In 1950s France, ‘a Liter of Wine Per Day’ Was the Key to Limiting Alcohol Intake
words: Jessica Fields
January 13, 2022
France is known as one of the top wine-producing countries in the world, producing 962,088 gallons of wine in 2021. With 17 expansive wine regions, the agriculture, production, and consumption of wine have been considered a vital part of the country’s heritage and culture. More than just a beverage or industry, in France, wine is infused into the fabric of daily life.
But that relationship became a complicated one when concerns of excessive alcohol intake were brought to light by France’s own government. In the 1950s, French health officials began to take action against overconsumption, launching the “Santé Sobriété,” or “Health Sobriety,” campaign with the intent to limit daily alcohol consumption to 1 liter of wine per day per person.
This was not the first time alcohol intake was cause for concern among the French government. In 1865, a law was passed to increase body cleanliness and hygiene throughout the country. Based on this law, student literature touted morals that good health required sobriety, temperance, exercise, and serenity.
However, the “Santé Sobriété” campaign was the first to specifically dictate how much alcohol should be consumed daily. In 1954, Philippe Foré, later known as one of the greatest French graphic designers of the 20th century, was brought on as the campaign’s chief designer. In this role, he created a series of colorful cartoons bearing the health campaign’s slogan, “No more than a liter of wine a day.” His designs featured rosy-cheeked patrons happily measuring out wine to ensure it was within the recommended amount. Alongside each of the cartoons read the words”Santé Sobriété” in large, boldly blocked letters.
One cartoon after another, Foré’s posters playfully urged citizens to drink less than a liter of alcohol per meal. Each graphically illustrated the drawbacks of wine consumption with prompts like “Health, sobriety, youth,” or “A dangerous descent.”
The suggested amount of 1 liter of wine per day (about 33.81 ounces) was actually a reasonable request for French citizens, as wine was commonly consumed among all age groups. In fact, during this time, the packed lunches of schoolchildren frequently contained small bottles of wine or cider, and alcohol was allowed in high school canteens.
Even while concurrently designing advertisements for wine brands, it seemed Foré’s unique anti-alcoholism posters had made somewhat of an impact on the French drinking public. Within two years of the launch of “Santé Sobriété,” in 1956, the consumption of alcohol had been outlawed in schools for children under the age of 14 (although high- school consumption would continue until 1981).
The relationship with wine continues to be a complicated one in France — with numerous attempts to limit wine consumption, especially at work and school. In 2019, French health officials announced a similar suggestion to that of the “Santé Sobriété” campaign, urging adults over 18 to drink no more than two glasses of wine per day, and no more than 10 per week. Though the overall concern is excessive alcohol consumption, between the 1950s campaign and this latest announcement, there has been an emphasis on wine in particular, absent other alcohol types, that has rustled up industry pushback. When interviewed, French agriculture minister Didier Guillaume felt strongly that alcohol addiction, not wine, was the problem, stating, “I’ve never seen, to my knowledge — unfortunately, perhaps — a youngster leaving a nightclub drunk because they drank Côtes-du-Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage or Costières-de-Nîmes.”
As a leader in wine production, one could gather that wine is as much a part of the country’s history as its impactful historical events. With that in mind, it’s hard to determine when this age-old concern will be put to rest. Until then, patrons can reminisce about the country’s artistic approach to alcohol prevention through Foré’s posters –– that is, if you can get your hands on one. These days much of Foré’s artwork is hard to come by, but a search of online art auctions or antique shops might just do the trick.