Sunday, May 25, 2008

"My body will not tolerate it"

An old Woody Allen monologue covers the subject of how Allen is incapable of drinking or using drugs because his body, he explains, will not tolerate it. This of course fits with his nebbishy persona, but it turns out that "There is a biochemical basis for Jewish abstinence. Many Jews—fifty per cent, in one estimate—carry a variant gene for alcohol dehydrogenase. Therefore, they, like the East Asians, have a low tolerance for alcohol." This explains so much. I've been known to drink one beer and wake up with a headache. The way around this is usually to combine that one drink my body can (barely) tolerate with some kind of food, typically cheese, as photos on the NYU French Department website will confirm. Low tolerance doesn't, in my case, equal none at all. But now it turns out fromage is out as well: another article, about an amazing-sounding place in Israel called Himmelfarb Goat Farm (any relation?), notes, "We may all be lactose-intolerant Heebs, yet dairy has remained king in the land of milk and honey." This is not something I'd ever heard before, that Jews get ill from dairy, but unlike the New Yorker revelation, this one does not ring true.

10 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

I also have this problem. But I've always found it to be financially advantageous, and so it's never bothered me. (Except those rare times when I was drunk enough to forget that I had this problem in the first place...)

Miss Worldwide said...

Oh that's interesting. I've always wondered why most Jews I know in France never drink alcohol. That would also explain why coffee is such a big thing in Israel.

Jean Sanfine said...

Uh, only northern europeans are fully tolerant of lactose even as they grow older. People from other areas, such as the middle east, become more lactose intolerant as they grow older. And being lactose intolerant is not that big of a deal--its normal.
In contrast to loving things french. . . ;)

Phoebe said...

A guide book I used on my trip to Tel Aviv last year mentioned that at bars in Israel, everyone just nurses one beer for the whole night. All this does bring up the question: might this be where the rumor got started that Jews are cheap? Maybe it's not that we don't want to buy six drinks in the course of an evening, but that we start passing out midway through the first?

As for dairy, I don't know if Ashkenazi Jews are Middle Eastern enough not to tolerate lactose. Personal and anecdotal evidence says we tolerate the stuff just fine.

Withywindle said...

I would be wary of such generalizations. A related one says that Mediterraneans drink small amounts a lot of the time and don't get drunk, whereas northern Europeans (Ireland through Russia) drink rarely, but then get roaring drunk. Some study a few years ago found out that Mediterreneans don't report themselves as getting drunk, but they're complacent and delusional; they get drunk just as often as northern Europeans. So this "Jews can't tolerate alcohol" idea instantly arouses my suspicions. I would want several massive double-blind studies before I even began to accept the possibility.

On the other hand, there are studies which say that women tolerate alcohol less well than men, pound for pound; and the smaller you are, the less alcohol you can tolerate as a rule. Mizz Phoebe has told us she is short and thin; therefore she is probably fairly light; isn't "I am a light woman" enough explanation for not being able to tolerate much alcohol, without bringing in being Jewish?

Phoebe said...

I'm giving the New Yorker the benefit of the doubt, since the article uses long, scientific words. Plus, it sounds better to say it's one's enzyme's fault that one cannot drink than to chalk it up to being a lightweight.

Miss Self-Important said...

This doesn't, however, explain the five glasses of Passover wine.

kei said...

Isn't there also the Purim tradition of drinking to the point where you can't tell the difference between someone saying "Blessed be Mordecai" and "Cursed be Haman?

Anyway, do you also turn pink like I and many Asians do? I kind of like the whole rosy & warm effects, but I do have to watch my drink/hour rate carefully or else it will turn into pale & dizzy effects. I'm totally with you on blaming it on DNA and genes and such.

Anonymous said...

Israelis smoke a lot of pot.

Phoebe said...

Kei: I've gotten red from not much drinking. It once happened at a work party, pre-grad school. Not good at all.

Anonymous: Probably a different enzyme there.