The Hesitant Herbivore

via National Geographic

I am a creature of habit, entrenched in my routines, glacially slow to alter my course. I cling to the familiar with the powerful grip of a 3 toed sloth and move toward any new direction with such incremental velocity that algae grows on my furry metaphorical coat. I don’t like change.

So for me to alter something as fundamental to my life and being as the food I eat took nothing less than years of passive contemplation and a growing a mountain of evidence that grew so high it finally fell on me. And I suddenly realized that becoming a vegan was not only the ethical thing for someone with my beliefs to do but the healthiest choice for my body.


Six weeks ago, I removed dairy from my diet – a heartbreaking task for me. I believe cheese to be the glorious result of the most inspired bit of culinary resourcefulness the human race has ever displayed, a brilliant example of biotechnology born long before that term was coined. What a delightful variety of food we’ve learned to coax from the curd of sour milk – sharp aged cheddar and smoked gouda and herb infused wonders like Havarti with dill. Cheese is, quite simply, culinary wizardry at its best. And it makes the majority of the humans who consume it poot. Whoopsy.

I read an article about a recent study that found that sixty percent of human beings are lactose intolerant. Yep. Six out of ten. And here I was thinking all this time that the inability to process lactose was abnormal, and that only a few physically delicate nerdy-types can’t manage it (like the loveable but nerdy TV sitcom character, Dr. Leonard Hoffstater of The Big Bang Theory). In reality, the majority of us stop producing lactase, the enzyme necessary for breaking down the sugar, lactose, when we’re somewhere between two and five years old – presumably because we generally stop drinking our mother’s milk after that and don’t need it anymore. So the “abnormal” ones are actually those 40% who retain the ability to break down lactose and so drink milk or eat cheese without worrying about clearing the room later. Scientists call it lactase persistence and it’s the result of a genetic mutation.

Most commercial milk cows don’t get pretty meadows to roam in.

The funny thing is, I have known for a long time that cow’s milk is not a particularly healthy or logical dietary choice for me, but my love of cheese and a few other dairy delights (like ice cream!) clouded my judgment. Okay, so we aren’t designed to eat stuff made from cow’s milk, so what? It’s so good! So it’s high in calories and has a lot of saturated fat. It has protein too! And calcium that the dairy lobby says I must get from milk! And it tastes good! Really good!

But once a person hits a certain point in life (the one I’m apparently at now), digesting foods that our bodies aren’t ideally designed to process finally becomes an issue. I’ve gained weight and am having a hard time losing it. The cholesterol numbers in my blood work say borderline high and are creeping upward. And I feel bad a lot after I eat. I was tired of being tired and feeling crummy.

So I gave up dairy. I got used to drinking my coffee without creamer and actually like it that way, now. I got used to pasta not smothered in butter and cheese and am experimenting with spices and oils. I’ve found a mint dark chocolate with no dairy that I like better than milk chocolate now. And I can live without ice cream. Whoops. No I can’t!

Ice cream is right up there with cheese. I love it too much to ever let it go. And so was born the Friday exception. On Fridays, I get dairy because life is too short to live forever without ice cream and cheese. And the cool thing is that if you go six days a week without these things, small amounts of them are more than satisfying by the time I get to Friday. So my days of stuffing big soup bowls full of frozen dairy goodness are over.

But this was just the first step in my dietary revolution. Come back soon for part two about the conversion of a lifelong carnivore to a plant-based diet and get the answers to questions I know you’ll be dying to ask. How hard is it to give up meat? Is it worth it? What are the benefits? Do you have to start making your own granola, hugging trees, and/or wearing Birkenstocks?

Leave a comment


  1. Congrats!
    Hahahah! You’ll be wearing tie-dye socks with Birkenstocks in NO TIME! I personally believe there’s a tremendous benefit, but I’ve been a vegetarian since birth. So I may not be the best to speak on the topic. 🙂 The issue of lack of controls in the slaughterhouses (a report just ran on the gross abuses this week, actually), the increased hormones… There’s so much. On the vegetarian / vegan side: MAKE SURE YOU EAT HEALTHY and get your vitamins / daily nutrition! I’ve had more than one B12 scare (I wasn’t getting enough), and other issues when I wasn’t taking care of myself.

    • Kudos on your lifetime of humane eating! Yes, the slaughterhouses are definitely an issue. I looked the other way for a long time and just couldn’t do it anymore. Also the conditions so many animals are raised in. And so many other things. On the healthy diet side, thanks for the warnings. I will have to be more mindful about nutrition. I am taking B-12 daily and because I’m anemic, I pay particularly attention to working iron (with vitamin C) into my daily diet.

      • Good for you… I’m also anemic (another common issue with veggies), but I just stick to the Veggie Multis, which do a decent job of covering the bases — as long as I eat decently, anyways. You’ll learn as you go along…. Everyone’s systems are different!

  2. Oh, Tori, giving up cheese would be difficult for me–really, really tough. I, like you, am a creature o habit, especially in culinary matters. Sure, Sara has losened me up a bit, but not enough.

    At any rate, congrats on the vegan decision. Looking forward to part 2.


    • Yes, life is too short to forever forego cheese, so I will always have Fridays. I’m counting on B to help me figure out how me how to prepare tasty vegan fare. (She was kind of at a loss at first. I’m a Southern woman, she said. And you want me to cook without butter?!) I am learning how to do interesting things with rice and potatoes and spices and oils. It promises to be an adventure.

  3. Great! Congrats on your first step and beyond. Can’t wait to hear about your transformation & how your family views your decision.
    I’ve been a very strict lacto-vegetarian for 35 years now, although I was leaning that way much longer. I actually don’t remember my transition from eating meat to not. Greg and I raised three vegetarian daughters (from birth), and now our grandkids are veggies, too. When we do eat dairy we’re careful about our choices.
    Looking forward to your next installment!

    • Thirty-five years is just awesome. And how wonderful that you raised your family to eat a humane diet. I wish I had found the gumption to do this years ago. I think it’s too late to change our sons. They’re teenagers now and one of them is a dedicated carnivore. The youngest I think will come to it on his own. He’s almost there already just by natural inclination.

  4. Paul J. Stam

     /  August 27, 2012

    My God, you’re going to start a revolution. ;~}

  5. Oh, so sorry to hear this. And good luck with your new diet.

  6. Deborah the Closet Monster

     /  August 28, 2012

    I was vegan for seven months before I got pregnant, and one month thereafter. I’ve been vegetarian for two weeks now and am thinking about returning to veganism. When I actually think about what I’m ingesting, I know that veganism is where I’m meant to be . . . and yet, I keep delaying. I might have to implement a cheat day, too, for that’s an improvement by far over what I’m doing now.

    • Vegan is hard. I’m pretty certain I’m done with meat forever but I can’t think that way about dairy yet. The cheat day is the only way I get through the other six days of the week. And I figure 6 is much better than none. Like you said, it’s all about improvement. I bet you’ll get where you want to be when you’re ready.

  7. hello, Tori… i love this post of yours – the writing, the struggle (oh, it pains me, am there with you) and the coming to terms part, haha. i hope you’ll be faithful and true in this necessary battle… 🙂

    am still a few years (i hope) before i get to resign my love for cheese, dairies of all kinds and yes, ice cream (you say one leaves out this one, though, haha). ah, ice cream is too good for giving up, yes. btw, i truly love the first two paragraphs – changes in life, sigh… 😉 regards.

    • Thanks, San! You’re the only one who noticed those paragraphs. Honestly, I was kind of proud of them – kind of tinkered a bit and had some fun. But then I had to get to the point. I think I’m done with meat forever, but I don’t think I’ll ever give up cheese and ice cream completely – yes, like you said, just too good for giving up. I’ll just find a humane source for my Friday indulgences.

      • can’t help but – they’re the writer’s signature… ^^ done with meat forever – how admirable. i’ll consult you when i get to the point of reckoning – being asked to pay the wages for my sins, ahaha. keeping fingers crossed for ya… 😉

  8. Sherrie stringer

     /  August 28, 2012

    Wow Tori! I am proud of you. I am right there with you right now. I also am to the point where I really cannot continue eating the old way anymore. I am mainly focusing on getting away from fried food, fast food, and sugar. I am so addicted but I also am tired of feeling bad and not having energy. And I know as I get older I will pay for my indulgences. Giving yourself freedom on one day a week will be very helpful in sticking with it. Good luck!!

    • Hi Coppertop! I bet you never thought you’d see the day, right? We really need to talk more often. I’ve been dying to tell you about this. You’re a big part of the reason I finally made the change. You were the first to tell me about food propaganda back in the nineties, and you talked so much about how food affects the way we feel – I guess some of it finally sank in. Good luck on your healthy eating. Maybe we can talk and catch up this weekend?

  9. HooHoo! Welcome to the club, sister! I had the same issues and addiction to ice cream and cheese. I’ve been told that when we’re allergic to certain foods, we will crave them from time to time (how twisted is that anyway?). I’ve tried some ice cream substitutes that are not worth bothering with, but the ones made with coconut milk are tasty in a different-than-ice-cream way. I thought I’d never give up cream in my coffee, but my regular coffee shop has almond milk, and that’s lovely (to my taste buds, anyway). When people ask me how I can stand to live without cheese, I tell them I like mangos better.

    If you ever need inspiration or information, visit Dr. Michael Greger’s blog. Lots and lots of amazing info there–and the guy is a stitch.

    • Thanks for the link! There’s so much information there! Have you tried almond milk ice cream yet? A longtime vegan friend of mine has been recommending it to me but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to try it yet. I’m afraid I hate the taste of coconut milk. My partner has tried many times to introduce me to curries and such containing it and I can’t abide them. I still can’t live completely without cheese, only when I know Friday is coming. I had a hard time with the coffee creamer but I can manage without if I buy good coffee and put a little raw sugar in it. Just can’t drink it black. How are you feeling? Has changing your diet made a difference in your energy levels?

      • The almond milk ice cream is fine, but since I actually like coconut, I dug the other better. Try it, if only for the experiment. You won’t gag!
        I’m still pretty sick–this crud will take time to leave–but I’m still eating nearly-vegan, which feels great. At least I don’t have digestive crap (literally) on top of pneumonia!

  10. Following this topic closely. I have immense guilt over eating poorly, and beat myself up over not having yet made a change–at least to vegetarianism, and away from packaged foods. Looking forward to your next post.

    • I beat myself up for years about my eating habits. Ironically, the more you berate yourself, the less likely you’ll be able to make a change. It just kills your self-esteem and confidence when you need it most. My partner and I put the whole family on just whole foods once a couple of years ago. We were all feeling better physically I think but somehow we just got lax and let it slip after a couple of months. You just do what you can when you feel you can. More power to you in whatever path you choose!

  11. Great post. In my quest to give up dairy I have found coconut milk ice cream and flax milk. Cheese is tuff. Sometimes a girl just wants some melty gooey goodness. 8)

  12. I have suspected dairy issues in my family, but with us eating such little meat I already have a hard time making menus. I can’t take mac n cheese away from my kids (let’s face it, or me either). Homemade though. I have found that if I cut back on dairy, like no ice cream before bed, it doesn’t bother me as much.

    There are some good cooking blogs out there. You’ll find some recipes.

  13. Hm, yes, ice cream is the hard one for me, too. I love cheese, but I have no problem avoiding it for long periods of time, but ice cream… I’d have a hard time only having it once a week.

  14. My daughter follows Eat to Live and my husband is reading. I’m trying to help out so told my husband I’d support him and go on it, too. We do eat meat but much less. I’m not much for sweets but, like you, cannot, will not, give up 1/2 cup Breyers vanilla at bedtime! I’m not overweight but have lost 5 pounds. Can’t say I’m unhappy with that! I was starting to creep up there.
    Great post. Love the infusion of the humor!

  15. Congrats…I respect your choice. So I am the oddball…I should have known. 🙂
    I had to pretty much give up ice cream years ago (which I absolutely love) because I have gum recession and it is just too painful to my teeth to eat it. I can’t picture giving up cheese, though…It is one of my favorite foods!

  16. Oh I feel for you with cheese….I just can’t imagine how I would give it up. Of course if I had to I’m sure I would find a way…..but oh I do feel for you 🙂 like sued51 though I could happily forego ice cream!! Guess I’m a savoury girl 🙂

  17. I am both gluten and lactose intolerant. And I am allergic to many, many other foods. If it weren’t for a few meats, I’m not sure I would find much that I could tolerate. You learn to make do. Dark chocolate is still OK.

  18. Fascinating, and good to read a balanced approach to the whole dietary change thing – allowing yourself a little indulgence now and then can’t hurt. It’s the perpetual habit that gets us. Be interested to hear more about your transition – I was brought up vegetarian, and always feel happy about that, because it meant I didn’t have to give anything up. Vegan…that is harder. But I’m not a huge consumer of dairy anyway…

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