Social media is flooded with images and videos that its early innovators could have never foreseen. One puzzling new trend involves teens posting videos of themselves drinking milk to spark controversy, as followers flood the comments section with “Ew!” and “What is wrong with you?”
This is strange. Most people have been raised drinking milk for its benefits in growth and bone health or for the warm feeling associated with milk and cookies. Suddenly, teens and young adults are micro-analyzing the color, taste, origin, and odor of this former favorite, and milk is losing popularity.
“Personally, I think milk is just opaque water. I have never been a huge fan of milk, maybe because of the opaqueness and color, or perhaps I just don’t like the taste. I only really enjoy milk when I eat cereal, but if there were more options for what liquid I could have with my cereal I probably would not choose milk. Another thing that truly belongs with milk is cookies. Otherwise, I think milk is over-hyped.” said Nikki Kanzler ‘20, former milk-drinker. “But we do owe it something, as it helped our bones to grow and we are in debt to it in a way. Even so, I love coconut and almond milk, particularly because they go great in smoothies.”
Kanzler is not alone. This apparent trendiness of a dislike for milk is accompanied by the rise of plant-based milks and other milk substitutes, such as almond, coconut, soy, and oat milk. These milk alternatives are filling fridges everywhere, and are rapidly increasing in popularity.
“They are deliberately marketing them as a substitute for cow’s milk, and it’s very successful: More and more people are using those products,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.
These shifting trends carry legitimate economic effects for the dairy industry. It is not suffering, due to the remaining popularity of other dairy products such as yogurt, ice cream, butter, and cheese, but still takes a noticeable hit.
Dean Foods, the largest dairy company in the nation, has filed for bankruptcy. “Across the food and beverage industry, the challenges facing Dean Foods are becoming increasingly familiar. In recent years, consumers have moved away from brands, and even entire categories of food, once seen as household staples. The decline of the milk industry has emerged as a particularly stark example of how these changing tastes are challenging major companies whose products once crowded store shelves,” says David Yaffe-Bellany of The New York Times.
The industry must adjust not only to pressure from milk alternatives and declining popularity, but to shifting medical recommendations. Doctors used to recommend that multiple glasses of milk a day, particularly for children, was essential to health. However, it has since been discovered that milk is not a necessity. Some industries thrive simply because people must buy their products. Milk is no longer a must, so many are choosing not to buy it. Another likely culprit is the decline in cereal consumption, for cereal was once a go-to breakfast for millions but now many prefer to grab a protein bar or other quick bite. According to a data from the Agriculture Deparement, Yaffe-Bellany reports that Americans drank 37% less milk in 2017 than they did in 1970, and the Dairy Farmers of America reported a sales decrease of over $1 billion from 2017 to 2018. “This is really sad. I still drink milk regularly because it is crisp, refreshing, delicious, and good for me. Other people should do the same,” says Tia Taylor ‘20.
“Milk gets too much hate. Personally, I think milk is great and I enjoy having a cold glass of milk with a meal, because it is filling and gives me key nutrients. I think people are offset by the look and smell of milk, but if you can get past that, you will discover that milk is a delicious, hearty drink. People think alternatives are better, and maybe they are for those with an allergy or a special diet like veganism. But for those open to milk, they should not shy away from it,” says Nicole Jones ‘20.
Certainly, some agree with Tia and Nicole while others feel the same as Nikki and have grown to dislike milk. Milk will never fully come off the market, but it will be interesting to see whether the U.S. will still be asking “Got milk?” in the coming years.