A Question For Vegans: Why No Cheese?

Editor's note: We were sitting around the office one day talking about veganism—because that's how you roll at a food website—and something occured to us. Why no cheese? No one died for cheese. Okay, so avoiding Velveeta is fine, but surely you can make room for the really good stuff, right? Our vegan columnist responds.

Cheese, it's the kryptonite of most new vegans! Being vegan means no animal products or byproducts. When asked about the most missed product, many vegans answer "cheese." That's because cheese contains the addictive opiate morphine. Say what!?! Backstory: In 1981, Eli Hazum and his colleagues at Wellcome Research Laboratories found that morphine is naturally occuring in both human and cow's milk — to allow the baby cow (or baby human) to feel bonded to its mother, which encourages it to nurse and get its nutrients. The animal protein casein — also found in cheese — produces opiate effects when digested. Crazy stuff.

This is where the motivation behind your choice of veganism becomes important, because denying yourself is one of the hardest things you can do — especially when it comes to eating. Whether it's a gooey pizza or brie and crackers, facing cheese wherever you go is a problem. The new vegan might rationalize: the cow didn't die for it, it's not like anybody will know if you "cheat" a little.

The answer is simple: you don't eat cheese because you don't eat cheese. It's just something you don't do, because you don't believe humans need food from animals to survive.

This is the point where you have to start eating your idealism. This is also why a lot of vegan entrepreneurship is born — out of necessity. Principally, when it comes to eating it's about 1/4 intellect and 3/4 primal urges. The person who puts their values before their urges is living in the state of mind where veganism is most fertile. The person who postpones their urges until they can invent in a tasty alternative, and then sells that alternative to other less extreme (and less patient) individuals is the business-minded vegan.

There are plenty of companies that offer dairy alternatives: Daiya, Galaxy Nutritional Foods, Chicago Soy Dairy, Vegan Gourmet and others. But as an ardent carnivore friend once told me, "It's just not cheese. It's good, but it's not the real thing." That's true, but being vegan is also about redefining what "real food" is. In short, it's not about the cheese. Veganism starts in the mind first. It requires the same determination and sacrifice you have to extend to open your own business, get married young or become a millionaire by 35. The rewards are a healthy body, a healthy planet and a more responsible attitude towards your place in the world.

So, you have a couple of options as a new vegan. You can go cold turkey and try all these cheese alternatives, or invent some crazy new kind of cheese and not only stay true to your commitment but pocket a nice lil' piece of, well in hip-hop terms, cheez.

More Feed the Vegan on Food Republic: