It can be gooey and hard, warm and cold, delightful and stinky. It comes in many different forms, colors, textures and is made all over the world with more modalities than I can ever imagine.
I have quite a story about how cheese has played a HUGE role in change in our household. Over the past 3.5 years as we have slowly shifted to a plant based family with less animal proteins, cheese has been the bridge to change.
How do I insert my ever so famous “#nothingmakessense” hashtag to this statement?
Cheese as the bridge to change? Yes, it is true. Insert a grain bowl full of nutrient dense, powerful vegetables, insert a vegan lasagna (yup, started with REAL cheese and slowly, so slowly shaped into vegan cheese all the time), insert tofu tacos to cheeseburger loving kids, insert quinoa with a side of tempeh, insert a fake BLT, insert mushroom bowls to kids who despise mushrooms.
I changed them with cheese. Now was this my intention all along? I had no idea about how looking back on our journey to make better life long choices for ourselves and our children it would land with cheese!
This makes me giggle because I consciously or unconsciously added the word “Landed”...as in “Land o'Lakes”...
Can you maybe feel the similarity in your life? I was raised on “2 pounds thinly sliced Land o’ Lakes American cheese, please?” I can't tell you how many different deli counters and interactions I have had with grocery store clerks over the years starting with my childhood at Shaw’s with my mom, physically working at a deli at the holiday season (slicing my finger open while serving someone their deli cheese) to some cheese slicers being so kind and caring and always giving my babies in the shopping carts their free slices of cheese, or even some in a slower moving state slicing my families beach week sandwich staple like the sloth in Zootopia. This makes me so curious and excited. This childhood task, that teenage job, and those motherly weekly grocery runs was the first change I made and again it was not intentional, it naturally happened.
Our children have followed our lead with figuring out what works in their bodies and what doesn’t. We have had one of our children be as sugar free as you can possibly imagine for a whole year, we have had another child investigate with as dairy free as we could handle, we also have some very mild food allergies, while we as parents have many times removed the cheese from our adult plates.
Our relationship to this product has been as circular as a wheel of cheese. It started with deciding and reading the packages behind those friendly glass counters, the ones you wait in line for and always say “Am I really waiting for this food?” I know you have whispered those words to yourself, I know I have a million times!
This first unintentional step moved me from better or worse to the huge, refrigerated wall with the billions of cheese options, shredded so conveniently and easily for you. You stand there staring like you don’t know which one to buy or you are so routine, you quickly buy the same cheese bag you grew up eating (again, I experienced both many times).
You see words like: creamy, part skim, full fat, rich, smooth USDA organic, good source of calcium, 110 calories, added cream, amazing melt, natural, no artificial flavors, 100% quality & trust control, no antibiotics, no added growth.
I mean…. I can and would continue to name all that you read or I should say what catches your eye because I just removed these products from my deli drawer in my refrigerator. This is not cheese shaming. This is the story of a girl, who shaped my grocery store purchases over time and we are not perfectly dairy free.
The truth, I stopped waiting in lines. Okay great, what did that do? First, it saved me time and then I started reading the back of the cheese bags.. I shifted to buying cheeses in different locations of the market. I didn’t cut out cheese “cold turkey”.
There was a huge change happening in my training to become a health coach and it was being practiced at my dinner table every night. I could not listen to 3 children complaining about my new plant based meals. I needed to keep my sanity and also physically get my kids to eat our delicious (to us) meals.
I get asked all the time, “We want to move closer to less animal products and red meat but where should I start because it is such a huge part of our life?” You start where you feel comfortable. Simple. Slow and steady wins the race to change.
Our story started at the deli counter, moved to the wall of cheese, then to the open refrigerator of blocked cheeses that say words like; local, natural, fresh, creamy, organic and so on. This was my third step to change.
I needed to not have a revolt every night. I needed to not hear “ugh, this is disgusting” so I had to make the choice to cover everything with cheese and my location and decisions of purchasing was comical. This third step was to find the use of less ingredients in my cheese purchases, and not words like:
annatto (for the orange color - a natural ingredient but unnece)
cellulose (for anti-caking)
corn starch (for anti-caking).
Most of these extra ingredients are found in the shredded cheese bags, so the logical step is to move to the non-orange block cheeses.
I wanted to make my now older kids have to put a little elbow grease into their cheese addiction. They needed to think about how bad they wanted that gooey stuff by shredding it themselves. It worked...sometimes.
Oh, and did you know cheese has casein and it is addicting?
Straight from my competitor, Dr. Google:
Cheese happens to be especially addictive because of an ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products. During digestion, casein releases opiates called casomorphins. "[Casomorphins] really play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element,” registered dietitian Cameron Wells told Mic.Oct 22, 2015.
I could write another 10 pages of my love/hate relationship and my addiction to cheese, but that will need to be in another blog. There’s too much to say here.
Here we are, we moved into the last phase of our cheesy wheel. There are some weeks when we try new recipes and we anticipate the 3 thumbs down, so on these weeks we tend to purchase 2 blocks/balls of cheese. On weeks, when we have some family favorites and I can shape out some cheese, we do so. On weeks when we need to put the brakes on because those little red bumps are appearing on faces, arms and legs or constipation is stirring, we stop buying the cheese. This doesn’t come easily, especially when our middle kid has an obsession with eating her “Mainini sandwich” everyday (see website for recipe).
So where is the middle ground with cheese?
Look for white not orange cheese. Choose locally made and always look for the least amount of ingredients. The benefits will include less hyperactive behaviors, skin issues or digestive clogs.
While Kris and I know our limits with cheese, cheese has been the bridge to change from meat loving kids to much less meat eating kids. Sometimes we eat it, sometimes we don’t.
This is our story. What is yours? What ingredients do you love while wanting to make long lasting change?
Our story with cheese is not over. It may increase or decrease. Stay tuned because while we know cheese clogs us up, we may need to lean onto this protein more than normal as we embark on our journey across the country for convenience and ease. We look forward to sharing how we stay true to our family practices and our forward motion of our wheels of change with cheese.
We will share how this bridge will change with cheese again.
Just being honest,