The winner is wellness
When the pandemic first broke out, it seemed the first casualty would inevitably be any and all commitments to reduce alcohol intake. But as quarantine wore on, the trend that gained more traction was the surging wellness trend, as housebound individuals purchased yoga mats and engaged in a variety of compromising poses. I myself have had to exercise caution when entering the living room during my father’s yoga time, for fear of a repeat viewing of his attempt at a ‘downward dog’, or so they call it.
Needless to say, the wellness movement has spread into the domain of alcohol consumption with considerable velocity. There is now an expo called Low-2-No Bev just for producers and consumers of low/no alcohol drinks, scheduled for 9-10 June this year. ‘For every new trend, no matter how big or small, events will be held to congregate those who adhere to it. Alcohol-free drinking is no exception,’ says Alan Jenkins of Quadrant2Design.
What’s more, a popular hashtag trending on Twitter is #sobercurious, as if to become ‘sober’ were a complete rebranding of your personality, like changing your sexuality, or buying a set of turtleneck sweaters. These Twitter users coyly playing with the notion of cutting off alcohol is an indicator of how deeply embedded alcohol consumption is within Western culture.
A culture built on drunkenness
Alcohol’s relationship to society is a tense, complicated one. I sometimes wonder how the atmosphere at a bar would change if patrons were informed that all alcohol stocks were exhausted, and that no establishment within a 10-mile radius was serving. Would everyone say, ‘Well, that’s a shame’, and then promptly resume their social engagement, or would everyone suddenly look around with horror, the horror of having to stare at these faces, converse with these creatures, without the buoyancy aid provided by a continuous stream of alcohol? How central is alcohol to our social lives?
It’s not just the Western world that’s madly intoxicated whenever possible; it is customary in Japanese culture for business people to go out and drink after work, and good practice dictates that no one should fall behind, that all should strive to ‘keep up’ with the drunkest of the bunch. South Koreans are also regularly inebriated, perhaps the most of any Asian people, and Eastern Europeans almost across the board are vigorous consumers.
The epidemic of pretentious, sober individuals
Of course, we are all aware of the perils of aggressive consumption and the routes this can take us down. You would think that would make us look fondly upon those trying to reduce their intake. But something that I have noticed without yet being fully able to explain is how irritating ‘sober’ people tend to be. Now, of course I’m not trying to belittle people who are trying with difficulty to beat their alcoholism or drug habits. But, for those that do come through on the other side, and talk continually about their sober lives — there’s often a wafting aroma of pretentiousness. I’m sure there are many sober people who don’t persistently tout their new lifestyle and how fresh and rejuvenated they feel. But many do, and I find them irritating.
Perhaps this is just the voice of the drinking masses, saying ‘piss off’ to ye who dissent and stray from the path of the common inebriated good. But perhaps it’s also that sobriety is boring. The whole notion of cutting down on something, being cautious and exercising restraint, is boring. Would any of us pay to watch a film about three young, incredibly risk-averse teenagers who stay home playing board games while their peers go out and wreak havoc?
Veganism, the sibling movement of ‘low-2-no’ alcohol
Vegans are a good case study. There are many, many reasons to stop eating meat, both environmental and health-based. Many countries, such as India, have always been predominantly vegetarian, and consciously opt for a meat-light diet. Many Indians do not consider themselves vegan or vegetarian — simply individuals who prefer a plant-based diet.
However, the same culture does not exist in the West. In the West, we are proud consumers of meat, and to become a vegan is to hold up a banner saying ‘I choose to be different’. Because the rest of us are so busy devouring the cooked carcasses of our four-legged animal friends, those that hold up their signs to become conscientious objectors are looked upon with weary disdain. ‘Think you’re better than us, do you? Think you’re special?’ The same cannot be said for India. Veganism is simply the norm.
So, is the ‘low 2 no alcohol’ trend one that’s here to stay? Research seems to suggest yes, with sales of non-alcoholic products expected to grow by 39% each year. The bigger question is how these dissenters will be received by the rest of drinking society. It will largely depend on how vocal the sect becomes. Will they, like the vegans, branch off from the main body of society to form their own exclusive group? Will we be finding low to no alcohol bars cropping up, and a growing rivalry between drinkers and abstainers? Or, rather, are these just health-conscious people who want to mix with the crowd, to partake in the fun without actually putting their liver at risk?
Let’s be civil, now
Ultimately, I doubt the conflict will be fierce. As it stands, the low alcohol movement is a somewhat middle-class trend, with alcohol-free gin costing up to £10 more than its alcoholic counterpart. But as the industry grows, new products will emerge, and we will likely see alcohol-free drinks with more reasonable price tags. Perhaps bars of the future will offer as many non-alcoholic options as alcoholic ones. But fear not, drunkards, for alcohol is such an intrinsic part of our culture that the day should never come when one is unable to take refuge in the shadowy corner of a dingy bar with a tall, strong drink. Or at least, let’s hope not. For all our sakes.
Theo is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. Theo has particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions and events.