On Cheese

I'm slowly making my way through a pile of vegan reading. One of the books I'm reading is called Breaking the Food Seduction by Dr. Neal Barnard. I was shocked by something I read in the book. Apparently the U.S. Department of Agriculture works hand in hand with big business. Maybe I'm naive, but I would have thought that was a conflict of interest.

Anyway, here are two other tidbits which I found noteworthy:

  • The dairy industry weighs heavily on nutrition policies in the United States. The eleven-person panel that drew up the Dairy Guidelines for Americans 2000 -- the blueprint for all federal nutrition programs -- included six members with financial ties to the dairy, meat, and egg industries.
  • Government sponsored programs have managed to boost America's annual cheese consumption from 15 pounds per person in 1975 to 30 pounds in 1999.

Source: Breaking the Food Seduction pages 57-60

Finally, Barnard discusses that cheese is even more problematic for people to give up than other dairy products... Dairy contains a protein, called casein, that breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates, called casomorphins. Cheese contains much more casein than is found in other dairy products. Barnard suggests this is what makes it more addictive.

If you didn't read it before, we wrote a little more about the addictive nature of dairy back in May.  So to our friends who are considering going vegan, but can't live without cheese... apparently there is a real, physical reason.  We certainly have had a tough time with this one!


  1. FWIW, spinach and wheat also contain opioid peptides… But the effect of food-derived opioid peptides on human health is far from clear. Of course, if they really are addictive, it would be better to be addicted to spinach than cheese.

    (I’m a medical writer and have browsed through hundreds if not thousands of studies on opioid peptides.)

  2. This is very interesting. No wonder why I still drool when I see or smell cheese. I AM AN ADDICT!

    It has been my biggest issue in my vegan journey because the vegan cheese alternatives leave little for the taste bud to enjoy. A couple are ok but goodness it sure is hard 😉

  3. Wow, thanks for posting about this book — I’ve added it to my library request list! Cheese has been the most difficult thing for me to eliminate from my diet, partially out of habit (it’s easy to eat vegetarian if you eat dairy), but probably also partially because of a physical addiction!

  4. I’m still using Mozzarella for my pizzas. (Rennet free!)
    I tried all the other vegan cheeses, but none work on pizza.
    PS. I’m a vegetarian almost vegan : )

  5. That would explain why it was relatively easy for me to go vegan. I had already grown to dislike cheese years beforehand.

    Maija, I believe that about the spinach and wheat…I’m crazy in love with spinach and wheat-anything.

  6. In Marion Nestle’s book, Food Politics, she talks about her experience with the creation of the food guide pyramid and the influence of the dairy and meat industries. Apparently the food guide wasn’t allowed to say “cut down on meat” or anything that could be deemed to negatively affect the image of meat or dairy, so “eat lean meats” was the final term. It’s a fascinating book, and it definitely shattered my belief that the government was a neutral body looking out for the health and welfare of citizens.

  7. Hi Maija,
    It certainly would be better to be addicted to spinach! Barnard postulates that it’s the quantity of casein that is what makes cheese so addictive… Perhaps the opiod peptides in other foods are in a much smaller quantity? Although Jane has a real hankering for wheat crackers, and has to consciously put them away.

    Hi LaTara,
    According to Barnard, dairy industry market analysts divide cheese buyers into “cravers” and “enhancers.” The cravers are the people who will eat cheese straight out of the package, whereas enhancers only see cheese as an added ingredient. Clearly you’re a craver! 😉

    Hi Chris,
    I’m really enjoying this book. I hope you will too.

    Hi Kara,
    Yup, it’s one of the reasons many vegetarians give for not going vegan. Although I’m hearing good things about Teese, we haven’t tried it yet (not in our budget to ship here, especially during the summer months).

    Hi Sue,
    Consider yourself one of the lucky ones. We’ve found a reasonable substitute for milk, but the cheese…

    Hi Kim,
    If I hadn’t read the chapter on cheese in Barnard’s book, I would have been shocked by what you just wrote. It’s completely short-sighted for the government to promote these policies. Ultimately the population ages and suffers for them, and the government will have to step in and bail us all out with medical care… but then they’ll get money from big pharma… Yikes.

  8. Kara,

    Try cheese-less pizza. Add a bit more sauce to make up for it and help hold everything together. Really pile on the flavorful veggies. You can re-train yourself to enjoy pizza without cheese or cheese substitutes. I have and I was a pizza fiend. Well, I’m still a pizza fiend, but now I’m a cheeseless pizza fiend.

    Bonus: you can still get some of the Pizza Hut pizzas (watch for doughs that use conditioners – they’re not vegan) and order it straight from the restaurant or eat in once you learn to love pizza without cheese. It’s always nice to have another restaurant option for travelling or times when you just don’t feel like cooking.


  9. I love that book! I read it about 5 years ago. It was the first I’d ever read about veganism. I just bought it on a whim one day just because of the title – guess it was fate.
    Some of the recipes in there are pretty tasty too.
    Yes, the ties between the government and animal agriculture are ridiculous. I read somewhere that the meat/dairy industries spend more money on pushing their products to the government than the pharmaceutical industry does! (And I’m sure you’re aware of the large amount of money the drug industry has to spare.)

  10. Kara,

    Try the brand new Teese® brand mozzarella cheese. It’s soooo much better than the Follow Your Heart stuff. Teese has a video on the website showing it melting on pizza!! And it tastes good.

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