Devil's Advocate - What's Wrong With Dry January?

Some members of the wine industry have raised their voices against the notion of giving up alcohol during January. Robert Joseph takes a different view.

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Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate
Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate

Karen MacNeil is the author of ‘the Wine Bible, the ‘single best-selling wine book in the United States’. She’s one of the most influential wine writers in that country and someone I hugely like and respect, so I paid attention to the Instagram reel she posted this week in which she describes ‘Dry January’ as “joyless and puritanical… at a time when the wine industry should be reminding us of how wonderful wine is, how historic it is, how important it is... Dry January could be the first baby step towards another Prohibition.”

MacNeil is in the happy position of having a healthy relationship with alcohol – unlike the 10% of Britons who took part in a sizeable Drinkaware survey and admitted that theirs was ‘unhealthy’.

It seems fair to question the accuracy of this self-reported figure. Is it more likely that one in ten of the 10,473 participants who took part in the survey over- or under-estimate their consumption? The fact that a slightly higher percentage – 11% - said that “family, friends or a health professional have expressed concern about their drinking” suggests that it’s the latter.

It is also notable that over a quarter of the people who answered the survey – 26% - think a friend has a drinking problem, but less than half would raise the subject with the person concerned.

Sugar-Free February?

Maybe it’s worth imagining how we would treat this kind of data if it applied to food. How many of the 43% of Americans who are categorised as obese would tick a box saying they have an unhealthy relationship with food?

Veganuary is already a ten-year-old 'thing', with over 600,000 people globally signing up in 2022; what if someone proposed ‘Sugar-Free February’ as a concept for a month where people simply stopped eating white sugar and products containing lots of it?

Salt is associated with heart disease. In Finland, reducing salt intake by a third over the last 30 years has cut deaths from stroke and coronary heart disease by 75-80%. So, what if there were a No-Salt-September in which everyone briefly got to discover how life would be without unthinkingly sprinkling sodium chloride on everything they eat.

Does everyone who has reservations about other people giving up wine for four weeks feel the same about these ideas?

I haven’t tried Dry January because, like MacNeil, I’m pretty confident in my relationship with alcohol. I love wine and certainly overindulge on occasion, but I happily go days without touching a drop - just as I do with meat (though not eggs or dairy). I wouldn‘t, however, say the same about my relationship with sugar or salt. Indeed, now I come to think about it, Sugar-Free February and No-Salt-September would almost certainly do me a world of good.

And that’s why I don’t think that criticising Dry January plays a useful part in the promotion of wine as a wonderful beverage. If some people feel that giving up alcohol for a few weeks – and proving to themselves and those around them that they don’t need to reach for a bottle or glass quite as often or as unthinkingly as they are doing right now - that’s fine by me.

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