Chef Seamus Mullen’s Approach to Alcohol
- Written By:Seamus Mullen
One of the most common questions I get is, do I drink alcohol? Like many people these days, I’m very conscientious about my health and wellbeing, and I would say nearly all of my decisions around what I put into my body are influenced by my concern for my health. So for me to argue that alcohol is healthy would be a stretch. Let’s call a spade a spade, alcohol is toxin with virtually zero nutritional benefits. Yes, there is resveratrol in red wine, but trying to convince yourself that your bottle-of-Burgundy habit is healthy is wishful thinking. Then why is the one thing that all the blue zones (you know those places like Okinawa and Greece where people regularly live to be over 100) have in common is booze? Are they really the “booze zones”? I think the answer lies not in the booze itself, but in the lifestyle that the booze plays a part in.
Alcohol is good grease for conversation, and conversation and socialization is one of the most important factors for longevity, human connectedness, and general happiness. All of these things help keep cortisol (the stress hormone) in check and reduce the overall stress load on the body. But, here’s the kicker: it’s all about moderation. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you!)
One of the real problems with alcohol is that it feels good to drink. We feel relaxed, less stressed out, our inhibitions ease up, and we become more animated. But in reality, it’s a substance that is making us perceive that we feel this way. It can very quickly get us into a groove (or a rut, depending on your perspective) and we can start to develop a habit of using alcohol to moderate our stress, to wind down, and to relax. That’s where it can become problematic. When it becomes a necessary part of our busy lives, there is a higher likelihood that any of the benefits reaped go out the window.
If we do choose to drink, and we want to maintain a life of optimal health and optimal wellness, what does this mean? I think it means adopting a position of mindfulness when it comes to the hootch. Save it for times of celebration, share it with people that are important to us at moments that are significant. Appreciate it.
As a chef, I have great reverence for craftspeople who create remarkable products, whether that is a beautifully harvested olive oil, an impeccably grown tomato, or a wine from a brilliant and gifted winemaker. Life truly is too short for crappy things when it comes to food and drink. And, of course, not all alcohol is created equal. I find spirits like mezcal and fine tequila are much easier on the body than bourbon, rum, wine, and beer. This is by no means carte blanche to get blotto every night on tequila, but again, to drink it mindfully and appreciate the nuanced craft of the distiller who made it.
So yes, I do drink. I drink in moderation, I drink with friends. But often I don’t drink. I will frequently go weeks, months, even years at a time without drinking. I find, just like so many habits, the habit of not drinking gets easier and easier the more I practice it. It serves as a gentle reminder to me that the habit of drinking also gets easier and easier the more I practice it.
Seamus Mullen is an award-winning New York City chef, restaurateur and cookbook author known for his inventive and approachable Spanish cuisine.