Cheesy Nightmares

Melted, hard, soft, blue, goats, sheeps, mature, fresh – I could write a love song about cheese. From cheese and pickle on toast as my after-school snack to bottles of red wine and round-the-world cheese boards, I simply adore cheese in all its forms. And living in Italy has only deepened my love affair. I mean, burrata… just wow!

However, I was shocked to learn this year that dairy farming has the fourth biggest CO2 footprint of all our food protein sources, right after beef, lamb and crustaceans (p24 There Is No Planet B, Mike Berners-Lee).

I gave up meat several years ago, fish and seafood last year. I thought on the food front I was doing pretty well. Clearly not. Pork, poultry, eggs and even farmed fish pose less of a climate impact than dairy farming. So why am I still eating cheese?

It’s not just because I love it. Because I also love fish. I long for sushi. I reminisce about the smell of chicken tikka masala. And I grew up eating Cumberland sausages and they still have a special place in my heart. I choose to give all these things up because of the impact farming has on the environment and because I wasn’t altogether happy with the way we treat and kill farm animals. I’m not against eating animals, per se. But I do take issue with the conditions they live and die in. But that’s a whole other story. Let’s stick to the climate part here.

A couple of years ago I gave up all animal products (except honey). No eggs, yoghurt, milk or cheese. I switched to beans, peas, lentils and mountains of green vegetables. I fought mind over matter to make this switch, giving up things I loved. But my stomach fought back. I wasn’t eating many carbohydrates, you see. And my protein and fat intake were also pretty low. I became pretty ill. My stomach started to reject almost anything I put in it. I was severely inflamed. I had no energy. My intestines were revolting, in both definitions of the word. I sought help from a dietician who actually put me back on chicken and fish to get my stomach back in order. I had to eat lots of healthy fat, fish oil and vegetables, but limit the pulses. I also had to start eating dairy again. I needed gut-bacteria yoghurt, blue cheese, hard and mature cheese and eggs. So it all seeped back into my diet. My fridge was no longer a green forest. It was a dairy counter. And I have to say, I enjoyed it. And so did my stomach. I got healthy; felt more positive and less bloated. I had energy again.

Last year I removed the fish and chicken, as well as yoghurt. But I still enjoy poached eggs on crumpets, cow’s milk in my tea and cheese with my red wine. Should I feel guilty? I make cutbacks in other areas, so surely this allows me some luxuries?

Where am I going with this? I guess my point here is about balance. I need to balance my morals – not eating cheese for the planet’s sake – with my own wants – I do love cheese. I need to ask myself whether I can balance good behaviour with bad. We all need to make these choices. And we need to be harder on ourselves. We can’t just say, “well, I love it so I’m going to carry on doing it”. What it you loved driving up and down the same steep hill in your diesel-powered, 4-wheel drive car 20 times every day just for fun? That’s pure madness. And this is the issue. Until we accept that many of today’s everyday actions are tomorrow’s madness nothing will change.

So in the spirit of change. I am giving up cheese except for on special, “treat” occasions. And I challenge you to see what things you can move to the “treat” box. Because the whole point I want to make with this blog is that, generally speaking, it’s enough to reduce. We don’t necessarily have to eradicate. OK, some things we do need to eradicate – like digging more fossil fuels out of the ground. But if everyone just cut back on luxuries, then there’d be very few things we’d have to actually eradicate.