Staring down the dairy aisle of your local co-op, you might wonder how milk became so fractured. Back in my day, on shelves stocked with government-subsidized moo juice ranked by fat content, you were lucky to find two or three flavors of soy milk. Now you can ponder your choice of milkable material from fruits to nuts to oats. Are you in the mood for milk, malk, mylk, mylk, or mylk? Today, you can cannibalize your hemp hearts with hemp milk and make oatmeal with Oatly and moisten a gluten-free almond cake batter with almond milk and wash it all down with a coconut-cashew blend.
I thought I had a grasp on the options, vaguely aware of the flaws that made the early introduction of successive alternative plant milks an exciting new frontier. People wanted to avoid soy, so they flocked to almonds, and then some people felt guilty about the almonds for being irrigated in a dessert at the cost of the surrounding ecosystem, so they opted for another nut, perhaps something creamier, or less sweet, or more sustainable.
For better or for worse, we have grown increasingly accustomed to shopping around very specific dietary restrictions, probably leading to some of the most rarefied preferences humanity has ever seen. It really seemed like we had the milk thing figured out. Which is why discovering the advent of Califia Farms Mushroom Oat Milk Barista Blend on a recent grocery trip has made me lose my mind.
Big Alternative Milk will stop at nothing to develop a chalky new drink that you can’t help but try and rank among your experiences of milks past. But why are we so committed to milk — whether animal- or plant-based — in the first place? Expanding the universe of milk alternatives is not where human innovation should be focused. If anything, it might be time to wean off the stuff altogether.
Milk turns everything into milk. It happens right before your eyes, whitening and homogenizing burned coffee into something that Starbucks can sell, making stolen tea palatable to the British, or hawking a million brands of cereal on the backbone of its nutritional reputation. Maybe it’s time to seek nourishment in something that isn’t just there to dull the experience of the real thing.
It is time we grow up, get off the teat, and taste the tannins.