CONVERSATIONS WITH HEALTH
I’m trying to go vegan, but being French I’m having a very difficult time avoiding cheese, since I just love it so much. Do you have any advice? — Corine, Soho
BY CHRISTOPHER HASSETT | It’s important to be clear on your reasons for giving up animal products. Is this, for instance, an ethical position you’re taking on animal rights, the environment? Is it an issue of spirituality or religion? Are you merely experimenting with the many benefits that go along with being on an exclusively plant-based diet? If it’s only about experimenting, then I suggest you play with the idea of being predominantly vegan while enjoying without guilt, though perhaps only on special occasions, your favorite cheeses.
This, then, would require little else of you than the willingness to detach from one of the many labels we tend to place on ourselves, in this case, “I am a vegan.” These labels, by the way, are nothing other than constructed identities, entirely false, that lock us needlessly into rigid or constricting behavioral patterns where the familiar mantra is “I can’t do this,” or “I can only do that.” At their worst, they diminish us in the context of our greater and more complex selves, which can’t so easily be summed up in predictable, ready-to-tell stories about who or what we are.
If, however, your motivation is a moral or ethical one, then you’ll need to figure a way to align your higher ideals with your cravings, which isn’t so easy to do — we all know how powerful cravings can be. But there are strategies that will help. I’ll suggest one in particular because it works well for cravings in general, especially those more unconscious ones (smoking, for instance). It goes like this: The moment a craving arises, look directly at it with your mind’s eye. Find exactly where it’s coming from. Literally point at it if you can. Try to see what it looks like. What is its color, its shape, its texture? Be totally present and aware while doing this, and take as much time as you need to get a full understanding of this craving that seems to have
so much pull.
With such focused attention, you’ll likely see that nothing appears. In shining the light of awareness on your craving, you’ll find that it has seemingly vanished, at least for the short while, until your awareness once again fades. In the meantime, you’ll have found the momentary power to overcome it, which is a major accomplishment when it comes to cravings. The good news is, the more often you do this the more effective it becomes in reducing cravings. Of course, it’s always helpful to have another snack nearby that might equally sate your desires, for instance (since you are seeking an easy vegan alternative), a plate of baby carrots drizzled with fresh lemon juice and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Voilà! Who needs cheese?
With a little more effort, you can also make your own vegan cheeses from nuts. It’s time-consuming but not all that difficult, and some of the recipes can be very good. Or you can go the easy route and buy nondairy cheeses in places like Whole Foods or online. Though I must say, I haven’t found one for purchase that is anywhere near as good as the traditional cheeses we’ve come to love.
With that said, I think it’s important to caution against any movement into veganism that isn’t fully conscious of the body’s fundamental needs, which are complex and interrelated. A common problem with poorly planned vegan diets is that they tend to be seriously deficient in vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids, the both of which play an important role in long-term mental and physical health. Other common deficiencies are vitamin D, calcium, iodine and iron, to name a few.
So if your plan is to go vegan, I advise you do so with an awareness of both the benefits and potential risks, which can be varied and unpredictably different for each individual. To that end, becoming a vegan can be a great opportunity for understanding the unique and ever-changing needs of your own body.
Christopher Hassett is a columnist and natural healer living in New York City. Do you have a question or comment for Christopher? You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org