This is probably the most common thing I hear other than “where do you get your protein?”. And a very valid thing to say! I was once a person that said it! When I was a kid my favourite snack was melted cheese on a plate. This is exactly what it sounds like. Shredded cheese, on a plate, in the microwave. As I started to learn more about my food, the dairy industry (and become increasingly lactose-intolerant), I slowly gave up dairy products including most cheese. But I couldn’t help having the occasional cheese and crackers at a party, nachos or a little bit of feta on my salad. After I started to learn more about the industry, I forced myself to give it up once and for all because I felt too strongly about the issues! I did a ‘Veganuary Pledge’. During the first two weeks, I told everyone I would go back to eating cheese on occasion (ex. At a restaurant) but never buy it, therefore never directly supporting the industry.
However, after about a month, I never craved it again. In fact, I don’t even see it as a food any more, and sometimes grosses me out. I can’t even imagine ever eating it or wanting to eat it again (sorry dramatic vegan statement). This is because it takes 3 weeks for dairy to fully leave your system.
After doing research I found out why we have such an attraction to cheese. I looked at many different studies and paid careful attention to what was funded by which industry! It boiled down to three main factors:
- The fat and salt content
- The rituals in which we consume cheese
Firstly, the fat and salt content. Our brains are programmed to like and crave food high in fat and salt, and for good reason; hello chips, french fries and of course ooey gooey melty cheese. Studies show that foods high in fat, salt, and sugar content give more of a dopamine release to the brain, giving you a bit of a buzz, and making you want more! This makes perfect sense and is probably not a surprise to anyone, especially when you look at the current snack food industry. Companies spend years trying to get the perfect formula of salt, fat and sugar to make their products as addictive as possible.
HOWEVER, just because you can’t eat cheese doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy fatty, salty foods. Your body is craving the fat, not the cheese. By adding good fats to your diet, you will satisfy these cravings. For example avocados, nut butters and tahini, and more (see bottom section for more fatty replacements). Although eating more peanut butter and avocados doesn’t seem like a real punishment to me, don’t forget you can also eat French fries, chips and all the other delicious vegan junk food your heart desires, if you are so inclined to satisfy these fatty cravings!
Secondly, cheese contains ‘casomorphins’. These are protein fragments digested from the milk protein. Casomorphins are shown to have an opioid like effect on the body, which over time could result in the feeling of addiction. However studies show that cheese is not as addictive as people think. Foods such as chocolate and other salty snacks ranked much higher on the addiction scale, than cheese. People don’t go through actual withdrawals from not eating cheese. So although the caseomorphins may have some effect on our bodies, cheese is not equivalent to heroin… despite what some animal advocates may try to tell you. This leads to the last, and in my opinion most important factor…. Habit!
Since cheese has become such a staple in so many meals and events, it’s hard to imagine life without it. What do you put on your pizza or your pasta? What’s a snack that’s not cheese and crackers? However, by giving it up you learn there is a life beyond cheese. When you think about food in other cultures (ex. Japaneese, Thai, Indian, Latin American), there is hardly any cheese or dairy products at all for that matter. Makes you wonder why our cultures have such a dependence on it. Changing your habits is what is hard, not giving up the cheese itself!
More about cheese:
These videos explain the animal cruelty behind the dairy industry: (warning graphic and vulgar).
Further, because of government ties to the dairy industry we are led to believe that this is normal, and we should continue to eat these products for nutrients! If you are interested in learning more about what goes on in slaughter houses and how the industry has controled the way we think about health watch these documentaries (all can be found on Netflix). Too much for me to explain in a blog post, and these are more reputable sources.
What the Health
No one gives up cheese because it tastes bad and they hate nachos and charcuterie…..They give it up because of the horrible treatment of cows, its substantial impact on our environment, to resist the power imbalances in the industry, and not to mention it’s not great for us!
So, YES, you can be a vegan, and you CAN give up cheese. It might be hard at first but if you care about the issues it is WELL worth doing!
After you watched those and decided you can never eat dairy again, here are some tips!
Life after cheese: does it exist?
Salads – One thing I used to love cheese on is salads! To substitute I like to make extra creamy dressings made from tahini and avocado. Try this creamy tahini kale salad! Creamy salads are bulkier and heartier I find you don’t need the cheese.
I also love adding extra nuts and seeds to salads for saltiness and crunch, try adding sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or nutritional yeast!
Nutritional yeast (nooch as the vegans call it) is AMAZING! It has a nutty cheesey taste and is great on a creamy salad. It is also what is used to make a lot of plant-based cheeses. Look for it at your bulk or health food store. I use it to make cashew cheese and vegan pesto!
TIP: Blend ½ cup of nuts with 2 TBSP nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt to make vegan Parmesan. The nuts satisfy your fatty cravings, and the nooch gives it a cheesey taste!
Charcuterie – Crackers and cheese will always have a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s the cheese but when you think about it, it’s probably just the wine and munchies. There are so many great spreadable cheeses out there, which are great for charcuterie. Here is a great one. You can also make your own! I find by adding herbs and toppings it helps mask the flavour and makes the texture more realistic.
Diversify! Add more to your charcuterie boards to make them more exciting. Make them beautiful so your guests want to eat it! Try adding a variety of herbed crackers, dips such as flavoured hummus, babaganoush, fresh rolls, veggies, veggie sushi, fruit, dried figs, dark chocolate, almond butter. With so many options you or your guests will not no the difference.
Ok but like cheese cheese……
Got that too! There are so many amazing brands which make cheese that you cannot tell the difference! Chao and Earth Island (I believe it’s called Follow Your Heart in the States) are my favourite. I have served them before at a party, people have eaten them all night and not noticed! These are great on crackers again or sandwiches, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, you name it! Bonus they are not expensive compared to ‘real cheese’.
Note on ingredients: many people fuss about processed vegan products because of ‘chemicals’ and ‘processing’. First of all, I’m not sure what they think they are eating when they eat real cheese (aka baby cow growth hormone with puss driblets – apologies for another dramatic vegan statement). Regardless, these two cheeses are made from relatively good ingredients, mostly made of potato starch and coconut oil.
You can also make your own ooey gooey mozzarella here! This is another one loved by non-vegans, and amazing on pizza or Panini’s!
Colleen Patrick Goudreau (Podcast): http://www.colleenpatrickgoudreau.com/life-after-cheese/
She has many other great topics!
Live Planted (Podcast): http://liveplanted.com/089-quit-cheese-listen-little-voice-head-cole-imperi/
Also has many great ones!