Kristof says he doesn’t know anyone who died of ‘Pinot Noir alcoholism’

  • Kristof told NY Mag that he hasn’t lost any friends because of “Pinot Noir alcoholism.”
  • He also said “mortality” from alcoholism is “mostly caused by working-class Americans.”
  • The former New York Times columnist attempted to run for governor of Oregon, but was disqualified.

Former New York Times columnist and disqualified Oregon gubernatorial candidate Nicholas Kristof has suggested that alcoholism is less of a mortality risk for upper-class Americans than for working-class Americans.

In an interview with New York Magazine published Tuesday, Kristof discussed his failed attempt to run for governor of Oregon as a Democrat. After he resigned as a longtime columnist at The Times, the state Supreme Court ruled in February that he was ineligible to run.

In fact, he had voted in New York as recently as 2020.

“I didn’t feel any burning ambition to be a politician,” he told the magazine after running a gubernatorial campaign for 114 days and raising at least $2.5 million.

Kristof now owns a farm in his hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, where he maintains a vineyard of Pinot Noir grapes. Speaking to the interviewer, the Pulitzer Prize winner talked about his friends and neighbors in Oregon who had struggled with addiction and either overdosed or committed suicide, with a drug addict he knew posting a suicide note on Facebook that morning.

“I don’t think most people understand that most years alcohol kills more people than drugs,” he said. Kristof’s platform includes several mentions of addiction as an issue he sought to combat as governor.

But he was also quick to defend owning and operating a vineyard while saying he wanted to lower alcoholism rates. “You know, I’ve lost friends to alcoholism, but I haven’t lost any to Pinot Noir alcoholism,” he said.

Kristof at his farm near Yamhill, Oregon on January 21, 2022.

Kristof at his farm near Yamhill, Oregon on January 21, 2022.

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

“I think it’s a lot less common, and those who die, mortality from alcoholism, it’s really working-class Americans, and it’s particularly kind of hard liquor in bulk. I don’t think good wine and cider add significantly to the problem,” he also said.

Kristof added that he “wouldn’t favor banning alcohol in general” because “wine can be, or cider can be, social good and can create social capital.”

“I think things that bring people together are good for society. I think alcohol can do that, and I think that’s true for wine and cider,” he said, adding that he understood the interviewer’s argument that “some people start with good Pinot Noirs” before descending into alcoholism.

A 2015 Gallup poll found that 78% of high-income Americans say they drink alcohol at least occasionally, while only 45% of those earning less than $30,000 say the same. This same survey found that college graduates were significantly more likely to drink alcohol than those with a high school diploma or less.

A study reported by NPR in 2015 found that low-income people have a much higher drinking variance than other income brackets, with some drinking heavily and others noting at all. In contrast, high-income people were more likely to drink, but more likely to moderate their drinking.

And at least one recent meta-analysis found that alcohol-attributable deaths occur at a much higher rate among people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Kristof also told the interviewer that he once rushed into a village in Darfur to ask if anyone had been shot, only to quickly fend off an elderly man who had been shot in the leg.

“I knew immediately that I could do better, that I could come up with a more compelling case,” he told the magazine. “I said, ‘Are there any children who were shot?’ I was not feeling well.”

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