Palatable disruption: the politics of plant milk

Palatable disruption: the politics of plant milk

Nathan Clay, Alexandra E. Sexton, Tara Garnett, Jamie Lorimer

University of Oxford

almonds 3636559

Plant-based milk alternatives–or mylks–have surged in popularity over the past ten years. We consider the politics and consumer subjectivities fostered by mylks as part of the broader trend towards ‘plant-based’ food. We demonstrate how mylk companies inherit and strategically deploy positive framings of milk as wholesome and convenient, as well as negative framings of dairy as environmentally damaging and cruel, to position plant-based as the ‘better’ alternative. By navigating this affective landscape, brands attempt to (re)make mylk as simultaneously palatable and disruptive to the status quo. We examine the politics of mylks through the concept of palatable disruption, where people are encouraged to care about the environment, health, and animal welfare enough to adopt mylks but to ultimately remain consumers of a commodity food. By encouraging consumers to reach for “plant-based” as a way to cope with environmental catastrophe and a life out of balance, mylks promote a neoliberal ethic: they individualize systemic problems and further entrench market mechanisms as solutions, thereby reinforcing the political economy of industrial agriculture. In conclusion, we reflect on the limits of the current plant-based trend for transitioning to more just and sustainable food production and consumption.


Publication details

Clay, N., Sexton, A.E., Garnett, T., Lorimer, J. 2020. Palatable disruption: the politics of plant milk. Agriculture and Human Values -