Regular-ass milk—you know, the kind that comes from the teats of a cow—is having a real moment. After the meteoric rise of alternative mylks in the late 2010s, a vocal group of alt-mylk opponents is leading the emerging backlash.
On Monday, Grub Street published a trend piece announcing the return of regular milk, reporting that across the fair island of Manhattan, baristas are noticing an uptick in customers ordering whole milk for coffee, eschewing the many other alternative varieties any self-respecting coffeeshop has on hand. “Mylks have added no peace to my life, only vegetable oil, sugar, and stress when I’m in an airport or sitting at a diner wondering which milk alternative I can realistically order,” Emily Sundberg writes. Sundberg argues the supposed resurgence is likely due to the fact that a lot of mylks market themselves as healthy alternatives to dairy milk, but actually aren’t as good for you as they might seem. In alt milks, as in life, we’ve only found disappointment, she says, making dairy milk “an antidote to languishing.”
While Sundberg’s supporting evidence for this trend is largely anecdotal—she talks to a barista, and a publicist who tweets a lot to make her case—I’m amenable to her theory. Regular milk is making a comeback because we’re all so sick of our own shit and are yearning for a return to something that feels easy, when everything else is increasingly difficult and uncertain. The embrace of whole milk is a return to nostalgia, maybe, as well as a side effect of decision fatigue. There’s something pleasingly counter-cultural about resolutely deciding to eschew the latest health trends in favor of what reliably works.
It stands to reason that everyone is exhausted from thinking about a detail such as what milk goes in their coffee. Unless you are lactose intolerant or besieged by IBS or other medical conditions that make consuming regular milk difficult, I’d like to say for the record that swapping out the macademia-pistachio-walnut froth in your daily cold-brew for a lil’ plop of half-and-half will improve your day.
Personally, I do not consume cow’s milk because I don’t like the way it tastes, and alternative milks of the sort that TikTok’s coffee aficionados fetishize are also unappealing to me, both in terms of flavor and texture. There is, however, something to be said for the pleasures of a tall glass of soy milk, the sweetened kind, typically sold at Asian grocery stores and meant to accompany youtiao. I’ll drink this milk until I die of the sugars, and no one can stop me.
But if Sundberg’s piece didn’t convince you about the return of whole milk, consider that milk culture—if such a thing exists—might transcend the beverage itself. Elsewhere, milk crates, those plastic bins used for storage in stoner basement dens and college dorms of yore, as well as for uh, holding many cartons of milk, are being utilized in an ill-advised social media challenge that finds enterprising young adults stacking them like a pyramid and attempting to walk up and then back down. Many people who attempt this fall, because a milk crate isn’t as structurally sound as it might look, and also, core strength. One notable exception is this king, White Mike, who performs this challenge with ease and while rolling a blunt.
If people weren’t still drinking regular milk in droves, one might argue that there’d be no supply of the crates necessary for this challenge to take hold. Regular milk is back, oat milk is OVER, and this Reddit post provides more compelling evidence:
There’s no actual question posed in this post, but the idea of a 32-year-old man bravely ordering a glass of milk at a restaurant at high noon is bewildering. No one’s saying he needs to drink alcohol or coffee at that hour, but our gal water is sitting right there! A brisk fountain Coke, an unsweetened iced tea, a seltzer, some orange juice if it’s brunch o’clock are all suitable beverages for public consumption. Ashley Reese, the most opinionated of my colleagues, allowed that “milk is Fine in small doses but solo? A whole glass???? Nasty 1950s ass…” before clarifying her stance in full: “Bet they like segregation, too.”
We do not know the political leanings or opinions of the Milk Man in question, and in fact we’re missing many important details in this story because the point is the milk: The poster is rightfully anticipating a heated debate about the optics of drinking milk in public as an adult. There are certain situations in which this would be appropriate. If you find yourself at a restaurant with a stranger you met on the Internet and are ostensibly considering doing tongue-kissing with this person if all works, out, ask yourself a few questions before ordering a big glass of the White.
- Is there a brownie on the table?
- Did someone order a lava cake?
- Have you or do you plan on eating an entire sleeve of Oreos?
- Did you consume a ghost pepper, a Scotch bonnet, or a Carolina reaper and are now in need of immediate succor and/or medical attention?
- Did you take your lil’ Lactaid? Will you at least consider it?
- Your breath will smell like the fridge at the Peet’s Coffee in the Embarcadero at the height of the morning commuter rush; have you adequately prepared for that eventuality?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you can proceed with the milk, but if you hesitate, I beg you to reconsider! It doesn’t matter to me if you drink milk in the privacy of your own home, slamming half-gallons of whole like I imagine Adam Driver might, but in public, on a date (?), or wherever else, but please, think of the optics. Self-respect is hard to come by these days, so find it any way you can. If milk is your chosen antidote for the dissatisfactions of modern life, please do drink it at home.
Clearly, there is something in the air—a whiff of curdled dairy on the late summer breeze, the scent of a tall glass of whole milk, sitting out on the counter, waiting to be consumed. The hot-vax summer that never was is giving way to an autumn full of dairy farts and milk-drinkers, loud and proud and unafraid of unsavory cultural associations, like the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange or Allison Williams sipping from a glass of cold white while eating Froot Loops from a bowl.