Cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese che—oh hello there, didn’t see you coming in. Welcome! I was just lamenting on our diet. This post should be a friendly reminder to myself to eat less cheese. Much less, in fact.
Not just switching to locally produced cheese. Instead, switching to plant-based alternative sources of protein. I’ve been a vegetarian since reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s shocking Eating Animals in 2012. At the time, I was slowly but surely developing interest in cooking and the history of food, and I was still blatantly ignorant. For me, the switch wasn’t hard: I was never a big steak fan.
I’ve always been convinced that it helped me discover new foods: chickpeas, lentils, weird but jummy edible mushrooms, soy products, radishes and other lesser known vegetables, and so forth. It helped me break out of the eating habit heritage left by my parents. It spiked even more interest in cooking, buying books, digging through websites, and even finding ways to make my own tempeh and miso.
But. A big, fat (indeed) but. My cheese intake inadvertently rose. What to put on that sandwich? Just replace the ham with a slice of lovely aged cheese. There, done. What to put on that pizza? Mozzarella, of course—the buffalo one. What to put in that risotto? In that pasta? Catch my drift? It’s the simplest solution, but far from the best one.
Vegetarian readily-prepared burgers, nowadays available in any supermarket store, are probably the first thing new vegetarians try out. It’s what I’d call vegetarian noob food: it’s okay, but self-made alternatives are vastly superior. The same is true for cheese such as Halloumi or grill cheese and feta: it’s comfort food: easy but fatty.
The problem isn’t the fat. For that, we need to go back to the reason why I became a vegetarian. I was extremely shocked with the way animals are treated after reading Foer’s Eating Animals. Jonathan sketched the horrible life at American farms, and generally, European laws are more strict, but after a bit of research, it occurred to me that animal life in Europe wasn’t particularly better off. In short, my rationale is animal welfare. The environmental benefits gained from abstaining from meat and fish are happy side effects. By the way, why is it that I have to justify my choice of being a vegetarian at every single party? And why is it that saying “I didn’t like eating it” or “Environmental issues” is met with a nod, but “Animal welfare” is being frowned upon? We humans are incredible dicks towards animals. My wife and me are huge animal lovers. These two facts clash often, making us very upset.
Anyway, back to the cheese. Cow’s milk is produced by cows that at one point have been pregnant, and according to informedfarmers.com:
Cows either become pregnant naturally by a bull in the herd or via artificial insemination. In the dairy industry, the use of artificial insemination is very common for a number of reasons, including for its ease and simplicity, the lack of suitable bull stock, the ability to choose different sires for different cows, and the ability to choose the sex of the calf.
Insemination is another ethically very questionable practice, but let’s not try to tread on too thin ice here. Another problem with the milk or meat industry is misinformation. Should I believe happy animal welfare webpages such as The Cheese Geek’s? Should I believe shocking reports of animal rights activists? Recently, animal rights claimed Grana Padano-cheese makers abuse their cows—and there’s no reason not to assume the same holds true for classic Parmesan.
Or should I start digging through Google Scholar (thereby wasting my time) to get a scientific view of the issue? Is it better to eat no meat, thereby not killing the animal, but to let it suffer continuously to be able to reap the results in the form of delicious cheese? How do you quantify that on a scale? Indeed: you don’t. You’ll more likely stumble upon articles on how to “optimally” produce (read: more cows on less space). The absurdity of the food industry reached new heights for me when I learned that an acquaintance—a doctor in microbiology—“optimizes” cake sponges and “mouth feel” in a university lab so the food industry can add less real eggs. Do not for one second believe mass producers are worried about your health, or the health of the animals involved.
Buying local might help here, provided you’re familiar with the ins and outs of the farm.
And then there’s the monotony: what to put on that sandwich. If the default answer is going to be a slice of cheese, having to eat that again and again also gets pretty boring. I used to vary by making our own vegetable spreads, but recently, it feels like we’ve relapsed.
So, future Wouter, in case you read this (you really should): trim down on the cheese. Prepare more alternatives up front. Plan a few meals in advance. Vary more often. Stop whining about the lack of time for food prepping and just do it. But as one baker to another: whatever you do, do not swap out the butter in your awesome croissant dough. Palm oil is just as disastrous.