Milk’s Identity Crisis

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Forget “Got milk?”—the new question du jour is “What is milk?” The ubiquity of plant-based alternatives has challenged ideas about what the word means and what it encompasses. And it’s not just oats and almonds that are complicating milk’s identity; the liquid itself is the subject of scientific uncertainty. “If an alien life form landed on Earth tomorrow and called up some of the planet’s foremost experts on lactation, it would have a heck of time figuring out what, exactly, humans and other mammals are feeding their kids,” my colleague Katherine J. Wu wrote last year.

Researchers who focus on milk can describe who makes it, where it comes from, and what it does, “but few of these answers get at what milk materially, compositionally, is actually like,” Katie writes. Today’s newsletter doesn’t solve these big milk conundrums, but it does collect our writers’ reporting on milk’s past and future. This will give you something to forward to the aliens should they arrive asking questions.

On Milk

Milk Has Lost All Meaning

By Yasmin Tayag

Yes, it’s a white-ish liquid. Beyond that, milk’s identity is hard to pin down.

Read the article.

Go Ahead, Try to Explain Milk

By Katherine J. Wu

No one can define it, much less fully replicate it.

Read the article.

Milk Has Lost Its Magic

By Yasmin Tayag

The bird-flu panic is getting out of hand.

Read the article.

Still Curious?

Other Diversions


I recently asked readers to share a photo of something that sparks their sense of awe in the world. “Sunrises, nothing more to say,” wrote A. B. Swett from Buffalo, Wyoming.

Image of a sunrise
Courtesy of A. B. Swett

— Isabel

The Atlantic