Main Page CJLY
Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
recent showslisten live
Weekly Column

June 24, 2008


Deconstructing Dinner



Author Christopher Mark O'Brien writes about saving the world while enjoying a tasty brew.


New Society Publishers is trying to 'save the world' through 'activist'-focused content, and so I was rather taken aback when I came across one of their 2007 releases featuring a pint of beer on the cover!


No doubt I love a good beer, and it didn't take long before I was going through the steps of how the downing of a cold one could assist me in becoming a responsible citizen in favour of positive social change!


In his new book titled, "Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World", Christopher Mark O'Brien deconstructs beer in a way that fosters an intimate relationship with our lagers and ales.


Prior to engaging oneself into the book, readers will find a disclaimer on the back cover that reads; "Reading this book may lead mere beer drinkers to become beer activists, ready to fight corporate rule by simply meeting their neighbors for a pint at the local brewpub Ė fermenting a revolution one beer at a time."


O'Brien is referring to a plethora of issues that are rarely associated with a pint. While Deconstructing Dinner more often examines individual foods or agricultural commodities, beer is of course no different from any other food. Its principle ingredients consist of water, barley (or another grain), hops and yeast; all of which are extracted and produced in ways that can either respect or disrespect the earth.


While beer is still a long way from being recognized as an agricultural product, it has been leading a quiet revolution in small breweries around the world. If beer were to be put into a similar spotlight such as the foods often examined through Deconstructing Dinner, we would learn of the environmental impact of the chemically intensive process of growing barley; we would learn that two American companies control 75% of all the malted barley processed in Canada; and we would learn that none of Canada's major breweries are owned by Canadians.


It didn't take long before I became deeply engaged in the content of Fermenting Revolution.. O'Brien suggests early on that "beer nurtures and soothes, inspires and excites." Yes, yes, yes it does!" I shouted. He was speaking my language.


O'Brien continues; "It is the past, the present and the future. Beer is the nearest I have ever come to God". Wow! Religious or not, that's a set-up for a good book!


Fermenting Revolution covers it all; the history of beer and its role in birthing human civilizations, the deeply-rooted role of women and beer worldwide, the first ever 'drink-local' campaign launched by the founding fathers of the United States, beer production methods and tasting techniques.


I only wish such a comprehensive and philosophical approach to brews could have entered my life before the marketing campaigns of Canada's industrial brewers first began dominating my years at University!


Perhaps of greatest interest in the book are the gender issues pertaining to beer. According to O'Brien, itís only in the past few centuries when the "masculinization of beer" began.


O'Brien is referring to the longstanding history of women and beer; from early human civilizations until relatively recent times. Beer production has long been the role of women in the household, and in many non-industrialized countries, it still is. It's this that leads O'Brien to reflect on the female attributes of beer. In a conversation I had with O'Brien, he proclaims himself as a "femALEist". "I believe beer, at it's best, tends to exude feminine qualities, or at least qualities that we tend to attribute to women," says O'Brien. "In the real world, we tend to attribute things like cooperation to women and competition to men."


O'Brien captures his beliefs by pointing to the industrial revolution when men turned beer into an industrial commodity. "And through that transformation from feminine into masculine," says O'Brien, "the end result to put it kind of bluntly, are the advertisements we see at the Superbowl."


Fermenting Revolution uses the gender topic to help introduce O'Brienís vision for the role of beer in saving the world. "I'd like to see beer recapture some of those feminine qualities and the craft brewing movement is indeed doing that," says O'Brien.


The book continues with a comprehensive listing of innovative breweries throughout North America who are producing beer in far more 'feminine' ways than Canadians have now become accustomed to.


In the end, most Canadians still believe that the only four ingredients in beer are the four listed on the label. That's not entirely correct. Health Canada only requires four ingredients be listed on a label; hops, water, yeast, malt. Unknowingly to most, Health Canada does permit the addition of hundreds of other ingredients (colouring, head retention agents, preservatives) that are not required to be listed on the label.


Today, small-scale craft brewers are most often sticking to those original four ingredients and maintaining beer as a beverage to savour and to inspire thought. In that sense Fermenting Revolution is one great beer.


Fermenting Revolution Ė How to Drink Beer and Save the World

Christopher Mark O'Brien

New Society Publishers, 2006


Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. More information on today's topic can be found at(




Subscribe to RSS feed
Subscribe to our bi-weekly column's RSS feed

Help Spread the Word

Link to audio from which this column was derived.

Contact Deconstructing Dinner for permission to republish.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.