posted June 22, 2021
by Dr. Stacey J. Anderson, MVLCE
Ah, cheese. There are few other foods with such a broad-ranging history or such ardent devotees. Cheese was the food of peasants, and yet cheese occupies places on some of the most vaulted menus. Cheese signifies fine dining paired with the best wines, and yet cheese is amassed in bricks to be disbursed as Government Commodities.
Many vegans who did not grow up vegan will tell you that cheese was the most difficult item to eliminate from their diet. Indeed, when we humans digest the milk protein casein—which is especially concentrated in cheese—the protein molecule breaks apart to releasecasomorphins, compounds that bind to our brain’s opiate receptors. While not as strong as other opiates, such as morphine or heroin, they are nonetheless capable of causing a mild relaxing effect, which is apparently part of the reason why people get ‘hooked’ on cheese.
Increasingly these days, we have numerous scrumptious offerings to choose from in the commercial vegan cheese space, such that nobody has to “give up” cheese if we don’t want to. For those of us who prefer a DIY approach, there is also a growing number of excellent vegan cheese cookbooks for our own in-home personal dairy operations, such as Miyoko Schinner’s groundbreaking book, Artisan Vegan Cheese (if you don’t already have it, get it!).
If vegan cheese is part of your diet, however you enjoy it—whether store-bought or homemade—its more than just a matter of yumminess. Given cheese’s pervasiveness, particularly in the Western diet, and its addictiveness, vegan cheese is a matter of humanity, resistance, and survival.
Readers of this blog don’t need reminding about the extreme cruelty of animal agriculture, from eggs to dairy to mammal meat to fish—the animals killed within days of their birth experience the lesser suffering and misery compared to those who live out their lives in agony and misery. Then there are the lives of violence, depression, or anxiety, substance abuse, and disconnect from one’s own compassionate nature that many of the people working in slaughterhouses and dairies lead—this is also inhumane. There is no need for an animal-based food system. Everything we need nutritionally to enjoy optimal health throughout our lifespans can come from plants. With the world of plant-based cheeses growing and getting more scrumptious every day, even the most committed turophile can enjoy a compassionate diet. It is an act of humanity to eat and consume goods without the cruelty and abuse.
In my undergrad days when I was just vegetarian, I picked up a used 1980 copy of The Political Palate by the Bloodroot Collective. Described as a “feminist vegetarian cookbook,” it rejected the patriarchal food system in favor eating according to the female-centric seasons of Earth’s harvests. The book was pretty heavy on eggs and dairy (and even, shockingly, had a section on fish!). A lot has changed since 1980, and both Bloodroot and I have gone totally vegan. Bloodroot’s ethos, of the feminist and social justice roots of veganism, signifies a resistance to the exploitative and barbaric practices of the animal-based food system. I, too, see being vegan as a political act of resistance (and I can make some delectable cheeses from nuts, legumes, and starchy vegetables!).
If we as a people want to have a major positive effect on trying to curb and reverse global warming, the best thing we can do is end animal agriculture. Cattle grazing necessitates the razing of carbon-sinking forests, especially in world’s most biodiverse region, the Amazon region of South America. Water usage can be reduced to one-fifth of the waste simply by watering peanuts rather than watering cows for human consumption. Even Starbucks has recognized that dairy represents the coffee chain’s largest source of CO2 emissions. Assuming human self-indulgence is here to stay (a safe assumption, especially given the Western world’s passion for cheese), eliminating animal dairy is an essential part of the long-term survival of our global environment.
On first glance, it may sound silly to describe humble vegan cheese in such lofty terms. But let’s face it, we will most likely not know a world in which people do not seek out indulgences on their plates. Vegan cheese is maturing (pun intended!), and I find it exciting that vegan cheese has the potential to make luxurious meals compatible with Humanity, Resistance, and Survival.
Dr. Stacey J. Anderson is a certified Master Vegan Life Coach and Educator (MVLCE) from the Main Street Vegan Academy. She is known as The Vegan with the Voice, a voice actor specializing in voicing projects for progressive causes of social justice, environmental sustainability, veganism, animal welfare, and science literacy. In her work as a vegan coach, she encourages newly-minted vegans to fall in love with the luscious, environmentally sustainable, compassionate, health-giving world of vegan cuisine…in short, to celebrate their inner ethical hedonist as they adopt the vegan lifestyle. Dr. Stacey lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and her two incorrigible cats.