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When faced with the idea of becoming vegan, the reason most people give for not wanting to do it is that they “can’t live without cheese.” It wasn’t my reason; I thought it was chicken that I couldn’t live without. There were a few cheeses, however, that I knew were going to be hard to give up, like mozzarella and parmesan. Cheesy dishes are comforting. Since childhood we are given cheesy foods: macaroni and cheese, pizza with cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese sauces to pour over vegetables. Learning to live without cheese can be a challenge but the good news is that ditching dairy doesn’t mean we have to live without our favorite dishes. If you’re considering becoming vegan or if you are already vegan but having cravings, here are some tips that might help you stay the course.
1. Understand Why You Have Cravings
When my husband and I took a trip on our first wedding anniversary, we were new vegetarians. I brought along a book about breaking food addictions and read it aloud during the drive. The more I read, the more I knew that we were going to have to become vegan and we did, shortly after our trip. Milk contains a protein called casein that breaks apart during digestion and releases opiates called casomorphins. Cheese also contains phenylethylamine, which is an amphetamine-like chemical. These compounds are responsible for many of our cravings, including that feeling of not being able to live without cheese. It’s a real physical addiction, which means we can really suffer from withdrawal when we stop eating cheese. The good news is that those cravings will lessen over time.
Not all cravings are physical, however. Sure, there is also the taste of cheese we miss, but it’s more complex than just the tastes. Eating and foods carry memories, associations, traditions, and emotions. Every food I miss comes with a memory – time spent with family or friends, foods that offered comfort and expressed love, outings that were fun and a part of my life. So when we have cravings for cheese, we might also be having cravings for the people, places and experiences that cheese just happened to be a part of.
2. Know Where Cheese Comes From
The most effective way that I have to deal with my cravings is remembering all I have learned about where my food comes from. I didn’t stop eating meat, eggs or dairy because I didn’t like the tastes. I stopped because I could no longer deny where my food was coming from or that eating the foods I loved meant I was participating in and was responsible for the pain, torture and deaths of so many innocent animals. It got to a point where I could live without the tastes I loved more than I could live with my conscience if I kept eating them. Once you see, you can’t unsee. Once you know, you can’t unknow.
Learning the truth about the dairy industry is the best way I have to deal with cravings. I might get a craving for a cheesy food, I might be in a social situation where there is pizza or cake, I might be starving and there are no vegan options but it doesn’t matter. No matter what the food is or what the circumstances are, what doesn’t change is the fact that animal foods come from animals and I have no right to them. No animal is going to suffer or die because I have a craving for cheese – because that’s the price tag I see on every single slice and ultimately, I am not the one who has to pay it.
3. Give Vegan Cheeses a Try
When I became vegan, there were a few vegan cheeses available on the market, but let’s be honest, none of them tasted like dairy cheese. Rather than eat these alternatives, I learned to eat dishes without cheese. Luckily, times have changed and the vegan cheese industry has blossomed. There are now many brands of vegan cheese that are delicious, that melt, and that come in many flavors: mozzarella, cheddar, pepper Jack, Swiss and more. More and more people are also learning to make their own vegan cheese at home. We have lots of recipes you can try. Learn How to Make Fresh Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and How to Make Vegan Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese. Try Macadamia Nut Spreadable Pepper-Herb Feta, Vegan Cashew Dill Cheese, Raw Almond Parmesan and Smoked Vegan Coconut Gouda that Stretches, Slices and Grates. Also check out These 10 Vegan Cheeses that will Make You Quit Dairy Forever.
4. Adapt Your Favorite Dishes
Whether you use vegan cheese or not, you can still make all your favorite cheesy dishes with a few adaptations. If macaroni and cheese is a favorite of yours, it’s still on the menu. Read How to Make the Most Decadent Mac and Cheese and then check out 7 Epic Mac and Cheese Recipes Made Vegan for Macaroni Day! Cheesy sauce can be made with nutritional yeast, cashews and other nuts, cauliflower, or with butternut squash and pumpkin. Try this Queso Cheese Sauce, Spicy Vegan Cheese Sauce, and Warm “Vegveeta” Cheese Dip. I always loved cheesy Italian pasta sauces and I still get to indulge in them. Try this Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo with Kale and Sweet Peas, Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Cheese Sauce, Fettuccine Alfredo with Zucchini Pasta and Cauliflower Sauce, and Pumpkin Sage Pasta. You don’t need dairy cheese to make a rich Spinach and Artichoke Dip or this cheesy Hot Corn Dip.
Italian dishes are what I cook most and being vegan hasn’t stopped me from making Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti, Vegan Mozzarella Sticks, or Creamy Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagna. Read The Best Cheesy Italian Recipes – Veganized for more ideas and recipes. Dessert is still something to look forward to when you make any of these 10 Dairy-Free Options to Celebrate National Cheesecake Day.
5. Don’t Give Up
The most important tip I can give you is not to give up. Changing the way you have eaten for most of your life can be challenging. I want all the people out there who are vegan or struggling with being vegan or trying to become vegan to know that they are perfectly normal if they have cravings. I want them to know they are not alone, they are not “doing it wrong,” and that they shouldn’t think cravings are a sign that veganism is not for them. Staying away from foods you never liked or that disgust you is easy. Staying away from foods you love and miss shows great commitment. So remember, having cravings doesn’t matter. What you do about them does.
Try not to compare yourself to what everyone else is saying. Everyone’s journey is different and making changes is easier for some people than for others. If you slip and eat cheese, don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t feel you need to publicly confess to anyone. Try to figure out where your craving came from and how you can deal with it should it happen again. Every day, every meal, is another chance to choose vegan.
In the six years that I have been vegan, I have always been honest about having cravings and missing some of the foods I ate for the majority of my life. I actually appreciate the cravings because they keep my commitment in the forefront of my mind. If you are dealing with cravings for cheese, I hope that these tips help you win the battle.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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