Cheese is bought by over 98% of British households, and most people seriously crave it. When considering switching to plant-based diets, cheese is often raised as the worst hurdle. This is probably because it is strongly addictive, and ethically it doesn't actually directly require the slaughter of a cow .
So what are the issues with the dairy industry?
It is probably best to reduce cheese and dairy in our diets to lessen the environmental degradation, animal cruelty and adverse health impacts.
Also, eating softer cheeses which are less energy intensive will improve greenness.
The protein casein in cheese breaks down so slowly it stays in the blood system for ages where the immune system thinks it's danger and causes inflammation. Symptoms of dairy sensitivity are respiratory problems, digestive problems, fatigue, joint pains, and skin problems.
Lactose is the sugar in milk. Around 60% of adult humans are lactose intolerant. If we are overloaded with lactose due to low lactase capacity, undigested lactose travels to the large intestine, where it ferments, producing gas, carbon dioxide and lactic acid. This causes quite uncomfortable digestive reactions, bloating, awkward gases - that sort of thing.
Sodium can be quite high in cheese, because of the salt added to the milk during the fermentation process. Salt increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Cheese is high saturated fat which causes an increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems.
Dairy cows are the hardest working of all livestock, and though they can enjoy 20 years of life in the wild, dairy cows often die or are slaughtered after a lifetime of torment following about four lactations at 5 years old.
Due to advancements in artificial insemination and selective breeding, the average milk yield per cow has more than doubled in the last 40 years. Cows normally produce about 4-5 litres a day to feed calves, but in the industry they will do between 20-50 litres.
Calves are taken from their mothers within hours of birth to enter the dairy or meat industry system, leaving their highly intelligent, social and loving mothers pining desperately .
Milk-bearing animals are ruminants that emit large clouds of environment-damaging greenhouse gases.
Cows, sheep and goats take up lots of space to keep and graze providing a significant stress on the land, as well as on water reserves.
Production of animal feed also contributes to huge land use, massive grain consumption and of course more water usage globally.
170 million tonnes of animal slurry is produced annually in the UK - running away and polluting soil and water ways.
One kilogram of cheese requires up to 10 kilograms of milk to produce due to the maturing process.
Cows are ruminants that emit large amounts of methane which over time is about 25 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2).
The methane emitted from manure also contributes, as does nitrous oxide created by lfertilizer or manure on fields.. Nitrous oxide has about 300 times the global warming potential of CO2.
There are 1.4 billion cattle on Earth, each producing 1,000kg of methane per year, equivalent to 2,300kg of CO2 which contributes a massive chunk towards global greenhouse gas stresses on our climate. And Earth has a limit, or carbon budget, to ensure climate change doesn't ravage life on earth.
Cheese is made up of milk which contains water, fat carbohydrates and minerals. Plus around a third of that milk is protein - whey and casein proteins. Cheese contains mostly casein protein which is more solid, as the liquid whey has been strained out.
Casein contains molecules called casomorphins which activate opiate receptors in the brain - the same receptors which drugs attach to, and which causes reactions in us. Cheese creates a similar addictive effect which makes us want more.
Also, when we eat tasty, salty foods like cheese our brain releases dopamine (addictive drugs also increase dopamine activity too). Dopamine makes us become attracted to whatever produced it, because it's nice.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Do we need to do anything at all? Well, the sheer volume of dairy cows globally causes wide-scale environmental degradation and causes much animal cruelty. Dairy diets also only offer us adverse digestive ailments and diseases to our health, so we might as well think about other options...
Dietary shifts can be big transitions which require strong intention and time to implement. Moving slowly into new dietary habits by limiting the amount of dairy and cheese eaten is a fantastic start, which tends to snowball into more changes in behaviour following conversations, realisations and new habits being formed.
Different Types of Cheese
It's relevant to remember the longer the cheese has been aged, the more it has been processed and so the higher its environmental impact will be due to the greater energy requirement. Hard cheeses like mature cheddar and parmesan often use more milk to produce and age for longer with additional cooking – which all create much more energy use and emissions.
Conversely young, soft cheeses such as cottage, feta, brie, camembert and mozzarella are considered more environmentally friendly.
If you're craving a gooey, cheesy fix, you can find loads of alternative options these days. Many are made from a base of coconut oil or soy milk based, often with ground nuts like cashews and almonds for that thick, nutty goodness, while others are made from rice germ or tofu.
You can find alternative cheeses in supermarkets now too, Tesco and Sainsbury's are no infamously stocking (some irate nutter who accidentally bought one professed angrily that it's not cheese, and that they should call it something entirely different like Gary... Haha).
You can add amazing nutritional yeasts to meals when cooking for that deep, nutty, cheesy flavour which works well. Or learn how to substitute other items in place of cheese - like making a pizza with cashew butter, tahini or hummus as a base. Perhaps using soya yoghurt as a delicious dip in place of melted cheese.