September 17, 2016


How Methodists Invented Your Kid's Grape Juice Sugar High (Luke T. Harrington, September 2016, Christianity Today)

Grape juice wasn't a thing until 1869.

That may surprise you. There have always been grapes, and they've always had juice, right? Well, See, the thing about grapes is that their juice is loaded with sugar, and their skins naturally cultivate yeast, so the moment you squash a grape, the yeast gets in the sugary juice and starts turning it into alcohol. The label on that thousand-dollar bottle of cabernet you've got in your cellar might tell you otherwise, but, like most of Francis Ford Coppola's career, winemaking is something a toddler could do by accident.

Prior to the post-Civil War era, if you wanted your grapes to last past next Tuesday, you only had two options: Dry them out and make raisins, or squash them to make wine--and since raisins are only useful for ruining perfectly good cookies, there was really only one option. This was okay, though, because--according to the psalmist, at least--wine is a gift from God:

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate--
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts. (Ps. 104:14-15)

Christians generally recognized this as true--that is, until Methodists decided it wasn't true sometime in the early 19th century.

To be fair, alcohol truly had become a blight on society at the time, thanks to the (also surprisingly recent) 1822 invention of the column still, which suddenly made hard liquor plentiful and cheap: destroying entire families, neighborhoods, and cocktails in the process. Horrified by the havoc alcohol was wreaking, Methodists began the Temperance movement and pushed for total prohibition of alcohol. (So, if you want, you could blame early Methodists for Al Capone.)

The problem with the Christian campaign for prohibition, of course, was that throughout the entirety of church history to that point, the most sacred of Christian rituals had involved the consumption of wine. We couldn't exactly crusade against alcohol while also drinking the stuff, could we?

Enter Methodist pastor Thomas Bramwell Welch. Yes, that Welch.

...because we use white bread too.
Posted by at September 17, 2016 2:26 PM