For some reason, oat milk — a pretty innocuous, sustainable dairy alternative that can be found at supermarkets and coffee shops — often ends up embroiled in controversy and discourse. This time, people on Twitter are wondering whether alt-milk giant Oatly is misleading consumers and pushing a product that's healthier than oat milk actually is.
It all started when one user shared a link to a blog post from August 2020, titled "Oatly: The New Coke." In the article, writer Nat Eliason criticises both the company's marketing techniques and the high amount of sugar found in Oatly's products. "I'm still in awe that Oatly created super sugar grain juice, cut it with canola oil, and then successfully used (amazing) marketing to convince everyone that no, this is Good," tweeted @keccers, along with an excerpt from Eliason's article.
In the pull quote, Eliason argues that the process of breaking down oats creates a natural form of sugar called maltose. Putting 12 ounces of Oatly into a beverage, he writes, is akin to adding almost a tablespoon of sugar. But there are a few reasons this argument is misleading: For one thing, the average Oatly drinker likely isn't dumping that much milk into their morning coffee. And though some people might consume that amount — for instance, a large latte might include a lot of oat milk — there's really no need to panic over sugar. As one person pointed out, "If you like sugar in your coffee, a tablespoon in a 12 oz cup sounds like a pretty normal amount."
There also are health benefits to drinking oat milk. According to Healthline, oat milk can be a great source of calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B. Like carbohydrates, fat, and a lot of the other ingredients centred in conversations about nutrition and, all too often, dieting, the presence of sugar doesn't mean a product or meal is inherently bad, and the panic does little more than shame, shock, and scare people who are living healthy lives. Even if you're concerned about your sugar intake, a splash of oat milk won't make much of a difference.
But most people don't switch to oat milk (or even go vegan) solely due to concerns about their own nutrition. Oat milk is an alternative that's perfect for people with nut or soy allergies or lactose sensitivities. Many people also choose to cut out dairy due to concerns about the environment, and oat milk is widely known as the most sustainable option. All plant-based milks produce significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, but compared to alternatives like almond milk, oat milk requires much less water.
Oatly President Mike Messersmith explained the brand's goals in 2018: "At the end of the day, Oatly was founded to try to help accelerate the adoption of a plant-based diet, which is really good from a sustainability and climate change perspective," he told BuzzFeed.
However, something worth criticising could be Oatly's controversial partnership with the investment firm Blackstone Group. Not only does Blackstone's CEO have ties to Donald Trump, who pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord and has made light of climate change, but the group also previously invested in a Brazilian company that's been accused of contributing to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. After former oat milk devotees began boycotting the product, calling the brand hypocritical, and questioning (once again) whether there can be any ethical consumption under capitalism, Oatly released a statement.
"If we ever want to have a chance of reaching the global climate goals of cutting the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% before 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050, we need to speak a language that the capital markets can understand," wrote the company. "Getting a company like Blackstone to invest in us is something we have been working on to create maximum change to benefit the planet." Blackstone Group also said in a statement to Refinery29 that the allegations against Hidrovias do Brasil, the Brazilian company accused of rainforest destruction, are a "complete fabrication."
Oatly aside, however, many people enjoy oat milk, and for good reason: It's allergen-friendly, vegan, and great for the environment. And even if you're just a fan because — let's face it — it tastes amazing, that's perfectly fine, too. Your latte isn't going to kill you.