Why does cheese grate?

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It’s been suggested that vegan products shouldn’t carry the names of their animal-derived equivalents.

The idea is that it’s fine to make a block of something fatty and delicious, that grates and melts, but don’t call it cheese because either – depending on your perspective:

  • cheese can only be made from animal milk, or
  • using that name condones the use of animal products by other people.

I think both of those stances miss the point.

Food is a highly emotive issue. More than mere fuel for our bodies, it’s part of how we express both our individuality and our belonging.

Food habits are central to our daily lives, our identities and our social interactions. In the first 39 years of my life, for example, I – like the rest of my English/French family – ate a lot of dairy cheese. It was a twice a day habit for me.

When I went vegan 11 years ago, it wasn’t because I suddenly didn’t like the taste of cheese or meat – it was because I decided it was time for my ethics to trump my tastebuds.

I didn’t turn my back on the food rituals I was raised with and those I raised my sons with – I chose to find more compassionate versions of them.

Friday night pizza isn’t inherently evil, and nor is a Sunday roast dinner. It’s what you put on your pizza, and in your roasting dish, that makes the difference.

Your great-grandmother’s dog-eared, food-smeared recipe book is as precious as a family photo album, even if your kitchen will never contain suet or lamb’s brains.

Most people don’t want to be weird; they want to belong. A little quirkiness might be charming, but putting yourself right outside societal norms is just too scary – and too much hard work – for most people.

Vegan versions of familiar animal-based foods reduce barriers to more compassionate living, because they reduce the weird factor and the amount of change involved.