On a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, Rachel Floyd and her boyfriend Paul Isham take a shot of a dark yellow liquid called Mother F*#%in’ Fireball.
“It kind of makes my leg hair follicles feel like they’re standing out,” says Isham, a 33-year-old audio visual technician whose grey hoodie is decorated with a Bernie Sanders sticker and button. Floyd, who is wearing a Feel the Bern-themed Christmas sweater, throws back the small plastic cup. “Oh man. I feel that right up here,” she says, bringing her left hand over her head.
The 26-year-old clinical psychology grad student is on her eighth shot of the day, but she could still pass a breathalyzer test. The Mother F*#%in’ Fireball is not the cinnamon whiskey teenagers steal from their parents around Christmas – it’s anorange-based drink with a spicy kick from a mix of cayenne, ginger and oregano oil.
Floyd is on a juice crawl, a monthly event in which participants hop to three different shops and sample more than 19 flavors with names such as “Purple Rain” and “Dr Feelgood” from 2oz plastic cups. It’s just one of many booze-free activities that have popped up in major US cities to serve a growing number of young people who are ditching the hooch.
This group is not full of recovering addicts, but rather people who value mindfulness, spandex and green juice. For those 35 and under, cutting back on booze no longer means social suicide. In addition to juice crawls, there are now sober day raves, alcohol-free bars, boozeless dinner and dance parties, and a sober social network that organizes group outings and launched a dating app so popular it has temporarily shut down.
The long line outside of Shine, a booze-free event that combines food, water with “Australian flower essences”, meditation and “enlightertainment” (music, a talk and a film) is full of people who either do not drink or are trying to cut back. Since 2014, when the gathering was first launched in LA, Shine has spread to New Yorkand now regularly sells out to crowds of more than 100 people, who the founder describes as “mindful tastemakers” and “spiritually curious”.
Most attendees are millennials with new-agey reasons for socializing sober. Ask and they’ll say they “love real, authentic relationships”, and want to “open up to others on the same journey” and be “centered and calm to appreciate the day”.
In plain-speak, they think booze makes interactions less meaningful and that hangovers get in the way of their goals.
“I just feel like you have deeper conversations with people when you’re not distracted by drunkenness,” says June Zhang, a 26-year-old MBA student who drinks at most once a week.
“I want to wake up each morning with a fresh mind so I can write,” says Ryan Fischer, a 35-year-old dog walker and writer who hasn’t touched alcohol for the past few months and recently returned from a shamanic retreat. “At night my dad has a couple of whiskeys and my mom has a Pinot Grigio and they lull into the night. I just don’t want to do that.”
Paradoxically, the tough economic times faced by millennials may actually be driving them away from drink. A recent study of millennials in five different countries, including the US, found 75% of those surveyed drink in moderation on most nights out.
Goal Auzeen Saedi, a clinical psychologist, says her younger patients in particular have a lot of anxiety about the future, a fact she attributes to financial uncertainty: “I think the pressures are higher because [young] people are seeing that even if you have a great degree, that does not guarantee you a job by any means.”
Yet Saedi notes that since mindfulness is now trendy, many of her patients use yoga and meditation for stress relief instead of binge-drinking. “Right now there are all these yogi Instagram celebrities with millions of followers … and they’re not drinking beer, they’re drinking juice,” she says. “Mindfulness, in a way, is the new church.”
For Floyd, spirituality has always been a part of her life. “I’m into vibrant living, I don’t like dulling out,” says the Bernie Sanders supporter who grew up with a guru and follows the eightfold path of Buddhism. “I don’t feel like I’m the minority. There are so many people who feel similarly, or if they do drink, it’s not the nucleus of their existence.”
This new crop of sober events, however, may not appeal to all teetotalers. Ross Haenfler became a straight-edge punk in the late 1980s, embracing a movement that ties abstinence from drugs and alcohol to political activism. Now 42, he still believes a clear mind should be used to fight social ills such as consumerism, homophobia and racism, and though he admits not all straight edgers follow this ethos, he has trouble picturing “straight-edge fraternities or juice crawls”.
“The tragedy for me is if millennial sobriety is apolitical,” says the associate professor of sociology and author of a book on straight edge punks. “That would reflect the greater trend towards individualism.”
The clean living movement is full of people who value glowing skin and the ability to bend into a human pretzel more than political change. But for some, choosing mindfulness over drunkenness is part of a larger worldview. Floyd, for example, sees this juice crawl as a stepping-stone on her political path, which will take her to a Bernie Sanders rally in Union Square later in the afternoon.
“Substances are becoming culture not counterculture,” she says, twisting the cap on a bottle of “Kalefornia” green juice. “You see the culture going towards one extreme and you’re going to have the other extreme. Like, actually the real rebellion is to not do this stuff.”
Fazit: Renaissance der Milch-Bar.