One of the comments that seems to be most common, upon learning that I am a vegan and that my husband and I are raising our daughter as a vegan, is honestly a sense of amazement that we could go without cheese. In fact, with many vegetarians, the thought of giving up cheese (and to a lesser extent, yogurt) is the main barrier to embracing the vegan lifestyle.
As a small disclaimer, because I am mainly addressing food in this blog, my use of the term vegan in most of my posts is referring to the food itself, being animal-product free (and yes, including honey!). This is more for convenience so I don’t have to type out “strict vegetarian,” which would be more correct. Fortunately, the term vegan is becoming much more commonplace, and more people are familiar with it and what it entails in a dietary sense. This is quite helpful in the sense that more people are aware of what foods are acceptable to vegans, and more foods are being labeled as such, which is awesome. However, its important to note that VEGAN is in fact a LIFESTYLE, which encompasses not just the diet, which is STRICT VEGETARIAN, but also lifestyle choices which include, but are not limited to – the clothes we purchase and wear, the cosmetics and personal care items we use, and forms of entertainment we are willing to watch or participate in. Of course, being vegan is a process and a learning experience, and while we may never be 100%, its something we strive for. There will always be hidden animal products that we just can’t do away with as an individual (think car tires, or even the leather parts of a car’s interior…).
So back to cheese… I was always a cheese lover. I could sit on the couch and eat mozzarella cheese and nothing else for dinner. I loved cheese pizza, cheese quesadillas and pretty much anything with cheddar. But there came a point when I realized that, as a vegetarian for ethical reasons (I am opposed to the industrial factory farming of animals for food), there really is no difference in eating a cow as a burger and consuming the milk. Many people argue that cows need to be milked, and that its not like getting milk from a cow kills the animal, which is obviously the end result in meat production. However, the truth is that the dairy industry does result in the death of cows – calves are either slated to become veal calves or future dairy cows, and at the end of their milk producing period, they still are slaughtered for meat. This truth holds also for eggs and the chicken industry as well. If you are opposed to eating meat for ethical reasons, you simply cannot ignore the connection between eggs and dairy and factory farmed meat. And most of our food is raised this way. Even the term “free-range” is a joke. To obtain this label, the animals only need to see the outdoors and in theory have access. But they are raised in essentially the same horrific conditions. That being said, I reached a piont in my vegetarian walk where I had to face this reality. I simply could no longer consume eggs or dairy. Not being a big egg eater, this was simple enough. And I had given up cow milk years ago. So the only dairy holdouts in my diet were yogurt and cheese. But once I made the decision, I tapered off the cheese in my diet, and what I found was, as I stopped eating it, I stopped craving it. I switched to soy yogurt, and learned to appreciate dishes without loading them up with cheese. I much prefer a black bean quesadilla with peppers and salsa, and NOT dripping with greasy cheese. Once I removed the cheese from the menu, I realized how much dishes do NOT need cheese to make them yummy! I made my first pizza from scratch, and made a “cheezy” sauce from nutritional yeast, and its always been a hit with people who try it.
So, if dairy isn’t on the menu, then what does a vegan eat? I rummaged through my fridge to find products that are used in my house regularly, which would be the vegan equivalent to dairy products in someone else’s fridge.
Milk – why would I drink milk from a cow when there are SO MANY other milks to choose from? Soy milk and almond milk are staples in my household, and I recently tried oat milk and quite enjoyed it. Plant-based milks are healthier, lower in fat, cholesterol-free, and perfectly fine in recipes calling for cows milk. I bake, make smoothies, make gravies, eat cereal and oatmeal, anything you can imagine, all without needing to participate in the dairy industry.
Yogurt – once I gave up dairy yogurt, I made the switch to soy yogurt and love it. My daughter eats a fair amount of yogurt, and I use it in recipes, such as a Vanilla yogurt pound cake that goes awesome with a strawberry topping.
Sour cream – Tofutti brand makes a great sour cream, and I use with baked potatoes and quesadillas and nachos.
Cream cheese – Tofutti also makes a cream cheese, which tastes good, and I have used this to make a cream cheese icing for cupcakes.
Butter – I, along with many other vegans, swear by Earth Balance vegan margarine. I use this for all of my baking needs (they make margarine that is also soy free if you are trying to avoid). Its great on toast, in recipes, whatever you would use butter for. Also, Earth Balance makes a vegetable shortening, which I use for my pie crusts.
Grated Parmesan – I’m not much of a parm person for pasta dishes (I like to sprinkle a little Nooch on…) but my husband mentioned it recently and so I tried this Vegan topping and was impressed. It goes on just like the grated parmesan cheese in a can that I grew up using, and I thought it tasted great and would definitely recommend it.
Cheese – like I mentioned above, this is the toughest part for people making the switch oftentimes. Its almost a joke that vegan cheeses on the market are gross and rubbery. However, with any food, you have to find what you like. I personally LOVE “Vegan Gourmet” which makes small blocks of vegan cheddar and mozzarella cheese. I slice the cheddar to make either grilled cheese (paired with tomato soup, yum!) or to put on my tofurky sandwich. The mozzarella also goes good with tofurky deli slices, but I prefer to slice it and eat on crackers.
And recently, a new product has hit the market that has the the vegan blogosphere buzzing! Daiya cheese is a new vegan cheese that is pretty awesome – it melts, it stretches, it’s gooey on a pizza, it makes a great plate of nachos or a quesadilla. Some people swear by it. Since discovering it, I have enjoyed it, and one thing I like making are “french bread” pizzas, where I take Tuscany bread slices, top with tomato sauce and daiya cheese, and bake in the toaster over. Super yummy! Why would I want to eat dairy products when there are so many plant-based, healthier alternatives available?