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Has anyone ever discovered that you’re vegan and said to you, “Oh, I could never give up cheese!” I’ve been on both sides of that conversation. Cheese was the last thing I gave up when I went vegan. In fact, I used to say I was “crack addicted” to it. I wasn’t too far off from the truth. Dr. Neal Barnard has even said “you might call

[cheese] dairy crack.”

In Dr. Barnard’s book, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings, he discusses cheese and its effects on the brain. Research shows that milk – any animal’s milk – contains casein, a protein that, during digestion, releases casomorphins. What are casomorphins? Opiates! Casein is concentrated in cheese production. Let me repeat myself: concentrated proteins are releasing opiates into your body during digestion, folks! One molecular chain of casomorphins is one tenth as potent as morphine when it comes to pain relief. It’s believed that the opiates in milk cause a calming effect for the nursing infant. Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan breaks it down: “Human milk has only 2.7 grams of casein per liter. Cow’s milk has 26.” This is yet another example of why another species’ milk is not meant for human consumption.

PCRM has even more staggering news on the cheese wire: “The USDA Report to Congress on the Dairy Promotion Programs for the year 2000 described how the government and industry worked with fast-food chains to make sure that cheese was prominently displayed in menu items.” Federally sanctioned programs are promoting cheese to consumers at large amounts! It’s no wonder we crave it. The science is there. The marketing tactics are there. How could we not wind up addicted when Americans eat over 33 pounds of cheese per person per year?

Since cheese usually contains ten times the saturated fat as animal flesh, and foods high in saturated fat are associated with high cancer rates, Dr. Joel Fuhrman names cheese as one of the “seven worst foods for health and longevity.” We’ve written repeatedly here at YDV about why dairy is bad for non-human animals. Bad for us; bad for them. Is the fatty, salty taste we enjoy worth the risks?

As a recovered cheese addict, I say emphatically, no! It is possible to kick this addiction; I haven’t had dairy-based cheese in three and a half years now and I don’t miss it. Sure, I enjoy Daiya shreds and cheese wedges – it’s so nice to have a vegan cheese that melts and stretches and feels familiar – but I’m sure I could do without if I had to (though I’m glad I don’t!). I much prefer not being part of an advertising machine that keeps me addicted to a “food” that is good for no one involved – and to me, that’s just one of many side benefits of this vegan journey.

Photo credit: Chad Fust via Flickr