for something better.
Maybe that’s one way to deal with drinking and eating too much: Turn our sips and bites into acts of appreciation.