God, I love dairy
I love butter, yogurt, cream, and cheese. Especially cheese.
I love all kinds of cheese: the hard ones, the soft ones, the smooth and silky ones, the chewy and crumbly ones, the ones with hard rind, rindsless, washed rind, pasteurised, non-pasteurised, ashed, non-ashed, white, yellow, blue, green, sweet, salty, smoky, stinky, whatever… you name it, I love them all…
I used to eat cheese every day; at one point in time, I was eating about 200g of cheese a day on average. That’s a lot of cheese! I would have it for breakfast (cottage cheese and vegemite on toast were one of my favourite breakfast meals), for lunch with my sandwich or salad, for afternoon tea, as a snack and for dessert. I got nervous when I was low on cheese and I got frustrated when I went out for meals and didn’t have any cheese nearby.
Maybe I was French in a past life. Or a baby cow.
My journey to a dairy-free life
I started cutting down butter and cheese when I learned about my dairy intolerances. All these years I had been putting up with an upset stomach and bloatiness, blaming it on sugar, alcohol, fatty and spicy food, but never dairy. I was ignorant. I was in denial. I love cheese too much.
Until one day I listened to a podcast episode. It is called Motherhood and Maternal Instinct, an older episode of the Food for Thought podcast, which is a vegan podcast. Colleen (the host) reads an essay on a rescued dairy cow named Dancers. Dancers is a dairy cow. From the time she was physically able to have a baby, she has carried a baby a year. For 279 days she carried her baby, curled high in her belly, closed to her heart. One day of each year she spent giving birth 24 hours to nurse her baby, nuzzling, washing and nursing the tiny creature with her rich colostrum. Then they would come, as they always came. To seize her baby away. Boys to the vealers, and girls to be raised for the same servitude as their mother. Faith see Dancers being rescued by a sanctuary, where for the first time, she was able to raise and nurse her baby. She nurses her baby girl until she’s 18 years old.
The episode opened my eyes. How did I not see it? As much as I knew where cow’s milk is from, it didn’t register to me that cows need to be pregnant to produce milk. Pregnant. Just like us humans. I didn’t know that in order to produce milk, dairy cows are kept almost continually pregnant. I didn’t know that they would give birth, only to have their babies taken away from them. I certainly didn’t know that their calves are considered as a waste-product, sent to slaughter in their first week of life so that their mothers’ milk can be harvested for me, for my consumption. That was it for me. No more hiding from the truth.
Some said that what I had read isn’t necessarily true. That I should go and visit a dairy farm and see how well our dairy cattle are treated at some of the farms. And I would love to, if I had the chance. I would love to be proven wrong. I really would.
But numbers don’t lie. And I did the maths. As innocent as dairy may seem, it is anything but. At the end of the day, someone has to die. Here’s why.
If a farmer owns 200 dairy cows to start with, each year he will have 200 new born calves to look after. If none were sent to the slaughterhouses, by the second year he would have 400 calves with the calves from the previous year reaching adulthood and breeding age, and with some of the females now pregnant by this stage. By the third year he would have at least 600, plus some new calves from the second generation of female cows, and so on. How could they up with the land and feed demand. How could they keep all the cows? It just wouldn’t work. At the end of the day, someone has to die. Dairy business is a business, and that’s bottom line.
But, what about cheese?
Glad you asked. One of the first thing I did when I went on a plant-based diet was to try and find a non-dairy cheese substitute. I had no idea non-dairy cheeses existed, let alone the fact that we can create non-dairy cheeses. I’m not going to lie here, most non-dairy cheese won’t taste exactly like dairy cheese but they taste great in their own right. But imagine having cheese that is free from cholesterol, lactose and animal sufferings. Wouldn’t you prefer that?
As part of my never ending pursuit of finding the best vegan cheese, I have tried a few different brands of vegan cheeses. I’ve tried: Sheese, which tastes like coconut flavoured cream cheese; Notzarella, a pretty close resemblance to (you guessed it) Mozzarella but doesn’t melt very well; Miyoko Artisan Vegan Cheese, which tastes very much like a real brie and is my favourite; Sprout and Kernel’s Monster Cheddar which does reminds me of cheddar as it has a lot of depth and complexity; and Biocheese, which tastes so much like processed cheddar. Most recently, I also attempted to make my own sharp Cheddar using rejuvelac which, I must say, makes me feel like a vegan cheese artisan.
Life after dairy and why quitting dairy is so hard
Clearly there is life after dairy. You can make milk out of any nuts, seeds or grains and similarly, you can replace dairy ingredients with plant based alternatives. I believe the reason why it’s so hard for people to give up dairy is because it’s such a strong habit that we’ve picked up from a very young age. When everyone around you is telling you to drink milk and eat cheese for calcium and strong bones, over and over again, it’s hard to believe otherwise. The same thing happens when the media constantly portrays the idyllic yet misleading view of dairy production with images of cows happily grazing in the paddock, which is as we know now, is far from the truth.
Another reason why giving up dairy is so hard is because dairy products contain casomorphins, which is a type of addictive morphine found in casein. Cheese is the dairy product containing the most concentrated source of casein so this explains why it can be hard to give up cheese, even if it’s our body’s worst nightmare. You can read more about the connection between dairy and cancer in Dr. Campbell’s book, The China Study, which outlines his ground-breaking discovery of the relationship between nutrition and cancer when conducting a study in the 1980’s in rural China called the China Project. In the meantime, here are my 9 tips for giving up dairy.
9 Tips for Giving Up Dairy
1. Recognise that it’s just a habit and believe that you can change it.
Believing that you can actually do this is absolutely critical. And you can. It’s just a habit, just like many of our lifestyle choices. And just like any old habit we can only break the habit by creating a new one. Set yourself a dairy-free challenge or perhaps start by replacing your favourite dairy food with something as comforting and that you equally like, for example have a handful of nuts or a favourite piece of fruit when you feel like a cheesy toast.
2. Find your reason and continuously remind yourself of that reason.
Whatever your reason is I’m sure it’s a strong one. Strong enough to make you consider giving up dairy. Remind yourself of this when you find yourself in a sticky situation. Like many old habits, your craving for dairy can creep up on you when you’re most vulnerable (like finding yourself at a dinner party full of cheeses, cakes and ice cream). Continue to remind yourself the reason you’re doing this in the first place (e.g. better health, sustainability, and so forth)
3. Educate yourself about dairy.
Read The China Study and other research articles to understand the negative impact of dairy upon our health, and the painful reality of life for a dairy cow. Continue to read, learn and expose yourself to the ‘truth’ so your reasons and motivations remain firm and strong.
4. Be prepared.
Planning in advance is the secret for succeeding in pursuing a dairy-free life. Always plan your meals ahead of time and always be prepared to face challenges when eating out: hope for the best outcome but always plan, and prepare, for the worst (and be prepared to send back the salad which was inadvertently served in dripping-hot butter). I believe that if we anticipate obstacles and plan for them, we’re more likely to succeed.
5. Stock up on dairy-free alternatives.
There are a lot of great dairy-free products but it’s a matter of personal preference so you need to conduct some trial and error. Sample lots and soon you will find some brands you love. Always look for the ‘Dairy-free’ label whenever possible as identifying dairy in packaged food products can be a bit tricky. Watch out for ingredients listed as butter, casein, caseinates, ghee, whey, sour cream, paneer, and nougat, just to name few. Check out the resource links below for a dairy-free shopping list which you might find useful.
6. Let the craving dissipate.
When the craving hits, tell yourself that you’ll wait for another 15-20 minutes before reaching for that cheese. Take a walk, make a cup of tea or read the news. After 15-20 minutes, often the craving will dissipate and you may not even remember about craving some cheese in the first place. Do this enough times and eventually you will stop craving it.
7. Get support from people close to you.
Habits are much easier to create or change if you have social support. It gives you a better chance of making the change work. Research shows that getting support from spouses, family members, and friends is important in making behaviour changes that affect health. After all, they’re going to be your table companions when you start passing on the butter when you go out to eat.
8. Join a group.
Find people who are on a similar path as you, especially on the internet. Connect with like-minded people, and get their support and social accountability to help you transition. Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, writes, “The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group”.
9. Treat yourself kindly.
Last but certainly not least. You will make mistakes, consciously or subconsciously. We’re all human, after all. Don’t beat yourself up over a guilty mouthful of butter or a surreptitious slice of cheese, and treat yourself with the same kindness as you treat others. You’ve got this!