We’re long overdue for a pulse check on milk. Consider our current contenders for top dairy dog: oat milk, the undeniable hot girl of coffee dilutants, flanked by almond milk (for the keto loyalists); soy (for the granola moms); pistachio (for the influencers); cow (for babies, and the occasional estranged cousin) — not to mention the 293489 other varieties of alt-milk lining the shelves at your local Erewhon, the ranks of which seem to grow in number by the day.
Even with raw dairy’s sharp, well-documented descent from public favor, we know full well that nothing is static—certainly not our Starbucks orders. All trends rotate; all hot girls peak — which begs the question: Is it time for dairy milk to claw its way back from the dead?
Of course, unpopularity with the Brooklyn “plant-based” set isn’t the only thing outdated about milk: consider Big Dairy’s glaring sustainability concerns. According to a 2022 report from data research firm, Our World In Data, the cow’s milk industry is responsible for nearly three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as the plant-based milk industry, while also using 10 times the land, and 20 times the quantity of fresh water. (To be fair, the alt-milk industry isn’t entirely blameless on this front, either.) Rest assured: the Not Milk generation is paying attention. Last year, Gen Z bought 20% less milk than the national average, according to market research firm Circana. In fact, the kids are even making their own plant-based milk now on TikTok.
Moreover, if watching an adult chug a full glass of whole milk feels a) borderline sociopathic, and b) deeply nauseating, know that you’re in good company. According to every vegan ever (and also, some actual data), most of our digestive systems would benefit from reduced lactose consumption… but to that point, we’d also benefit from reduced a-lot-of-things consumption. And according to the aforementioned Circana survey, folks are still consuming cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter…so it’s not exactly about the dairy, is it now?
According to recent, (perhaps) biased research from oat milk hegemon Oatly, 54% of Gen Zers, and 49% of millennials prefer plant-based milk to cow’s milk, which is no small datapoint given that plant-based milk hardly existed, like, 10 minutes ago. Furthermore, in 2021, the FDA reported that milk sales were at an all time low (circa 16 gallons per person annually, compared to a whopping 29 gallons in 1975). But, in spite of all odds, dare I suggest that we may well be prepping for a full-on dairy renaissance? If the recent return of exposed thongs and frosted tips is anything to go by, what could possibly be hipper in 2023 than being profoundly un-hip??
Think of it this way: If oat milk is Raya, and almond milk is Tinder, then good ol’ fashioned cow’s milk is giving your phone number to someone you made horny eye contact with at Port Authority: a little rogue, a little outdated, and yet… profoundly cool for its timeless allure? Per countless Internet Girls, whole milk is already making its triumphant return from the ashes. In 2021, Big Milk tried to rebrand the beverage as a sports drink, launching several ad campaigns featuring milk-guzzling climbers. (See? Non-traditional sports! They get it!) And all the while, sceney state-side restaurants like Bar Pisellino are refusing to offer alternatives to full-fat dairy at their coffee bars, given that ordering dairy milk in your cappuccino on American soil feels tres chic in a vintage, pseudo-French way. (For what it’s worth, mainlining cigarettes and cow bi-products has only served to make the broader population of Europe more attractive.)
Sure, you might’ve thought we’d hit Peak Alt-Milk when pistachio milk became a staple offering in every Palo Santo-fumigated cafe in the greater Los Angeles area. But no, no. Not even close. Within the last three years, we’ve witnessed the dawn of quinoa milk, dandelion milk, millet milk, the list goes on. Which is to say, the limit does not exist — but alt-milk fatigue sure might.
By that token, it’s only fair to assume that cow’s milk, like low rise jeans, will indeed come back into style — whether or not we support the cause. Oat milk will inevitably abdicate the throne. Perhaps soy milk, the non-dairy underdog, will scurry in from left field, or instead, new players will emerge on the scene. And until we all pivot to subsisting on intravenous Soylent supplements, our full cast of milk-gate contenders will continue to do their beautiful dance, spreading like contagion from refrigerator shelf to refrigerator shelf. Thusly: Everything is cool, and nothing is cool. Buy Lactaid pills, just in case.
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