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This question asking for details of the biological/chemical causes of hangovers, and what causes variations in their severity, was closed as off-topic, with it being deemed a health question.

What makes it a health question (or otherwise off-topic), and not a culinary question?

  • I used the global stack exchange search, these hits from other stacks might answer your Q. stackexchange.com/search?q=hangover – Paulb Apr 29 '16 at 17:15
  • @Paulb Maybe you meant to post that on the original question? I'm not the one who asked it. – Cascabel Apr 29 '16 at 17:16
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The question asks about the effect the food (or drink, in this case) has on your body. Although this might not be what you'd normally think of as health, it's therefore at least a biological question, which is close enough to health to just use that reason: it's about something making you feel bad.

Whether we use the health close reason, or the generic off-topic reason, the simple fact is that this question is not actually about something culinary. I'm aware it has culinary associations, but we have to draw a line at some point, and this question is fairly clearly on the non-culinary side of the line as established by the history of questions we've closed.


Since this also came up in now-deleted (but archived in chat) comments there, food safety does appear to break this rule. However, food safety is a canonical topic that cooks need to know about. Cooks are the people who are expected to be experts in food safety, in that they need to be able to cook safely. When government agencies publish guidelines, they're targeted at cooks. It's also very extreme: it's about preventing illness or even death, not about something fuzzier like losing weight or preventing headaches. And it has well-researched, well-defined guidelines, conveniently put together with cooks in mind.

So this isn't exactly even an exception to the rule. But if you really want to view it as one... exceptions prove rules; they don't destroy them. Broadly, topics to do with the effect food has on your body are off topic, and always have been here. So no matter what your point of view, this should not be used as a means by which to change our policy on all other health-related topics. We are a cooking site, and it doesn't make any sense for us to move on to health/nutrition, biology, or chemistry, especially given that health, biology, and chemistry sites already exist .

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With heavy editing, it could potentially be on-topic.


A hypothetical example that would be similarly off-topic:

Sometimes cheese make me feel ill. Why does cheese cause this reaction for people? Is it because of the type of cheese or just cheaper cheeses will make me queasier? What should I look for in a cheese to avoid stomach pain?

Sure, it's useful for other people who get sick from eating cheese, but it is not on-topic for Seasoned Advice.

Similarly:

Some kinds of cheese give me a stomachache. Is that because of the lactose or the casein? What cheese can I cook with that won't cause problems?

I'm really looking for a diagnosis here, even though I conclude with asking about cooking and speculate about the characteristics that cause my problem. Still not on-topic.

I think, however, that the following hypothetical example question could be on-topic:

I need to avoid lactose because it gives me stomachaches. What should I consider when shopping for cheese -- do some types have more lactose than others?

I've established the particular characteristic of food that causes a problem for me, and am looking for a way to avoid that characteristic.


So, to get away from my imaginary cheese question, an on-topic revision might be along the lines of:

Sulphites in some wines give me a nasty hangover. What sort of wine should I look for that won't have as many sulphites?

However, the current question asks which additives or naturally-occurring chemicals cause a hangover, in all forms of alcohol (wine, beer, liquor), or whether it is just about the quantity rather than the chemicals. Once those effects are narrowed down (perhaps with help from Health, Chemistry, or Biology) to a particular chemical or ingredient, then it could become a Seasoned Advice question.

  • Yes, that's a really good point, thank you! I'm not sure how much it helps here, because it sounds like the whole point of the OP's question might be to find out which things have this effect, not to figure out which alcohol contains them... but if he were willing to go ask elsewhere first he could certainly come back and ask about that here! – Cascabel Feb 2 '16 at 15:51
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A better question is, why would they be on topic at all?

Our site is about preparing food, and the audience is expected to be knowledgeable about cooking. We are not allaboutfood.stackexchange.com, we are cooking.stackexchange.com. There are many, many aspects of food we don't take into account, and "what does food do to the human body" is one of them.

There is also a very good reason why we don't take "what does food do to the human body" questions: Nobody in the world knows for real, but many people have an opinion about it. The field of nutrition is ripe with misinformation and half-truths. What serious research exists tends to be contradictory, and whenever I have seen laymen discussing it, they usually misinterpret it badly.

Now, alcohol hangovers are not as controversial a topic as losing weight or the "perfect" mix of amino acids, but they still happen to be part of that category, which is off topic as a whole. They are a nutritional question, so off topic here.

We do have two areas which are a bit separate from the rule exposed above. The first one is asking for measurable amounts of a known component, as Erica explained. For a question to be allowed under that rule, it must 1) ask about something objective and easily verified, and 2) not require answers to suggest that eating or not eating a nutrient is good or bad. That is, the nutritional belief must be the OP's, we can only help in the application.

The second exception area is food safety. It is historically accepted as part of our scope, and specifically listed in our topics. It does not consider the actual effects of food on the body (which are terribly complicated), but the regulations created by legislators. This is why answers are clear and unambigous, and don't end up being a septic tank of misinformation. Also, food safety questions tend to make our worst questions, (I haven't seen the statistics, but they are probably the largest proportion of our closed questions, and the ones which stay open tend to be terribly boring) and I personally think that the site would be better off without them (but of course continue to moderate according to the accepted site rules and not to my preferences).

The hangovers question is very, very obviously outside of our scope. It doesn't fall under the existing exceptions. There is no reason to make a new exception to allow a question which is not connected to our current scope and might serve as a way to "legalize" worse questions like the ones soliciting nutrition myths. It is not only currently off topic, but I see it best to remain so.

  • 1
    It's sometimes helpful to think of all of food as a process from agriculture/gardening/production to distribution to shopping to preparation/cooking to serving/presentation to eating to health/nutrition. We focus on the cooking part, with some necessary reaching into shopping and serving, while avoiding the bits on either end. – Cascabel Feb 2 '16 at 19:25
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    Indeed. In fact, food is more than just this process, as it has a large role in human culture, mythology/religion, history, legislation, medicine, economy, and personal relationships. But we still focus on one small part: food preparation. The others are interesting in their own right, but out of place here. – rumtscho Feb 2 '16 at 19:36
  • Actually, the name of the site, before being renamed to 'Seasoned Advise' was specifically 'Food and Cooking' not only 'Cooking' (ie, preparing food). See area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/1288/food-and-cooking – Joe Feb 9 '16 at 2:04
  • @Joe and then the site redefined itself early in beta, see meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/904/… – rumtscho Feb 9 '16 at 10:03
  • @rumtscho : one person's comment w/ 7 upvotes? Now you're making me wonder why the hell I spend time on here ... I went through this un-democratic change in scope on both the libraries & data sites, too. – Joe Feb 9 '16 at 13:32
  • @Joe I wasn't around back then, so I can't say how popular or democratic the change was. I know that this is the principle I have seen supported by every writing on Meta or on our scope defining page in the help center since I joined, and this is the only way most users have ever experienced the site. I don't know how or why this came to be, but it is the status quo, and has been during almost all the life of the site. – rumtscho Feb 9 '16 at 17:43
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I agree that the question as asked is off-topic, though I disagree with the vehemence that our mods seem to be arguing about how it is so clearly off-topic. I also have spent the past few years trying to really understand what our community policing is regarding the difference between "health effects" vs. "food safety" vs. other random effects. I disagree that there is a clear and unambiguous line between "health topics" and everything else, with "food safety" being the only exception.

This question as asked is off-topic for the simple reason that it's trying to ask about biology. I agree. On the other hand, I do not think we should out-of-hand dismiss very similar questions as "off-topic" if they are phrased in a way that is relevant to cooking and serving food. I'm sure my response here may be modded down to oblivion -- go ahead if you feel that necessary, but I hope you'll at least note some of the problems in the inconsistency about this boundary that I'd like to draw attention to.

To get to the alternative questions I was mentioning -- to me, it's NOT a priori clear that we should close questions like this as off-topic:

  • I'm a sommelier. We've been introducing longer paired flights of wine with dishes of many courses, and due to cutbacks in our budget, I've been trying out cheaper paired alcohol options (but still very lovely and workable, from my perspective). I've heard it said that cheaper booze often causes more hangovers, and I don't want our patrons going home, getting a hangover, and thinking that we served them junk. Is there anything I can look for when choosing wines for a part of a tasting menu that would lessen the possibility of a "hangover" effect?

  • Hi. I'm hosting a dinner party, and I have friends who like to drink a lot. I don't want to skimp on the alcohol cost, but to buy in quantity, I may need to sacrifice quality. On the other hand, I don't want my guests to go home with hangovers. Is there something I should look for in purchasing less expensive booze to avoid this?

From my perspective, such questions should still likely be closed because they are too broad and unanswerable within current science. But they shouldn't be off-topic on a site about food culture where such concerns are a legitimate part of planning a meal or serving beverages at a party. I think such a question is really quite different from a broad "nutrition" question, since no one's asking for a way to prevent heart disease or avoid making their spouse fat over a period of months or whatever. This is about an acute and specific response to food/beverage intake which is generally as undesirable as food poisoning (if not more so).

Now, you may say, "Food safety is our only exception. This isn't a food safety issue." But that's not true. We make exceptions for:

  • Allergies. Granted, most of these questions are of the form, "My guest is allergic to X. How can I make a substitution to avoid X in a dish." But there are also questions about whether various things will "set off" an allergy (like here and here), or why some allergies may "overlap" in a single person (like here). The former questions about "setting off an allergy" are clearly not culinary in nature -- since they primarily have to do with physiological effects -- but I gather they haven't been closed because of the practical culinary application necessary to prevent acute illness. Is it really necessary to remove all wheat from my house for someone with Celiac Disease? That's not someone you find on a food safety website, but I agree it should be potentially on-topic here.

  • Other physiological effects. There are questions about indigestion (although "food safety" is mentioned in the question, it's really about "getting a bellyache," etc.) and flatulence (see here, here, and here for questions that are solely about the physiological impact of food on avoiding flatulence, though there are many other questions which invoke that as a concern in the question).

  • Then there's the somewhat recent question about getting mysterious headaches while cooking, which no one even seemed to flag as potentially off-topic. That's despite the fact that it has nothing to do directly with food and is solely about a physiological effect that the OP was only speculating might have to do with cooking.

  • There's even at least one question from the past few years about the physiology of getting drunk, with questionable culinary connection.

I want to be clear that I'm NOT at ALL criticizing mods or the policing of such things, nor am I implying that we should close all of these questions. I'm okay with these questions, because I think they all have to do with the larger context of cooking and direct physiological effects of preparing and serving food.

Hangovers, to my mind, are just as clearly connected and as undesirable an effect as flatulence is to beans. In fact, I have trouble coming up with anything else that I'd put into that category -- alcohol and beans are two things that lots of people around the world eat, and they both have a specific undesirable reaction that most people want to avoid. If there's a way I could select, prepare, or cook beans to avoid gas, I think that should be on-topic here. And if there's a way that I could select, produce, or serve alcoholic beverages that would avoid hangovers, I similarly think that would be of great interest to the broad culinary vision of this community.

The problem, of course, is that most hangover research is crap so far. Just about every study claiming they've found the magical ingredient is contradicted or heavily qualified by another study. And many studies are small, without adequate controls, etc. (This is a huge problem with alcohol studies -- you can't really have a legitimate control group when the vast majority people will realize they've been given a placebo rather than enough alcohol to cause a hangover.)

And what people don't want to admit is that most of the hangover effects are just withdrawal symptoms after a drug leaves your system, pure and simple. Drink less or avoid a heavy concentration at once, and the effects will be less. So the very idea that there is a "magical way" to prevent ALL hangovers by avoiding certain chemicals in certain drinks seems crazy -- if there were such a magical formula, why would people still be making wine or other booze that has those things in it?

Nevertheless, there have been headlines in the past couple years with scientists claiming they could produce an alcoholic beverage which would NOT cause hangovers. I don't believe this is likely, but if it proves to be true, then I think a question asking about how to find similar beverages SHOULD be on-topic here. Regardless of whether someone knows the specific thing in alcoholic beverages that causes hangovers, they may want to avoid them or want to avoid serving guests those things, just as someone may want to ask how to avoid flatulence from beans without knowing it is caused by oligosaccharides and whatnot.


Again, I'm NOT arguing the present question under discussion should be re-opened. Nor am I really arguing that any hangover questions should currently be allowed, because I just think the science is still too confusing. But if we start seeing actual "designer booze" in the next few years that significantly and verifiably reduces hangover risk, or if scientists do finally come up with a list of "these four things definitely cause 85% of hangovers; avoid booze with them, and you'll be much better off," I don't think we should dismiss a question that's trying to plan a dinner party and avoid bad drinks as "off-topic" on the nutrition/health rationale. I don't think it's so clearly off-topic when considered in light of some of the questions cited above as has been suggested so far.

And if nothing else, hangovers are a fundamental part of culinary and foodie culture, yet as undesirable as a fallen souffle. For that reason alone, I think there's a strong argument that a specific and pointed question with a known verifiable answer about food/beverage choices to avoid hangovers might be allowed (if not now, at some point in the future).

  • For what it's worth, I think the vehemence is because we're confident it's on the wrong side of the line, not because we think it's really really far on the wrong side of the line. You raise a lot of good points, though - I don't think you're at the risk of getting tons of downvotes, but that's up to other users. (Side note, "downvoted" seems a lot better than "modded down" which sounds an awful lot like it means mods are doing it.) – Cascabel Feb 5 '16 at 5:49
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    Looking through all the details... some number of those examples are about things that actually matter while cooking (whether or not they're directly to do with the food you're making), so they're safe either way. The rest make me suspect that we've left a broader gray area here than we meant to, and we should probably be closing some questions we didn't but maybe also leaving open some questions we've closed? I don't have a strong view on exactly where to try to put a line right now, though. – Cascabel Feb 5 '16 at 6:04
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I am the OP and I agree now, after reading this discussion: we should talk about COOKING. Different alcohols or additives in drinks causing hangovers have nothing to do with cooking (unless you are making the drinks from scratch or distilling). Itis an interesting, food related question, and not really about health, but definately not about cooking.I dont make alcholic drinks. I agree with the moderators now.

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