Monday, August 13, 2007
Listen up cheeseitarians!
"Oh I could never be vegan. I'm addicted to cheese!"
Yes, indeed you are addicted; but you *can* go vegan!
Let me explain. You see, all mammalian mothers (including cows and humans) secrete a protein called casein in their milk which when consumed by their babies converts into a substance called casomorphine. Yes it's related to *that* morphine. Nature puts a little of this calming "drug" in there so that babies of all species want to go back to mom for milk and grow up strong and healthy eating what's best for them.
Now, having messed with the natural order of things, stealing milk from other species and continuing to drink it into adulthood, humans are consuming large amounts of casein every day. Unconsciously we're getting that subtle high as our bodies process casomorphines. The product that is most concentrated with the stuff is cheese. Casein is what makes cheese melt (which is why some manufacturers put it into soy cheeses-- so always read your labels!) and also what makes it addictive to us.
I know what you're saying; "hey, it's a natural high; what's wrong with that?" Well... It's not really *natural* for humans to be drinking food designed to make calves gain hundreds of pounds of weight within a few months. The authors of Skinny Bitch say that if women give up one animal product to lose weight it should be dairy. Kinda makes sense, doesn't it? There's also the fact that many, many people, especially people of African, Asian and Latino backgrounds are actually allergic to dairy in some capacity. its been linked to frequent stomach irritations, constipation and acne among other common health complaints. Furthermore The China Study singles out casein as the most dangerous animal protein we consume. Seems that what makes your butt grow too big for your jeans is also what can make a few anomalous cells grow into cancerous tumors. Scary stuff.
"But I need calcium!"
You certainly DO need calcium, but you're way better off getting that from plant foods as they generally offer more absorpable sources of calcium without all the heart-clogging saturated fats and harmful animal proteins present in dairy. The dairy industry has spent a ton of money on "Got Milk" ads and other campaigns to get you to think dairy products are the only sources of calcium but this isn't true at all. If you're eating a well-balanced, varied vegan diet then getting the calcium you need is no problem. Did you know that tofu, sesame seeds, collard greens, figs, almonds, flax seeds, arugula, white beans, kelp, kidney beans, black beans kale and LOTS of other foods actually have more calcium that cow's milk (per 100 grams)? If you're still worried about getting enough, add some fortified soy milk or orange juice or maybe some blackstrap molasses to your breakfast. Easy and yummy.
So if that doesn't get you off of the cheese, there are other points to consider too. For instance, did you know that the veal industry is a byproduct of the dairy industry? You see, cows need to have babies to give milk, and while female calves will become dairy cows themselves, the males will be turned into veal (typically after living a short, miserable life in a dark crate deprived of the nutrition they need-- to keep their flesh pale) or, if prices are low some factory farms will simple kill them straight away. In any case all calves are taken away from their moms within hours of birth since it is their milk farmers are after-- and they won't be sharing it. Something else to consider is the rennet used in cheesemaking. Traditionally rennet (used as a curdling agent) is made of baby cow stomach. Some cheaper cheeses use vegetable or microbial rennet from non-animal sources, but if you're eating fancier-type cheeses (including cheddar, parmesan and brie), or eating out in a restaurant where you can't check the labels-- you can't really be sure you're eating a product that can even be labeled vegetarian. Oh, and goat cheese often requires rennet from goat stomachs too. So you aren't off the hook there either.
Finally, I'll attempt to simply gross you out: dairy products are fulla pus. Yup, you're eating... pus. Since dairy cattle are generally kept in pretty heinous conditions (standing on dirty pavement hooked up to machines all day and never getting to see the sun or step foot on grass) they tend to get an infection of their udders called mastitus which causes the area to become inflamed, pus-filled and really painful for cows. Pretty much all milk and cheese in the U.S. contains unbelievable levels of pus.
"Ok, you got me you crafty vegan demon; what can I eat now?"
I highly recommend the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak. Her recipes are all-natural blends of healthier ingredients like tofu, nuts, sea vegetables, tomato products, tahini, vegetable oils, beans, herbs and spices. I also like some of the commercial products on the market such as Follow Your Heart brand vegan cheeses or Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese (make sure to get the trans fat free version with the yellow label!) but you may want to give yourself some time away from cheese before you try some of these recipes and products. They don't taste *exactly* like cheese and you'll appreciate them more once you've conquered your post-addiction jitters (they really do go away after two weeks or so, honest!) Health and compassion will taste so much better than concentrated cow pus ever did. :)
The delicious picture up top is the "Gooey Grilled Cheez" from Ultimate Uncheese cookbook on whole grain oat bread with slices of a farmers' market tomato. The recipe is very easy and fast and probably have all of the ingredients you need to make it already. I love how it has that crazy orange Kraft Single look (fun fact: Kraft Singles cannot legally be labeled "processed cheese food" anymore as they don't even use milk, but some weird milk byproduct. Now it has to say "processed cheese product" on the package. Scary eeh?) to it even though it's colored only with nutritional yeast and tumeric! I promise it's really, really yummy too.
More information is available at:
Compassionate Cooks "Life after Cheese" Episode
from E: The Environmental Magazine, "Just like Cheese? Avoiding 'Addiction' with Dairy Free Alternatives""