Talking Temperance — Word(s) of Wisdom

While reading recently, I came across the word, temperance, and was startled to find it used in a rather ordinary sentence.

In my mind, temperance is associated with the U.S. anti-alcohol movement that began in the 1830s. Many people believed that liquor was at the root of societal ills, and led by groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, vocally protested its availability. These efforts led to passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919. The amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of “intoxicating liquors,” and ushered in its namesake Beer1Prohibition Era, complete with bootleggers, bathtub gin and speakeasies. For me, the word conjures images of women in Victorian-era dress marching and carrying signs denouncing alcohol.

Interestingly, I discovered that the word, temperance, itself is defined as “moderation or self restraint, especially in regard to eating and drinking.” Temperate, the adjective form of the word, means “avoiding excess or self-restrained; moderate.” Not abstinence, but moderation; no wonder I was confused.

Temperance is a good word for us in 21st North America, but we should apply it to food, rather than to drink. With obesity reaching epidemic proportions and restaurants dedicated to super-sized portions, perhaps we can give the word new meaning for our times.


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