Monday, December 13, 2010

Contemplating Cheese

Most people, when they hear that I am vegan, tell me that they could never be vegan, because they could never give up ______. Usually that blank is cheese. And so it is for me too. I could never be vegan because I could never give up cheese, except that I have, sort of.

I LOVE cheese; I mean, I really love it. It is a major component of all of my favorite foods. And yet, somehow, I became a vegan. In attempting to talk about the way I feel about cheese, as a vegan, I did a little research. I came across an article published in Vegetarian Times, a magazine I very much enjoy, called “Confessions of a Cheeseaholic.” The author, Hillari Dowdle talks about her struggle to get her “tastebuds to catch up with [her] ethics.” I often feel this way, cursing the people I meet who never really liked cheese in the first place, or metaphorically shaking my fist at casomorphins, the tiny molecules found in dairy products that impact my body in much the same way as heroin. But then the article takes a turn for the inane. Dowdle references Jo Stepaniak, author of The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, who offers this recipe to help you kick your cheese habit: “Simply spread warm toast with your favorite peanut butter, top it with steamed, bite-sized broccoli florets, and drizzle it with tamari. The combination of creamy peanut butter, pungent broccoli, and salty tamari is wonderful.” Dowdle even goes so far as to call this a “great substitute for a grilled cheese sandwich.” What! This is why people don’t like vegans. If you told me you were really craving a grilled cheese sandwich, and I handed you some peanut butter and broccoli toast, I would expect to be hit. The most useful advice I got about living as a vegan cheese lover is from Isa Chandra Moskovitz who explained, “you have to manage your expectations.” Great.

In the end, I have come to a few conclusions. First, I want to be a vegan for life, not for a few years. This might mean eating cheese occasionally if it helps me stick to my vegan convictions for the long haul. It is infinitely better to do something than nothing. Yet, having given myself this somewhat relaxed mandate, I still haven’t eaten cheese. I was a party last week, and even though platters of cheese were staring me in the face, I really didn’t want any. Looking at it, I thought, “I don’t eat that,” much the way omnivores feel when they look at their pets. The most important thing I have realized is that being human is about so much more than what I want. I’m not sure what this adds up to for the future, but right now, it means I’m not eating cheese.

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