We Need to Talk About Milk Shame, the Bane of Dairy-Loving Adults Everywhere

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

The morning started out spectacularly. Packed into the comforts of an Oregon Coast beach house, a group of friends and I recounted the events from the night before, all nursing slight hangovers. We were all laughing as I casually lifted a glass to my lips and took a vigorous gulp. The room fell silent.

“That’s fucking disgusting,” one person cracked, trying to disguise malice with a feigned smile.

“Seriously, what are you, 10?” asked another.

The chorus grew until all but one friend was ganging up on my beverage choice like some sort of pitchfork-wielding mob swarming a decrepit castle, or a gaggle of puritans who caught the local minister holding hands with a comely widow. Epithets were flung. Gagging noises were made. I retreated in despair to another room to finish my drink, then sheepishly returned.

My name is Andy Kryza, and I am a 36-year-old man who loves milk. And in an age where everybody feels extremely comfortable telling others what they should or should not ingest, milk shame is my scarlet letter, flaunted for all to see as a white mustache on my lip.  

I come from a generation raised on cow’s milk, one consistently told it does a body good. A generation that strived to promote healthy bones and sterling smiles. Yet the minute a child becomes an adult, suddenly drinking milk becomes a sign of suspended adolescence. It prompts glares from strangers and friends alike. Hell, the friends who dogpiled on my hangover milk are Wisconsinites, people more associated with dairy than Blizzards. They sat there housing cheese and talking about custard, yet the minute I poured a glass of glorious, ice-cold 2%, they turned on me. It was weird and sudden, but it wasn't unfamiliar.

Milk shame is real, friends, and it’s ruining the dairy-loving experiences of so, so many people. Have you ever gone into a restaurant and ordered a tall glass of milk to go with a steak? I have, and you’d have thunk I ordered a New York strip extra well done when the waiter brought it over with a side of stink eye. Have you ever, in adulthood, asked for a glass of milk to go with a slice of pizza? I have. It’s actually my favorite pairing with pizza. And yet each time I’ve ordered it, I’ve been denied, to the point that I’ll sometimes go to a convenience store and get a little bottle of milk to drink shamefully with my meal. At places bougie and lowbrow, it's always the same. My only safe haven has been diners, and even there, waitresses will usually deliver it with a "where's your kid?"

Now that I have a kid, she drinks soy milk. She thinks the real deal is weird too. I have a toddler who was predestined to throw milk shade.

Order up an ice-cold glass of whole milk, and suddenly you're a monster. It makes zero sense.

Have we fallen so far as a species that we can’t just let somebody enjoy a refreshing glass of milk in public without judgment? I should not feel ashamed to want my sandwich with a side of whole milk. Or of the fact that one of my favorite things has always been to wash a mouthful of Doritos down with 2%. Every time I'm hungover, I drink a half gallon of the stuff. My wife tells me I'm disgusting.

She is one of them.

Milk shamers take all forms, in fact. One second, you're minding your business with a pint of milk in public, the next some granola-scented stranger is giving you a lecture on how the human body hasn't fully evolved to process dairy like some sort of street-preaching, anti-milk Darwinian ghoul. A friend will randomly chime in on how fatty milk is. A relative will tell you about the benefits of almond milk. It comes from all sides.

In all likelihood, you're scowling as you read that, if you made it this far. But why? Why would it so irk you to see a grown man enjoying milk outside of being in a Clockwork Orange costume at Halloween? Why is it acceptable to act so outwardly disgusted just because a person is drinking milk at a restaurant? Because let me tell you, it happens so often that I don't even bother anymore, and that's some bullshit.

Strangely, this tendency to publicly shame dairy-loving adults is exclusively limited to plain old milk. Most folks find it perfectly acceptable to drink "elevated" milk, like the new lines of tamarind-spiked, high-fat milks you see at places like Whole Foods. Lattes are one of the most popular coffee drinks in the world, and they're simply hot milk with coffee in them. Steamers? Just milk with syrup, yet totally cool. Almond milk, or some sort of plant-derived milk alternative? You're classy, environmental impact be damned. Hot chocolate? Golden. But order up an ice-cold glass of whole milk, and suddenly you're a monster. It makes zero fucking sense.

I'm not alone in my shame. I get knowing glances when you have the gall to order milk at a grownup restaurant, a nod of approval by some poor bastard who wishes she was enjoying her meal as much as I am, but also knowing it might not be worth it. And sure, not everybody will act outright rude if they don't like your choice of drinking milk, but there are enough people who feel compelled to comment that it's just exhausting. It's symptomatic of an overall societal ill where people feel the need to tell you what's right or wrong at every turn, but existing in some strange parallel universe where instead of being berated by vegans for eating meat due to morality, you're shunned because you didn't stop enjoying milk at age 16.

That morning at the beach house, the one person who didn't feel compelled to milk shame me sat in complete silence. His girlfriend told me he endures this same thing.

“Milk shame?” I asked him.

“All the time” he said.

In an exaggerated motion, I lifted the gallon high and downed its remnants, because there is no point in enduring shame if you don't have an audience. It was delicious.

The Wisconsinites looked on in disgust. They always do.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Andy Kryza is a senior editor at Thrillist. Ask him about his opinions about ketchup on hot dogs @apkryza.