MARTY RUSSELL: Without beer’s discovery, we wouldn’t be here

I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of William Faulkner’s writing but he did get one thing right if, indeed, the quote attributed to him is correct. Faulkner hit the nail on the head when he supposedly said, “Civilization began with distillation.”
Apparently a lot of scholars agree. You can search the Internet using the keywords “beer” and “civilization” and find all kinds of lofty treatises linking the survival of the human race to alcohol consumption, particularly beer. University of Pennsylvania biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern published a report earlier this year citing fermentation as the reason humans about 9,000 years ago gave up on hunting and gathering and settled down to grow rice and wheat which could be turned into beer. Other researchers have pointed out that it was necessary for the survival of the human race because, at that time, there were no purified sources of water and people regularly died young because of all the water-borne diseases they contracted.
But beer is a natural antibiotic. In fact, no known human pathogen can survive in beer. So switching from water to beer probably saved our early ancestors from extinction, at least some of them. Washington Post columnist George Will wrote in a 2008 piece that researchers believe beer may also have helped us evolve as a species by weeding out those of us who probably weren’t going to make it anyway. In order for the human body to tolerate alcohol, our ancestors had to have had a gene that produces an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenases. As Will put it, those without the gene “couldn’t hold their liquor” and, as a consequence those people died off as a result of drinking the water, leaving us “survivors” to forge the human race and civilization.
That means without beer there would have been no cities, no cultures and, yes, no Christianity. Which is why I find it hard to understand why churches, particularly Baptist churches it would seem, are so opposed to beer sales in their counties that they would actually expend resources that could be going to help people to fight legalization. Do they honestly believe that not allowing sales in their counties is going to actually prevent anyone who wants one from drinking a beer? It obviously hasn’t worked so far judging from the number of beer cans I see lining the roadways of places like Pontotoc and Prentiss counties.
Wouldn’t their efforts – and money – be better spent helping those in the community who do have serious drinking problems?

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at

Marty Russell

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