The Cheese Cravings
‘Which food do you miss the most?’ It’s the number one question I’m asked when someone new finds out I’m vegan. And the answer is never a surprise to anyone - cheese. But how good is cheese?
I tried and failed to become a vegan about eight times before it eventually stuck; cheese was my downfall every time. Feta cheese, camembert, halloumi - even good old fashioned tasty cheese. You name it, I’d eat it. Cheese was my hangover cure; cheese toasties, pasta covered in cheese - I’ve even been known to ask for a cup of grated cheese from a rather bemused waitress. Basically, I loved cheese more than life itself.
It feels wrong to admit, but I can honestly say cheese doesn’t do it for me anymore.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point - but it feels liberating. It wasn’t easy getting here and I’m pretty proud of myself. For a solid six months after becoming vegan I would crave cheese, and have to exercise some serious willpower not to eat it. Brunches became torturous, with cheese inevitably featuring in the cafe’s vege option. “I’ll have the halloumi salad, no halloumi please”, or “The smashed avo on toast, but please, none of that pesky crumbed feta on top - yuck.” Wine and cheese nights also became - unsurprisingly - difficult. I took along vegan cheese to one such evening; needless to say it wasn’t quite the same (and have since reverted to ‘wine and hummus’ - still a solid option.)
It was easy enough to forget about cheese when I was at home, cooking for myself, as I (obviously) didn’t keep it in the fridge. It wasn’t quite ‘out of sight, out of mind’ because deep down I always knew how well feta would go with my chickpea salad, or cream cheese with my avocado bagel, but it wasn’t in the house so I had to make do. Every time I was exposed to cheese, at said brunches or friends homes, I’d simply have to think about all the documentaries and research I had exposed myself to, and like magic, the cravings would disappear.
Whether it was the videos I’d seen of baby calves being taken away from their mothers only hours after birth - their mum’s heartbreakingly crying after them; the cramped, filthy conditions of modern-day factory farming; the images of pus and antibiotics; or the mere fact I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being constantly pregnant. It was all, both singularly and collectively, more than enough to put me off. After about six months of having to consciously conjure up those images, something changed and I no longer craved the cheese. It had become pretty synonymous with torture and heartbreak, and I wanted no part of it. Still don’t, and as I said - I’m pretty proud of the internal transition.
Overcoming my cheese cravings has been a useful exercise in compassion and understanding as well. Before I gave it up, I thought I was pretty strong-willed. It was disappointing to realise that my stomach, and tastebuds, could overpower my brain easily. As I mentioned, I tried and failed many times to become vegan before finally making the switch.
I honestly, truly believed I was someone who could go cold turkey and never look back. Turns out I’m not quite as stubborn as I thought - but in hindsight, I’m glad of it. Now I find it so much easier to relate to meat-eaters looking to become vegetarian. Growing up as a vegetarian, and never having to struggle to give up meat (as I’ve never tried it), it was impossible to relate to any meat eaters who failed to give it up.
How can it be so hard? How can you be part of a system which rears animals only for human consumption - keeps them in tiny, filthy conditions, and slaughters them without a second thought? Not to mention the environmental impact of the industry. Do you have a heart? A brain? A social conscience? That was me - judgey Gina. But not anymore. Now I know the struggle - and will continue to have sympathy for anyone trying and failing, and trying and failing again, to give up animal products - whether it be meat, eggs, dairy, or leather. And I promise you, it will get easier with time. Good luck.