Drink - Laura Tennant does not enjoy a wineless supper

I've found, since starting my diet, that a wineless supper is a dismal meal

For years I've laboured under the misapprehension that vodka is a beverage containing few calories. It's clear, colourless and pretty much tasteless - so how can it be fattening? It's basically just very strong water, right? In fact, vodka contains 220 calories per 100ml, compared with only 74 per 100ml in wine and 30 in beer. I've been making a study of all this because I am now, officially, on a diet. A week ago I had an unfortunate encounter with a pair of white jeans that slipped on a treat last summer. Now they make me look - there's no other word for it - fat.

What's so horrible about being on a diet is that not only are you not allowed to drink, but you can't even console yourself with a much-needed slab of Green & Black's. I decided I couldn't be expected to get through the witching hour of bed and bath between 7pm and 8pm without liquid refreshment, and our old friend vodka still offers the best value, bang per buck, for your outlay of calories. One small vodka and tonic, then, followed by sparkling water and plenty of it, however dismal a meal dinner may be without wine.

My husband grew up in a time and place where this problem didn't arise. His father came home from work in time for a family supper at 6pm. Good strong tea was what one drank with supper. It's good for children to eat with their parents, and good for adult digestion to consume the evening meal before 8pm, or so the health police say. Wine, meanwhile, should be a treat for the odd evening out.

But here's the thing: I don't want to eat high tea with the offspring. My reward for a long day at work, or home, is the delayed gratification of dinner, with the children tucked up in bed. So we eat at 9pm or thereabouts. And what is food without wine? Not nearly as nice, as I've discovered.

I'm probably in denial about my toxic lifestyle, but there's surely something wrong when a long-established ritual of civilised life is regarded as dangerously unhealthy. If eating your main meal of the day in the evening and consuming more than two small glasses of wine with it is life- and liver-threatening, where does that leave the sacred pleasures of the table, the bonds renewed over broken bread, the libations poured to friendship and family? Going down to the gym together just isn't the same.

Moderate drinkers are thought to enjoy better health than teetotallers because they "get out more". Likewise, I believe the holistic benefits of an evening meal that is a small celebration of another day outweigh the supposed health risks of red meat, wine and all those other things we're not supposed to have.

Unfortunately, none of this theorising is going to help me get into my white jeans. I shall just have to suffer. Or switch diets.

This article first appeared in the 22 May 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Heroes of our time - the top 50