The Kombucha Freedom Warrior

See all I can taste when I drink this is freedom. US Representative Jared Polis loves kombucha. That expensive, fermented mix of steeped tea and sugar that’s getting more popular in the US by the day. Usually the alcohol content is so low that it’s not regulated like beer. So when the Alcohol, Tobacco and Trade Bureau recently started cracking down on the drink, sending warning letters to some producers in his district, Polis decided to fight back. It is possible one of these might be 0.6 right? I don’t know. So the question is – is all that given the amount of business and everything else worth it? Or is there some better way to secure our food supply for health purposes that they should be focused on? Yeah. Like listeria. You ever card people for buying kombucha? That’s the right answer. You see the cider? There’s probably a greater chance that would be over the 0.5 than this. This is a bottled product, and that isn’t. It’s safe to say that you’ve taken up a mantle of work in keeping kombucha properly regulated. Yeah because unfortunately there’s been a flurry of activity in the FDA over something that’s pretty much innocuous. These are bottled products. Yes, there’s a living culture in them, but except under unusual circumstances in which it spoils, it’s not going to have above a 0.5% alcohol content. We saw on the menu here – apple cider. That’s much more likely to have an alcohol content that dips above 0.5 if they leave it out that something that’s bottled like this. So things that are above 0.5, you need to have an ID, be 21. I get why that’s arbitrary too right? Why couldn’t it be 0.8? There’s no particular reason it’s 0.5. It could be 0.7, 0.8. It’s just where we’ve drawn the line, philosophically. Because you could drink a huge volume of something Even if it’s 0.04, well even that wouldn’t do anything. You’re going to have to have an enormous number of how much liquids you could drink. Yeah, it’s a good question. Let’s put that to the test. Number one. Here we go. I don’t drink a lot of kombucha, but I’m a competitive guy. So here we go. Alright. Let’s head out. In a time of unprecedented disarray for the modern federal government, Polis is sticking to his mission. At 0.5% alcohol, you have to drink about eight bottles to be the equivalent of one beer. So it raises interesting questions about the role of government in food safety. Why we let corporations sell some foods to young people that we know cause diabetes and heart disease, but we get super strict over the tiniest amount of alcohol. After doing this a while, Representative Polis and I had to sit down. This sort of I’m not a political philosopher, but it feels a little bit like something that would appeal to a conservative ideology. Get big government out of my food! I think so. I think it appeals to people across ideology. I mean of course, there’s a role for the federal government in food safety right? Preventing tainted product, dangerous product. Nobody should be misinformed or be subject to making a decision that could hurt or kill them or their kids, and that’s why for instance, we have a whole host of products that say don’t eat when pregnant. But to say nobody can have it when by in large it’s safer than many food products that are already out there. Yeah. Safer than soda. We consider soda safe, but we know if you drink it every day, there’s an exponentially larger risk of diabetes and obesity and cardiovascular disease, so is it safe? If it makes you chronically ill, it’s fine, but as long as it doesn’t make you acutely ill. Even things that make you acutely ill, like if you don’t cook meat products properly, but you don’t ban chicken. You just try to inform people the best you can, and through labeling requirements that say cook your chicken and wash your hands. Cook your chicken. I mean, I’m going to have to give this whole lecture to the people at the shop in Williamsburg where I buy the kombucha. Yeah. I’m curious about that. Is it an independent shop, and they actually card you for the kombucha? It is Whole Foods. Whole Foods cards you? This is the kind that I buy where they card me in Williamsburg. Every single time. It must be a store policy. Well, you look so young, I’d card you for anything. Where’s your parents young man? I get that a lot. I’m actually 74. How many kombuchas today is that? I don’t have a problem. Maybe you’re the one with the problem.

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