Have you ever had a conversation with someone – maybe you’re just getting to know one another – and in the context of conversation you explain that you are vegan and they respond by saying, “I think it’s so great that you can do that, but I could never live without cheese”? I have heard this many times. I actually said this many times before going vegan. Turns out I could live without cheese and have been doing so happily for more than four years now.
I actually love when things like this come up, because it’s an opportunity to forward the vegan conversation. And having said this myself, I know exactly where that person is coming from and I give myself a mental reminder to be patient and understanding. When I decided to go vegan, I did a slow transition: one thing at a time. Before I knew it, I was vegan…except for the cheese. I didn’t know then that cheese actually has addictive qualities. I learned later that cheese has a very high concentration of casein, which is a protein found in milk. When this protein is digested, it breaks down into casomorphin and has an opiate-like effect on our brain. It has a physiologic effect on us much like the drug morphine. Because of the good feelings that come with eating cheese, it can be challenging to cut back. Like so many, I was addicted to cheese.
One day, however, while grocery shopping, I found myself in the dairy aisle and made a profound connection that changed everything. I had recently watched a short video on the Internet about factory dairy farms and had the image of a baby calf being taken from his mother seared into my psyche. I could still hear their bellowing cries. Standing there, in front of the cheddar, I no longer saw cheese. I saw emotional turmoil wrapped in plastic. The block of cheese now represented a pain I knew all too well, a mother-child bond broken, never to be reunited. Though my circumstance was very different from the mama cow in that I was young, still in high school, and chose reluctantly to give my son for adoption while this bovine mama had absolutely no choice in the matter, I imagine that the anguish and agonizing heartbreak of separation is very similar, if not more so for the cows. I never ate cheese again. [Read more...]