Should Grocers Sell Liquor (Distilled Spirits)? It’s a Food.

Should grocers sell liquor (spirits)? French grocery stores sell beer, wine and spirits, which is a logical place to purchase these products. Wine, beer and spirits are all foods. Both custom and food law in the Western World recognize them as foods. So it’s natural to sell them along with other foods, both in grocery stores and restaurants 1

grocers sell liquorUnfortunately, the US has a long temperance tradition. It stigmatizes alcohol beverages and tries to deny their status as foods. As long ago as the 1800s, temperance writers insisted that alcohol was not a food. Instead, they described it as a poison that was dangerous to life and health.2 That long tradition continues to this day among temperance-oriented groups. For example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) insists that alcohol is not a food.3

But temperance-oriented group deny that alcoholic beverages are foods. Indeed, they call them toxins. Thus, they can more easily restrict their sale.

So French thinking on the subject is correct. Alcoholic beverages are culturally and legally foods.  Therefore, they should be available in both grocery stores and restaurants.

Footnotes for Should Grocers Sell Liquor (Distilled Spirits)?

  • 1. grocers sell liquorThe U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, ch. II, Sec. 201 (321) (f) defines food. “(1) articles used for food or drink, (2) chewing gum, and (3) articles used for components of any such article.”  The EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 also defines food. It is “any substance or product… intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans.” Thus “Food includes drink, chewing gum and any substance… intentionally incorporated into the food.” According to the U.K. Food Safety Act 1990 (c., food includes alcoholic beverages.
  • 2. For example, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) insisted that “Alcohol is not a food or drink.” However, the Committee of Fifty, a group of scientists, examined the best available scientific evidence. It concluded that alcohol is food. It is physiologically processed and treated by the body as food. (Billings, J., et al. Physiological Aspects of the Liquor Problem. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903. The WCTU also insisted that “Medical writers, without exception, class alcohol as a poison.” However, the scientists of the Committee of Fifty stated this was another false assertion.
  • 3. CSPI agrees with the WCTU and the Anti-Saloon League that alcohol is not a food.