I can’t tell you when I first came face to face with a container of Mush, but I can tell you that it provoked the kind of strong feelings most people don’t associate with oatmeal. Oatmeal, after all, doesn’t commonly inspire much in the way of passion, let alone pique. But those of us who love and eat it everyday will tell you that nay, its beige depths are but a reservoir for deep-seated emotion. And that’s why this container of Mush both intrigued and promised to offend me.
Mush, if you are unaware, is oats that have been “soaked in plant based milk blended with real food” (per its packaging) and marketed as overnight oats. Overnight oats, if you are unaware, are oats that you stir with liquid (any liquid) and leave overnight in the refrigerator to eat the next day. They do not, in other words, have any reason to exist as a packaged food. And yet Mush, as I quickly discovered, is not alone: it is part of a cabal of packaged overnight oats that has quietly but insistently infiltrated the breakfast food world over the last few years.
Oats Overnight, Purely Elizabeth, RX, Noatmeal, Real Made (formerly Maker) Oats, Powerful Nutrition, Moon Juice, Brave, and, yes, Quaker are among the companies that have pre-packaged overnight oats to their name. (Although Noatmeal, as its name implies, doesn’t actually traffic in carbohydrates; its “oats” are made from seeds and hemp hearts.) All of them marry a variety of flavors to the promise of previously unthinkable ease. Quaker’s overnight oats offer “a hassle-free morning”; Real Made’s will “de-crazy your morning.” To facilitate the outrageous freedom of an effortless breakfast, many of these products are sold in single-use plastic containers.
Putting aside all of the hassle and crazy of global plastic pollution, the overnight oats cabal’s insistence on single-use plastic containers is problematic for another reason: it betrays the fallacy that buying pre-packaged overnight oats is in any way superior to or easier than just making them at home. For less than the cost of two $3.29 servings of Simply Elizabeth’s collagen protein oats (really), you can buy a 42-ounce cardboard tube of Quaker’s rolled oats that will last you a month. And just like pre-packaged overnight oats, regular overnight oats are also made…overnight, and thus offer precisely the same absence of breakfast-adjacent stress the following morning.
All of that said, it’s unwise (albeit fun) to judge something you haven’t actually tried, so I bought two flavors of Mush — blueberry and dark chocolate — and RX’s maple oats to see what they offered that regular DIY overnight oats did not. Mush really goes all in for the waste, tucking a plastic spoon under every lid. It also lives up to its name — it’s less like oatmeal than rice pudding, both in texture and appearance. Flavor-wise, the blueberry is fine, but the chocolate is unmitigated sadness, its flavor like the muffled cries of dark chocolate locked in a windowless room.
RX’s maple oats were more oatmeal-like, with clearly articulated oats and a flavor vaguely suggestive of Quaker’s old-school maple-brown sugar instant oats. They also come with a tagline — “Breakfast just got real. It’s oatmeal, not oatsnack.” — that made me embarrassed both for RX and all oatmeal, everywhere.
Like RX’s nutrition bars, its oats list each one of its four ingredients (five, if you count “no B.S.”) clearly on its label in sans-serif font — nine almonds, really? — and reading them, I realized that like the nutrition bars, these were oats as an expression of purity and protein content, oats as optimization. When I visited the websites of other overnight oats makers, I found a similar trend: all of the language seemed to have been spit out from some wellness buzzword generator, with tales of superfoods, custom proteins, caprylic acid powder, and antioxidants sprinkled in like so many chia seeds.
Reading this, it became obvious: this stuff isn’t for people who love oatmeal. It’s for people who love CrossFit. It’s oatmeal as Soylent. It’s oats, bro (broats?). And in some small and unexpected way, that came as a relief. The overnight oats cabal isn’t coming for overnight oats, just like protein shakes aren’t coming for chewable food. Overnight oats are safe with those of us who love them. It’s the plastic containers we should worry about, because those are coming for us all.