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Wine aphorisms are everywhere as a glass of wine has become a fun go-to punchline as we moan about all that ails us.Jean-Philippe WALLET/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Walking through a Walmart earlier this month with a friend’s eight-year-old daughter, we passed a large, colourful women’s nightshirt that, in glittery silver letters, declared: “Time to wine down.” It was dotted with little wine glasses, some filled with red, others pink. Rosé, I guess.

I thought: What message is this sending to this young girl? Never mind the rest of us.

The wine aphorisms are everywhere. T-shirts, wall plaques, mommy memes. The way we talk about it. A glass of wine has become a fun go-to punchline as we moan about all that ails us. “Live, Love, Wine.” “A day without wine is like … just kidding. I have no idea.” “Real friends don’t care if your house is clean. They care if you have wine.”

Real friends need to tell you this: Wine is bad for you.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has released new guidelines for alcohol consumption. No amount of alcohol is safe. Drinking anything more than one to two standard drinks (for wine, that’s a five-ounce glass) each week (yes, week) is risky. Imbibing can increase your risk of some cancers, including breast cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke. The risk increases with every glass.

Maybe you are Dry January-ing now. Or planning a Dry Feb (a Canadian Cancer Society fundraiser). I once did a Sober September and my main takeaways were that I saved money, was far more productive in the evenings and slept better. But socializing was harder. Not because I need a drink to loosen up and chat nonsense with strangers (although, it does help). But because I became hyperaware of just how much drinking – wine, in particular – has become part of the cultural fabric. And when you say “No, thanks,” you might receive a funny look or feel required to provide an explanation. Sober September was an easy answer. “I’m an alcoholic,” or, “I’m trying to get pregnant” or, “I found a lump in my breast and I’m waiting for the results,” is a lot harder. And none of your business.

The drinking (and joking about drinking) became more pervasive during the pandemic. If ever there was something to drive us to drink, it was being stuck in our homes in fear of actual death. A Nanos poll conducted for the CCSA in April, 2020, found that 25 per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 34 were drinking more than before the pandemic, often citing boredom, stress and the disappearance of a regular schedule.

I love a good glass of wine. Very much! But even as a wine lover, I am uncomfortable with how pervasive it has become in our culture. A thank-you gift? Bottle of wine. (Which I will always gratefully accept, for the record.) Want to make a new friend? Propose meeting up for a glass of wine. Post about having a rough day on Facebook and perhaps a friend will reply with a funny wine meme: “This is why mommy drinks.”

A mom friend sent me a photo of a greeting card she saw at a store: “The most expensive part of having kids is the wine.”

I get it. I was also part of a whine and wine (or was it wine and whine?) moms group. But it’s time to re-evaluate our relationship to alcohol. And the funny wine memes. “Wine a little and you’ll feel better.” Yeah, but you also might die younger.

I saw a tea towel last summer in the U.S. that declared: “I love Jesus but I drink a little.” I was going to buy it and display it ironically, but took a picture instead. A friend sent me a photo of a wall plaque from a Vancouver Island gift shop: “There are two kinds of people in the world: People you want to drink with, and people who make you want to drink.” A sweatshirt I noticed: “This wine is making me awesome.”

I was at HomeSense this week, looking for some decluttering help (New Year’s resolution) and came across a “Wine O’Clock” embroidery kit (displayed, in the clearance aisle, right under a Malala Yousafzai 500-piece puzzle; it can be a strange place).

I briefly considered buying it – it was only five bucks – as a funny gift for someone. But no. This is not a joke. Cutting down on our alcohol consumption is no laughing matter. And it needs to be more than a quickly abandoned New Year’s resolution. Or a counting-down-the-clock month off.

I will continue to enjoy wine in moderation now – not while making dinner every night, a habit developed during lockdown. And I’m going to be careful about not just how much I drink, but how I talk about it.

It’s time to take those wall plaques down and stop wearing those tees and send a different message about drinking. As Irish people toast: Slainte. To your health.

And then there’s the Jewish toast: L’Chaim. To life.