The problem with Dry July (revisited)A year ago (almost to the day) I wrote a little rant about why I thought that Dry July may be conceptually flawed. Flash forward a year and it is now June (again) and, as the subject isn't going away, I think the whole rant needs a revisit.
Turn away now then if you've got no time to wade through a rant. Otherwise I'd like to hear your feedback.
Firstly then, to establish some context, you should check out the Dry July website to get an idea about what specifically I'm talking about. For the time poor however, I'll just quickly sum up the concept: The idea is that participants agree to go 'dry' - alcohol free - for the month of July, pledging not to drink alcohol and raise money for the aid of cancer patients. Further, participants can opt to purchase (or have purchased for them) 'Golden Tickets' that allow them an 'out' for an evening - an opportunity to drink during said 'dry month'.
Now, before I get into my own thoughts on Dry July, I have to clarify one important position - notably, the issue that I have with Dry July is not about the fundraising aspect of it. Far from it, as I think everyone can agree that the more assistance that cancer patients can receive the better. My issue is entirely separate from the charity side and should be viewed with this in mind.
Instead, what concerns me most is that Dry July (and indeed Febfast and Ocsober, though I'm focusing just on Dry July here) has a stated mission to 'raise awareness of drinking habits and the value of a balanced healthy lifestyle', yet is attempting to achieve that with a mechanism that does nothing of the type. Rather, it just bluntly relies on forced abstinence and its supposed health benefits to get the message across.
The problem that I have with such forced abstinence is that it is, ultimately, just playing lip-service to the mission statement of 'raising awareness of drinking habits'.
Indeed when you break the concept down, Dry July is just guilting people into giving up alcohol for a month under the auspices of a charity, whilst actually just further feeding the very problematic drinking habits that it is attempting to 'raise awareness of'.
These drinking habits are well known - weekend binges, where typically 6 plus drinks are consumed in a single night, with drinkers rather simply 'drinking to get drunk'. Such binges are then typically followed by several days of mid-week abstinence, before the cycle of heavy weekend binging starts again.
What Dry July et al is doing, in my opinion, is actually feeding into this cycle, serving to just extend the aforementioned abstinence out to several weeks before it continues again (with a 'wet August).
Obviously there are no health benefits from such a pattern for all it does is encourage the boom/bust, drink/abstain, Dry July/Wet August binge drinking culture that the scheme is meant to be raising awareness of. Heck, the participants are even allowed (via the 'Golden Tickets') to indulge in a binge in there too, with the whole month even finished off with typically boozy Dry July break-up parties (which are just binges too).
All of which, in my opinion, just points to the fact that Dry July, as a concept, is flawed. That, whilst it may well help to raise money for charity, it's actually not helping our drinking habits at all, and may just be perpetuating the unhealthy ones. Further, what it/we really should be doing instead is encouraging a cycle of 'moderate drinking' - drinking in moderation.
Now I don't want to be drawn too far into a (troll-worthy) conversation about said benefits (or not) of moderate alcohol consumption, particularly given that I'm obviously highly biased about the subject, but I do want to at least point out that several recent studies support the notion that moderate drinking might actually be doing good (read more in the press release from the WFA here).
Beyond just the studies though, you'd have to agree that if we could encourage more moderation and less binges, we could probably avoid the anti-social behaviour and health problems that such risky drinking brings.
Speaking of such risky binge drinking habits, if you want to see evidence of it (and the associated problems) venture in to any major city on on any given Saturday night. There is no escaping that there are problems, perceived or otherwise, that could do with addressing. The problem then is that Dry July is not helping this at all, instead forcing drinkers to go 'cold turkey' for a few weeks before the binging inevitably returns with a bang (hello again 'wet August').
Obviously I'm generalising about said participants behaviour vis-a-vis a wet August, but based on what I've seen from previous years, such actions appear to be the norm. Again, where is the 'healthy lifestyle' in that?
Regardless, what I do want to explore a little further is that concept of moderation, for it probably needs some further context.
Moderation, I think, is the idea that you can have a glass of wine or two with dinner and still be 'healthy'. Moderation is not drinking to excess and not drinking to get drunk. Moderation is recognising that drinking need not be just a drug (alcohol) delivery system, and that wine, in particular, can be a beverage enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle (as Kendall Hill describes amusingly here).
Again, a further problem with Dry July is that, beyond just actively discouraging this beneficial moderation, what its forced abstinence also does is to subtly demonise alcohol, to further perpetuate the notion that alcohol is evil, even though it is only a problem when consumed to excess.
The messages from Dry July don't support that notion though, for all they really do is feed into the (unfounded) fear that the neo-prohibition movement seeks to encourage, a movement one that any moderate wine drinker should be concerned about (for a myriad of reasons)....
All of this begs the question then (or it does for me at least) that if Dry July is so flawed, what is the answer then? How do we raise money for a needy cause without demonising?
In response, I believe that I have come up with a good answer. A great one (or at least I think so) even.
It's called 'Drink Less But Better July' and it is a wine movement that encourages participants to buy a $20 bottle instead of a $10 one (or the like. I'm freestyling here) and share it with 3 people (or such). To drink less wine, but make every glass a good one, with the extra money saved from this moderate approach being sent to a relevant charity.
For the wine industry I can only see positives in such an approach. Sure volume is decreased, but the turnover is not. Drinkers drink better wine, producers make better wine, everyone wins. Obviously it's not quite as cut and dried as that, but surely it's better for more people than just a month of industry-threatening forced abstinence like Dry July?
What do you think? Who is with me?
(Footnote: Kate Giles has also proposed that Dry July be redone as 'Drink Dry in July' that seeks to get drinkers to only drink dry wines in July. It sounds fun. Follow her on twitter for more details)