Cutting Out The Cheese

Milk is hard to cut because it is addictive. Cheese is particularly addictive. We repeatedly get people asking about how to go about giving up cheese - it seems it is the last stumbling block for many.

It was the most difficult animal derived product for me to stop eating, as I absolutely love the taste of most dairy cheese. I was properly addicted to it, and I still think about having Brie or some Gorgonzola. Most fellow ex-cheese addicts, however, have the opposite story of not missing Cheese at all and they would never go back. The few times that I cheated and ate cheese in the beginning were never as yummy or as satisfying as I thought they would be though, so I eventually just stopped eating it. I think that nostalgia for certain things always creep up, but I seem to manage to stay away from it quite happily. Once my tummy is full of healthy food, the craving for nonsense is always crushed.

All dairy contains chemicals that act like opiates (opiates: morphine, heroin etc). These chemicals are released by the mother in order to sooth the calf (for whom the milk is intended).

The chemicals are concentrated in casein. Cheese is very highly concentrated casein because the extra liquid etc has been removed from the milk in the cheese making process and is thus more addictive than ordinary milk. Industry knows this - an infamous presentation by the US Cheese Marketing for Dairy Management Inc given in 2000 asked the question "How to trigger the cheese craving?" and ended with "if we pull this off, we'll eat like kings".

So, as long as you are still consuming cheese, you will continue to crave it and be unsatisfied by alternatives, because they will not give you that same sense of comfort derived from the dairy that your body is addicted to.

Some people will experience withdrawal symptoms - headaches or similar, but if you cut cheese, eventually the cravings will go away, once your body has weaned itself.

How do you stop? That depends entirely on your motivations for going vegan - if they are animal rights reasons, remind yourself of the harm caused to dairy cows and their calves. If environmental reasons, remind yourself that dairy cows cause more damage to the environment than many other animal products, which you have already given up. There are numerous health reasons - from immediate (such as contribution to migraines and sinusitus), to medium term (weight and cholesterol control) to long-term (reduced risk of osteoperosis, arthritus and other diseases). Or just look up Cheese Mites and consider whether you want to be eating something that is essentially the result of this little creature living on, feeding off and excreting on the thing you are about to spread onto a biscuit.

Ultimately, the decision to stop eating cheese is like a decision to stop any other behaviour and has to come from you - though, thankfully, its not nearly as hard as quitting other addictive substances (IMO) - the cravings should subside after a week or two.

It is of course much easier to quit if you are avoiding cheese in general - don't keep any in your fridge, choose Chinese food over pizza for the next few weeks until you are more comfortable saying "no". Eventually you'll have no qualms ordering a pizza with lots of veg toppings, a drizzle of olive oil and fresh avo or rocket etc, or making a snackwich from spinach, tomato and cashew nut butter.

As for vegan cheese alternatives - tastes and preferences vary greatly. Try the following links for suggestions on Vegan Cheese alternatives.

SAVS Website - A forum review of where to find cheese alternatives and what people eat instead.
This Blog - A list of commercially available dairy free cheeses and where you can get them in South Africa

I nicked and slightly changed this blurb from the SAVS Facebook Page Notes - Written by one of the Directors of the SAVS as a response to quitting the cheese habit. Check it out to see the responses from other readers.

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