Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On the Giving up of the Cheese

By the time I got home today I was running a fever, had a sore throat, and had a good case of the shaky chills. Needless to say I was in no mood to make dinner. So, hot dogs and french fries it was! The boys love to craft these elaborate, yet gross, hot dogs: ketchup, pickle, mustard, plum sauce, and cherry sauce. I did not take any pictures.

A few days ago Alexis asked if I would write something about giving up cheese; the one hurdle many people cannot leap and become vegan. I generally shy away from these kinds of posts because they can come off as condescending and sanctimonious. So, instead of telling you what to do I will just tell you what choices I made. First, let me say that I loved meat and dairy of all kinds. And why not? Animal fat tastes good--that's why fast food is so popular. My transition to veganism began after viewing Supersize Me. Of course, I knew that fast food was bad and generally did not eat much of it. But then I started reading the books of the people Morgan Spurlock interviewed. Meat was relatively easy to give up after reading about its impact on my health and the environment. And, of course, the exploitation of animals on factory farms in the name of profit. I would now describe myself as a pacifist. So, what about products that don't result in the death of an animal? In my opinion, many animals are still exploited and mistreated even if harvesting their products does not result in their immediate death. Plus, I knew from a brief stint with vegetarianism from 1999-2000, I knew that I would just replace meat with gobs and gobs of dairy and eggs. So, I would be merely replacing saturated fat and cholesterol from meat with the same things from dairy.

So I gave it all up. And it was not easy. I had to develop a new set of cooking skills and a new way of thinking about food. I have been cooking since I was in Grade Seven, and while my Mom was all about balanced meals and eating fruits and veggies (to stave of scurvy, she told us), each meal was constructed around meat or dairy. So, if you can't get chicken breasts out of the fridge and plan a meal around them, what do you do? Vegan With a Vengeance was my first cookbook, and Fat Free Vegan Kitchen was the first blog to give me plenty of inspiration. And I hated the fake cheese. I described Galaxy Vegan Cheese as not unlike plastic vomit, and thought Vegan Gourmet was watery and just plain gross. I think VG is OK now, but I really don't feel like dishing out the $5.75 it costs here. But things changed as I lost my taste for animal fat and started thinking beyond veganizing the old recipes I knew. I truly think that the North American diet conditions us to develop a love of fat, sugar, and salt. You only have to see a kid get his first taste of chocolate to understand this. The first time I tasted Silk's soy nog I thought it was vile. The second time I thought, "hey, this is OK." Now, I think it is awesome. I still don't really go for a lot of vegan cheese, personally, but the kids like to have "real pizza." Even then, you really can't lay it on like dairy cheese.

This blog has proved to me just how diverse and tasty the vegetable world is. We have never eaten better in our entire lives and enjoy a wide array of foods and cuisines every week. Veganism is a very tangible thing I can do for the benefit of my health, the animals, and the planet.


stephanie said...

your are so lovely, to share your thoughts on going vegan. keep up the wonderful work... my life, too, has been changed by the inspiring recipes of others.

Jan Scholl said...

I have always hated melted cheese and the vegan stuff is gross. I had to make a recipe recently with Tofutti cream cheese and I will never buy it again. I hated regular cream cheese, so I hope hubby might eat this. I won't.

I am not 100 % vegan. I have an occasional egg. I always buy from a local farmer who I trust-so they are unfertilized. About 10 years ago, I was very ill (I was told I had stomach cancer but they were wrong-I had perforated ulcers.) I did not eat solid food for 5 months, and when I was finally able to get a bite down, it was a quarter of a boiled egg. I only use them when I need to. I actually prefer raw veggies but that isn't cheap here in Michigan unless I can buy in bulk at Costco. Now I live with a guy who eats anything BUT his veggies, so its a realy nutty place sometimes and he loves cheese. any kind and any style. I try to compromise here with him-I will not cook raw animal flesh for him and he has to eat what I make in the house or he goes without. He knows where the slaughter houses are (Outback and Famous Dave's). If we eat out, I sometimes get salads that they always put cheese on and I just pick it off and put it on his plate. I am afraid to order anything not raw in diners because the one place I loved had veggie soup and one day the manager came out and said I was gonna be pissed and he told me the veggie soup had pork in it-all along. Even after I saw a label I was stunned. I thought they made it themselves. So I eat lots of salads and plain veggies but this is not a great town for anything other than meat. It's very blue collar-wish I lived in Ann Arbor-I can feast when I am there and Royal Oak is good too. Just keep those nasty mushrooms to yourselves-they send me to the ER every time. Okay, I am roasting garlic to go on my bread. It smells good over my cursing at the Pistons and Tigers.

Nasreen said...

Thank you for this post! I am working my way into veganism primarily for health reasons. I've been a vegetarian for over 1/2 my life and I never thought I'd be giving up the dairy. Researching a chronic digestive problem I had I realized dairy was the problem and within 3 days of omitting it my flare up (which 2 medications weren't "fixing") was over, and I refuse to take medication for now. I thought I would miss cheese but the rare times I've had it in the past 3 months it tastes strange. I've also noticed that things I used to eat with cheese taste different, I can pick out other flavors, good flavors! I don't know how I stumbled upon your blog, but I'm glad I did. I look forward to the delicious meals you make to inspire me to try out new things. You didn't mentioned "cheeses" from the Uncheese cookbook, but I assume you like those because I see you use them often (said book is currently being shipped to me after reading about it on your blog). This was probably more information then you care to read, but please continue to post. You let me know that vegan's do live blandly :D

handstil said...

Thanks for this.
My husband and I have been vegetarian since we were about 15 years old (we're 32 now) and recently made a full time commitment to veganism after wavering somewhere between "free-gan" and "cheese monger" for quite some time.
I read Disease Proof You Child and bought Veganomicon and have been so pleasantly surprised at the newfound joy I have for cooking for our family. Our 6 year old is having a hard time giving up Mac N Cheese (he LOATHES the Mac N Chreese stuff) but otherwise it's going so perfectly.
Having a new baby forced me to examine my ethics and our diet more closely. What was I saying by turning the other way when it comes to the treatment of dairy cows? I only had to read a small fragment of information (as a nursing mother myself) to find the tremendous hole in my ideals. Not to mention the horrific reality of a diet rich in dairy/animal fats. Ew!
The biggest issue we face at this time is school, friends, and family, who think we are nut-jobs. I am constantly in awe of the fact that the same people who will serve up a double cheeseburger to a 3 year old, will call a vegan child of the same age who eats a plant based diet "malnourished." Weird logic!
Anyway, we always look forward to your nightly posts, thank you!

Vicki's Vegan Vice said...

thanks for sharing this. it helps. hope you feel better soon!

Tracy said...

Very well said.

carrie said...

Great post.....our evolution to veganism was quite the same as yours. Honestly, once I made up my mind to do it, I didn't find it difficult at all. Although, my hubby and 1 daughter still consume dairy occassionally outside the home. I try to inform my kiddos of my reasons for making the change, and not be too hard on them when they order a quesadilla from a restaurant, or ask for cheese pizza when we go out. I figure being strict about it will just end in a bad way. They have for the most part embraced my values, and avoid all meat, and most eggs and dairy (in so much as a 4 year old can determine there is eggs and dairy in something....I mean, when faced with a birthday cake that doesnt' overtly have eggs and dairy, she's not going to turn it down, ya know??)

Anyway, I think it's great what you have done for yourself, your family, and the environment. Keep up the good work and keep spreadin' the vegan love!!

Christina said...

Thank you for sharing. I enjoy your blog. Both my daughters are vegetarians. One eats dairy and one is vegan. I don't cook meat at home. I am eating vegetarian also but sometimes fall off the wagon and eat meat out. I just crave it every now and then. I struggle every day to figure out dinner. Your blog is an inspiration. The dinner decision is stressful everyday.

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

Thanks for sharing your thinking on this. I deluded myself for many years of vegetarianism about why eating cheese was okay. Quesadillas were my go-to food at least weekly when I needed a quick, filling meal. But after about a year of educating myself on vegan cooking and reading blogs such as yours, I went vegan about 3.5 months ago and have been extremely happy with my decision. Thanks for posting all the delicious looking recipes too; you really help people see that veganism is doable without feeling denied.

Calimaryn said...

Thank you so much for sharing! I hope you are feeling much better as well!

Meat-free Mike said...

I think we are the only species that consumes the milk of another. Cheese is most difficult to give up because, as mentioned, it tastes so good (salt & oils) and melts in a unique way. But the bad outweighs the good when it comes to the health problems cheese consumption can bring about and that should inspire abandonment. I find the Tofutti singles satisfactory on veggie burgers, nutritional yeast flakes for the Parmesian effect, and Amy's soy cheese pizza is pretty good. I am anxious to try 'Sheese" & "Teese" very soon.

Thanks for the excellent blog Daddy-o!

Sharon R said...

Your post was so interesting and I'd like to thank you as well. I gave up meat and dairy for health and weight issues as well as the obvious ethical ones and I know it is the right choice. Instead of thinking of the food I don't eat, I love the food I do.
Now that I'm slimmer and healthier, I know veganism is a great choice for life.
BTW, hope your feeling better now!!

Susan G said...

Vegan Dad,

Thanks for sharing. Your blog is so inspiring. Why not be vagan when there is so much awesome vegan food? Now if only I could convince the rest of the family!


Jenny said...

Great post! I agree with you, that once the dairy is out of your diet, you start to notice so many other flavors in plant based foods. I don't rely on cheese substitutes because I enjoy all of the other new flavors, but yes, they are fun every once in a while.

Thanks for sharing!

jessy said...

what a wonderful post! thank you! my spouse and i became vegans just this past january. about 6 months before that we only ate meat about once a week. once we went vegan - there was no turning back. besides all the awesome foods we make, fruits & veggies we enjoy, etc - one thing my spouse has noticed is that since being vegan he has no need for his allergy or asthma medication. he used to take a "singular" and an "allegra" every night before bed - now he doesn't need them - and hasn't bothered to refil his prescriptions either! who knew veganism was so darn awesome!?! :D thanks again for another great post! and for sharing your thoughts and reasons for be'n vegan!

Alexis said...

Thanks for this post!

So I guess the short answer is, you just do it.

I may be ready. I have eaten less and less cheese as I've gone more and more vegan, and it is to the point where things that I once loved and craved seem weird and excessive to me (toast with cheese, pizza, etc).

And now I am having digestive issues which may (although not 100% sure) be the result of dairy.


But I am still unsure of crossing the last line, the line of tasting small amounts of really good cheese every now and then (and of hassle-free eating out). I truly do love good cheese; there's nothing else like it. I never felt that way about meat, it was just a reasonably good thing that was part of my diet. And with eating it quite rarely, the health argument is not convincing for me since most of my diet is already plant food.

So that's where I'm having difficulties. But only I can overcome them, and I think at this point it's largely a matter of making a choice and sticking to it.

Vegan Dad said...

My philosophy is that you need to do what is best for you. The only person you are accountable to is yourself. Follow your own conscience. Many times I think we vegans try to "out-vegan" one another. We try to become 7th-level vegans (i.e. we don't eat anything that casts a shadow) and sneer at those who eat honey, or a bite of cheese, or whatever. Any step towards a plant-based diet is a step in the right direction.

SaraJane said...

It's so interesting. I think many of us that are vegans now went through the struggle of giving up cheese. I never ate eggs even when I was just vegetarian, so that wasn't much of an issue for me.

I think someone else mentioned suddenly tasting other flavors in food that you used to put cheese on. I've had the same revelation. I bought some fake cheese about a year ago and had no idea what to do with it. I'd trained myself out of even considering using it. I still am not such a fan of the fake cheese. Even the vegan stuff isn't really all that good for you. Still full of fat and oils, but at least not the animal kind. I do admit to loving the McVegan and recently getting on a grilled "cheese" kick, however. ;)

For me, giving up cheese actually opened up my world. VWAV was my first vegan cookbook, too. I suddenly was thinking about food in an entirely different way. No longer was I constructing meals laden with cheese or revolving around those meat substitutes that are so prevalent in the states. I eat more veggies, feel better and got rid of some digestion issues I had been having. Score!

Also - I hope you feel better soon!

lisa said...

I thought giving up cheese (which I loved) would be the hardest part of going vegan... but surprisingly, I didn't miss it at all. And now 6 months later I think it smells really vile. I don't mind some of the faux cheeses on the market (though I eat them very rarely) and there's not much else that can't be done with nooch!

Kelly said...

thank you! you always make so much sense. alexis needs a blog too lol! you can stick to the recipes, alexis can to the "going vegan" bit.

also, i think your sidebar is a little discouraging. you point out the cons of not being vegan, but no pros of being vegan. it totally puts the omnis off.
maybe adding the nutritional info for a good vegan meal? or adding a positive or funny youtube video? like steven the vegan- he's HILARIOUS! check him out
(i think this one works)

the1stdrop said...

First of all, I just came across your blog and I am SO excited to look through the recipes and pictures. Awesome. I'm considering pretending to be sick so I can leave work early, go home, and make the chicken wings, both the hot and the sweet & sticky.

Secondly, if your kids still want "regular" pizza, there's a new vegan cheese available called Daiya. I kid you not, it is awesome. It melts. Seriously. And stretches. And tastes really good. They have italian and cheddar shreds, I usually get them at Whole Foods but I know you can buy online as well.

Okay, I'm off to look at more pictures now. =)