We uncover the environmental, health, and animal welfare issues behind cheese and show you the delicious vegan cheese alternatives to eat instead
Cheese is often cited as a reason why people couldn’t go vegan, but can vegans actually eat cheese?
As we explore the answer to the question ‘do vegans eat cheese?’, we’ll not only uncover the reasons why vegans don’t eat cheese but also unveil the shocking truth about cheese production that make it a hot topic for ethical debate.
We’ll also discover mouthwatering vegan alternatives to cheese and unravel the complexities surrounding this beloved dairy product.
Join us as we dive into the fascinating world of veganism and cheese.
Why don’t vegans eat cheese?
Vegans do not eat cheese or any other dairy products because they are derived from animals. Dairy products involve the exploitation of animals for their milk, and so cheese made from animal milk is not considered part of a vegan diet. this includes cheeses made from sheep and goat’s milk.
Cheese has often been viewed as innocent by-products, with a common belief that taking ‘unwanted’ milk from cows does them no harm.
This belief has led to cheese being considered a ‘hero’ product in vegetarian cuisine, often forming the basis for meals that are presented as the ‘cruelty free’ option in restaurants.
Dairy cows' lives aren't usually this idyllic. Photo © Musat via Getty Images
Dairy cows endure a cycle of continuous pregnancy and milk production to meet the demand for dairy products.
Once a dairy cow gives birth, her calf is usually separated from her within a few hours. This separation causes immense distress to both the mother cow and the calf, as they form strong bonds and share a natural instinct to nurture and protect each other.
The separation is necessary to keep the milk intended for human consumption, leaving the mother cow in a state of emotional and physical distress. Meanwhile, the calf, if lucky enough to be kept alive, is fed with milk replacers and waste milk.
A dairy cow's life involves an endless cycle of pregnancy, birth, and milking machines. Photo © lucop via Getty Images
Male calves born into the dairy industry are considered by-products and are often killed within the first few days, or even hours, of their lives.
The ‘lucky ones’ are sold for veal production or confined in cramped conditions for the meat industry. This has been considered the ‘kinder option’ as these calves are not killed at birth. However, they instead spend their short lives being exploited and possibly abused before their slaughter.
Is all cheese vegetarian?
It may come as a surprise to many that, despite the prevalence of dairy cheese in meat-free meals, several cheeses are not even vegetarian.
This is due to the use of an ingredient called rennet which is derived from the lining of the fourth stomach of young ruminant animals, typically calves.
Whether born female or male, calves in the dairy industry are subject to cruelty. Photo © Phynart Studio via Getty Images
Rennet plays a crucial role in cheese production as it helps coagulate the milk, separating it into curds and whey. It is typically used in hard cheeses like parmesan, gorgonzola, pecorino, manchego and even camembert.
When it was revealed that popular cheeses, utilise animal rennet, it sparked outrage amongst consumers.
This discovery shed light on the hidden ingredients in cheese and the implications for those adhering to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
Environmental issues caused by cheese
It’s commonly known that cattle farming, including dairy farming, is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Cows aren't the only victims of cheese production. Photo © MediaProduction via Getty Images
The release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from cows and their manure significantly contributes to global warming and accelerates climate change.
These emissions contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and the disruption of ecosystems worldwide.
In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the production of dairy cheese poses risks to waterways and freshwater sources. Cow manure and the fertilisers used for animal feed can leak into rivers, lakes, and oceans, causing water pollution.
This pollution has detrimental effects on aquatic ecosystems, harming marine wildlife and disrupting the delicate balance of aquatic life.
Contaminated water sources can pose risks to human populations, affecting their access to clean drinking water and creating hazardous conditions for communities located near dairy farms.
The large quantity of animal waste produced by dairy farms can pollute local water sources, causing havoc on ecosystems and marine life. Photo © Fertnig via Getty Images
Is cheese bad for you?
Not only does cheese have environmental implications, but it can also impact human health from within.
Despite its reputation as a “natural” protein choice, cheese is highly processed and contains high levels of salt and saturated fat.
Consumption of too much salt and saturated fat has been associated with various health concerns, including increased risks of heart disease and high blood pressure. 1
Some people claim to have difficulty reducing or eliminating cheese from their diet due to cheese “addiction”, and this statement may not just be hyperbole.
While the salty, fatty taste of cheese can be a big part of why people crave it, there may be a more scientific reason behind ‘cheese-aholic’ tendencies.
Casein in cheese has been found to trigger the brain’s opioid receptors 2 , meaning it is potentially addictive in a similar way to drugs.
Dairy cheese can be addictive. Photo © AndreyPopov via Getty Images
This combination of poor nutritional value and addictive properties makes dairy cheese one of the most detrimental animal products to human health, highlighting the importance of finding suitable plant-based alternatives.
Vegan cheese alternatives
In many cultures, particularly those in the West, cheese is ingrained into daily life.
It effortlessly finds its way into various dishes where a sprinkle of grated cheddar on pasta or a slice of pre-sliced cheese on a burger is often considered essential.
It serves as a condiment, a snack, a filling for sandwiches, and even takes centre stage in social gatherings such as cheese and wine nights.
Store bought vegan cheeses are a convenient alternative to dairy, but aren't always the most appetising choice. Photo © mikhailkhusid via Getty Images
So how do we free ourselves from this tangled web of cheese?
Disentangling from the allure of cheese can be a challenge, but finding a good, vegan cheese alternative will help make swapping easier.
The market for store-bought cheese alternatives is expanding rapidly, and a wide range of options are now available in supermarkets.
Unfortunately, many have found that these cheeses don’t tick all the boxes. Some alternatives have strong aftertaste from their coconut base, or have difficulty melting properly, resulting in a disappointing ‘cheese pull’.
However, as food technology advances and demand for vegan cheese increases, better options are becoming available every day.
In fact, many dairy cheese manufacturers are now launching their own vegan cheese alternatives, and you can even find AI-created cheeses from certain supermarkets.
Artisan vegan cheese, made from ingredients like cashews, offer a more sophisticated alternative to dairy cheeses. Photo © pikoso.kz via Adobe Stock
Artisanal vegan cheeses are considered among the best options for plant-based alternatives to cheese as they are often made with higher-quality ingredients and emulate the flavours and textures of more sophisticated cheeses such as brie or camembert.
These cheeses often have a more pleasant texture and flavour than their mass-produced counterparts, but they also tend to be more expensive and harder to find. With the exception of some breakout brands like La Fauxmagerie in Waitrose, most artisanal cheeses are only found online or in speciality stores.
For those who prefer a less processed alternative, there are methods to replace cheese in meals and recipes that don’t rely on store-bought substitutes.
Nutritional yeast, fondly referred to as “nooch,” is considered a staple among vegans for its ability to provide a savoury, cheesy flavour. It can be sprinkled onto vegan salads or pasta, or stirred into cheese-style sauces for a satisfyingly savoury taste.
Soaked almonds and cashews can form the base for various vegan cheeses, including mascarpone for desserts. Photo © helovi via Getty Images
When seeking alternatives for creamier cheeses like mascarpone or cream cheese in desserts, simple ingredients like silken tofu or soaked and blended nuts can work wonders.
Silken tofu can be used to create a perfect filling for vegan cheesecakes, while soaked cashews or almonds can be blended into a decadent alternative to mascarpone or cream for desserts like tiramisu or Eton mess.
So, do vegans eat cheese?
When you consider the ethical issues associated with dairy and cheese production, it is evident why vegans do not eat dairy cheese.
From the issues surrounding the exploitation of female cows to the discardment of male calves in the industry, the cruelty and exploitation involved makes cheese a no-go for vegans.
From an environmental perspective, the dairy industry contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, adversely affecting aquatic ecosystems and threatening the availability of clean freshwater sources for both wildlife and local communities.
The wellbeing of cows is one of the most important reasons to ditch dairy cheese. Photo © perpis via Adobe Stock
Additionally, the health concerns linked to cheese consumption cannot be overlooked.
Regular consumption of cheese has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Additionally, cheese has been found to possess addictive properties, making it challenging for some individuals to moderate their intake.
Despite the myriad reasons to avoid dairy cheese, vegans can still enjoy creamy, salty, ‘cheesy’ goodness in our meals thanks to the myriad of vegan cheeses on offer.
Vegans have a multitude of options to savour the flavours reminiscent of cheese, whether through readily available store-bought vegan cheese alternatives or by creating homemade alternatives using wholesome ingredients like cashews and nutritional yeast.
So, whether you’re simply picking up your first pack of pre-grated vegan cheese from your local supermarket or trying out a whole new vegan cheese recipe from scratch, indulge in a delicious plant-based cheese while knowing you are actively contributing to a better world for animals, the environment, and yourself.
Do you understand the importance of giving up cheese? Next learn why vegans don’t eat eggs
Featured photo © coldsnowstorm via Getty Images
- Relation of blood pressure to reported intake of salt, saturated fats, and alcohol in healthy middle-aged population | National Library of Medicine [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2940985/]
- Casomorphins and Gliadorphins Have Diverse Systemic Effects Spanning Gut, Brain and Internal Organs | National Library of Medicine [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8345738/]