Fighting temptation: Beyoncé and Jay-Z snacking at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2012
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I’d rather binge on booze than self-denial

Please, don’t tell me about your pious dry January.

Thank God it’s February. For those of you who gave something up for January, it was a long month; for those of us who had to listen to you go on about it, it was even worse. As many have pointed out, the idea of giving up alcohol for 31 days and then expecting people to sponsor you for your trouble is laughable, however worthy the cause.

But booze wasn’t the end of it. There were the usual ridiculous juice cleanses and soup diets – and the backlash against sugar put it firmly back on the naughty list this year, along with peanuts for the Paleoistas, devotees of a regime also known as the “caveman” diet. Loosely based on the meagre larder of our Stone Age ancestors, it’s the hip new thing to bore other people about over your herbal tea. (If Tom Jones is doing it, it must be cool, right?)

This was also the first year that Veganuary made it on to my radar – largely, I must admit, because of the recent 22-day “spiritual cleanse” undertaken by the bootylicious singer Beyoncé and her rather less comely husband, Jay-Z, in which the couple embraced a vegan diet: “Or, as I prefer to call it, plant-based!!” the rapper wrote on his blog.

“I don’t know what happens after[wards],” he admitted. “A semi-vegan, a full plant-based diet? Or just a spiritual and physical challenge?”

I know what happened afterwards. The pair were seen (as the Daily Mail puts it) “indulging in gourmet non-vegan treats” at a seafood restaurant in Miami: “pappardelle, lobster risotto and seafood casserole”, according to the paper.

There’s been no word so far on the effect that the cleanse has had on their spiritual well-being, however (though many column inches have been devoted to the effects on Beyoncé’s bottom), or indeed their long-term eating habits. But I note that her Instagram feed features considerably more po’ boy sandwiches than portobello mushrooms, these days.

And therein lies the fundamental problem with temporary abstinence: if you stick to it, you may lose weight. You’ll probably, after a few days of grumpiness, even feel better and you’ll almost certainly learn how to do things with tofu or tonic water that you had never even dreamed of and possibly never wanted to. Then the month’s up and suddenly you’re back on the Chardonnay and cheeseburgers as if nothing had happened – and this time, the attraction is twice as strong. It takes an awful lot of lager to plug the hole left by all that smug self-denial.

Jay-Z chose to go vegan for 22 days on the basis that: “Psychologists have said it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. On the 22nd day, you’ve found the way.” I don’t want to be the one to break it to him but according to research by University College London, it actually takes about three times that long, which means that all those January abstainers will have to keep denying themselves until 8 March in order to see any lasting effects.

As someone who’s tried a good few diets over the years (it’s practically a professional necessity), my heart always sinks on hearing the inevitable words: “This isn’t a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.”

How many of the people who forsook carbs back in the early 2000s still diligently avoid the evil starch? Giving up something for a month holds within it the promise that, in four weeks, you’re going to take it up again – and take it up with a vengeance. It’s bingeing on self-denial instead of booze and I know which option sounds more fun to me.

Here’s a novel idea. If you want to eat fewer animal products, how about cutting down on meat and dairy? If you think you should probably drink less, do. But for everyone’s sake, please keep quiet about it.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Can we talk about climate change now?

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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