A little notice popped up on my personal Facebook page yesterday reminding me that on this day in 2009 my status read: “Sara loves eating brie without a biscuit!”* And it’s true, I did. I ate that stuff by the round. Brie, and rich creamy blue cheese, and sharp cheddar, and crumbly fetta, and decadent goat cheese… whatever I could get my hands on, on everything, or by itself. I was well and truly addicted.
A lot of people I talk to about being a raw vegan don’t believe me when I tell them I was addicted to cheese. They say, “if you were really addicted to cheese, the way I’m addicted to cheese, you would never have been able to go vegan, therefore you must not have really been addicted to cheese”. I don’t want to argue so I smile to myself and acknowledge that it makes them feel better to convince themselves that they’re different and that they couldn’t possibly change – I know this because I did the same thing.
One brave soul on Facebook did ask me how I broke the addiction though so here’s the cliff notes version.
1. Cheese is not vegetarian!
After about six months of being vegetarian (a.k.a. living on cheese, pasta, bread, potatoes and tomato product – read my ‘about’ page for more detail on that) I discovered that most widely available cheese is not vegetarian. Here I was thumbing my nose to all the omnivore’s of the world, thinking I was saving the planet and being uber-healthy by not eating meat and I was eating rennet by what must have been the bucket load, and unknowingly supporting veal production! Gross. Rennet, for those of you who don’t yet know, is “a complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach to digest the mother’s milk, and is often used in the production of cheese… Natural calf rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of young, unweaned calves. These stomachs are a by-product of veal production.” See wikipedia for more info.
So there you have it, I was totally grossed out and totally mad that no one ever told me that they use this stuff to make cheese! As a result, I stopped eating cheese when I was out and couldn’t confirm it was vegetarian (yes, they can and do make cheese with vegetarian rennet**). I did, however, work right next door to Neal’s Yard in London Bridge and they sold an assortment of vegetarian cheese so I could still by the stuff in bulk. Damn.
2. Cheese really is addictive!
I saw a video on the internet soon after I moved to Boston and started researching raw veganism. It is about food addictions, and I found out that cheese really is addictive! I thought it was the stuff of folk lore, a good excuse for a lack of self control, but the stuff has opiates in it! I’m not going in to detail but I found the link for the video of Neal Barnard, it’s fascinating – check out out.
And there’s Step 2 – I got me ed-u-ma-cated about stuff I previously knew nothing about. Once I started reading about cheese and casein (a protein in cheese) and links to cancer and other nastiness, I had the knowledge to make an informed decision. And I realized that baby humans are designed to drink mummy’s human milk, not milk that a calf drinks to grow from 90 pounds to 2000 pounds in less than 2 years! We’re the only species that drinks the milk of another species. And why do people get grossed out when I ask why they don’t drink bear milk?
3. Cheese can make you sick!
Although never officially diagnosed, I know I’m lactose intolerant. Cheese, ice cream, milk and yogurt make me feel sick and bloated and give me gas. It also makes me congested and enhances my seasonal allergies. Yet I persevered. I ate all the cheese and ice cream and yogurt I could because I was convinced I couldn’t live without it, that I would have a huge gaping hole in my diet if I stopped. Nothing tastes good without cheese right?? And my boyfriend has been known to say I lack gumption. Ha.
So step 3 was deciding that persevering with this addiction was insanity. I kept eating hoping to get different results and I realized one day that the results weren’t changing. It’s like smoking when you know you’ll get lung cancer, while caring enough about yourself to want to prevent it.
4. Life without cheese is possible, and wonderful!
Finally, I did a trial. I went cold turkey. I had to, I had decided to become a raw vegan. Initially I gave it a month and it was hard, super hard. But I tried lots and lots recipes for hearty, filling food, and recipes that used nut butters. I ate a lot of avocado and nuts. I made nut milk and I got through it. Then the good part… after the month, I didn’t feel like cheese anymore. I couldn’t stand the sight of it. I even tried it to see if I was really over it and I really was. I had lost 13 pounds (and I never ate lots of junk food so am convinced a lot of that was due to giving up dairy) and the little amount of cellulite I had on my legs disappeared. And I don’t have dairy-gas. And I am not consciously contributing to the development of any cancer cells I may or may not have (it runs in my family). And my mucus levels have significantly decreased. And my allergies are more under control. And I have more energy.
Even on days I’m not raw, I will eat gluten-free pasta without cheese, or get a pizza with loads of veges and no cheese, and it tastes great. Better than with cheese because you can taste all the other ingredients.
And there you have it. From legit cheese addict to raw vegan. Give it a go and see how you find it.
* Note to my Americans friends: biscuit in Australia/UK speak is a cracker, not those soggy bready things you put gravy on.
** I use Cabot’s when I make my man my famous vege lasagna, it’s readily available in the US
PS. Being a high-raw vegan (or at the very least, plant-based, whole-foods) I don’t believe in cheese substitutes, so no, I never used soy or other products from the grocery store. I did once buy a vegan pizza from a very reputable vegan pizza store that had fake cheese on it and it was the most disgusting thing ever. Ani Phyo, Alissa Cohen and Juliano have good nut cheese recipes, and I love that Ani calls it ‘cheeze’ :)