We are deep in the bowels of late-stage capitalism and I have proof: Aubrey Plaza appears to be at war with almond milk—and all plant-based milk, for that matter—as part of one of the most curious sponsorship deals with Big Milk that I’ve ever seen. And it’s even more complicated than it sounds.
I first glimpsed Plaza’s commercial for the Milk Processor Education Program, or MilkPEP (which Vox characterizes as “the quasi-governmental dairy industry organization” behind the iconic “got milk?” campaigns of the ‘90s and 2000s fame), late last month when I was scrolling through friends’ Instagram stories. Plaza suddenly appeared on my screen, strolling through a picturesque forest in outdoorsy gear and extolling the virtues of her new favorite beverage: “wood milk,” which she describes as “artisanal,” “free-range,” and “eco-friendly.” The ad is fairly long, or at least long enough to lose my attention as I doom-scrolled. I stuck around for a moment because I was puzzled by what I was seeing and hearing, but narrowly missed the ending twist: Wood milk is not real!!
“Is Wood Milk real?” Plaza asks. “Absolutely not. Only real milk is real.” A caption then appears: “IS YOUR MILK REAL?” and the classic “got milk?” logo, too.
There’s a lot to unpack here. As Vox notes, Plaza’s “wood milk” ad is a not-so-veiled swing at the supposed inauthenticity and Goop-adjacent, coastal liberal elitist, alternative health shenanigans behind the likes of almond milk and other plant-based milk. To me, it all feels like a surprising step into right-wing culture war territory for someone like Plaza. Sure, Plaza’s penchant for ridiculous projects and saying utterly nonsensical things in total deadpan make her a perfect spokesperson for a satirical project like this ad. But in terms of its message against plant-based products, I could just as easily see the likes of viral right-wing Twitter user “Nick Adams (Alpha Male),” noted hater of almond milk and the betas who sip it, in Plaza’s stead.
Milk is, after all, the latest object of ridiculous culture war trolling. Think of the derogatory term “soy boy,” which implies men who consume soy or plant-based products are less masculine. And beyond the predictable rants from the right-wing masculinity police, the dairy vs. plant-based milk wars have leaked into public policy, too, as the dairy lobby has waged a vicious war on plant-based milk’s ability to call itself milk. This prompted the FDA to issue a clarifying guidance in February stating that plant-based milk can call itself milk so long as it specifies what it’s made of—a guidance widely panned by dairy groups. Back to Plaza’s “wood milk” ad—among its many layers, a core suggestion is that plant-based milk is woo-woo and overly processed, all while, as Vox expertly lays out, dairy milk is extensively processed too thanks to modern factory farming.
Look, we could spend all day going back and forth about the pros and cons of plant-based and dairy milk, environmentally and nutritionally; the conversation would go in about a thousand different directions. I’m more interested in puzzling over what drew Plaza to enter the milk wars. Money and the chaotic energy of championing “wood milk” seem like safe bets. But in taking this leap, Plaza has inadvertently waded into something much deeper and more political: She’s now an inadvertent, towering figure in an epic debate into what constitutes “real” milk—even what constitutes a “real” man, or a “real” American. And she probably doesn’t even realize it!