Oftena bugaboo of new vegans, cravings for things you once ate may likely come up and the cravings may be strong. There are people who might use a shaming and strident tone about cravings in the vegan community. Ignore those voices. Instead, let’s face them head on with some common sense.
I was someone who didn’t really experience cravings when I first went vegan even though I loved cheese as much as the average dairy addict and when I first went vegan, there were no decent dairy-free replacements. Same thing with ice cream. Despite the fact that there are many kinds of great vegan cheeses and ice creams today, not to mention plant-based proteins and eggs, there are still some people who have a really hard time with cravings when they first transition. There is no rhyme or reason to it; it is just much easier for some more than others and condemnation doesn’t solve this. So let’s talk solutions…
• If you are craving specific foods, like say your grandmother’s brisket, it may simply be that you’re missing your grandmother or a time in your life, you had a hard day or you are seeking something that you once turned to for comfort. In other words, it could be a psychological or emotional craving rather than a physical one, which is not to say that it’s not equally compelling. Tune in to the craving to try to determine what is going on. Is it emotional? Is there something other than that specific food that could nurture your spirit right now?
• As I said, when I first when vegan more than 20 years ago, there were no decent vegan cheeses so I just had to get over my addiction. In some ways, I think this made my transitional time simpler. Today, there is much more to choose from on the market, from Miyoko’s artisan cheeses to Chao cheese. That said, I highly recommend a break of at least three weeks to a month, ideally even longer, to rewire your taste bud’s expectations of what cheese should taste like. Same with the vegan meats and egg replacements if they are tempting to you.
• If you are craving something creamy and rich during this transitional period, I'd recommend avocado, tahini, hummus and nut butters to be as or more satisfying than vegan cheeses. Similarly, if you are craving meat, vegan versions may not be satisfying during this transitional time so focusing on increasing your umami intake may be a more successful approach. Important sub-point: your transitional period is not a good time to adopt other dietary changes, like going fat-free or salt-free. Just concentrate on your vegan changes for now. They are enough.
• That said, another strategy some have found helpful is to figure out what you’re craving in what you’re no longer eating and try to replicate the flavors and textures: for example, is it the fat, salt, smoke and crunchiness of bacon? Try some coconut bacon. The creamy tang of a ranch dressing? Make some. Try to adopt the attitude that it may not be exactly the same, but that doesn’t make it an inferior version. It’s just different. In time, you will adjust and you may very well find yourself surprised as to how fully you have moved on to the point of being actually turned off by something you once thought you loved. As someone who accidentally ate dairy cheese a few years ago and was utterly repulsed by the smell, taste and texture, I couldn’t believe how much it once seemed like quitting cheese would be a huge barrier to my veganism. Flexibility and open-mindedness are key, though. With time, it will not feel like a sacrifice at all.
• Here is another plug for learning how to cook even a little. If you know how to create some satisfying dishes, you will be far less tempted to jump ship.
• Books like Breaking the Food Seduction by Dr. Neal Barnard and The Pleasure Trap by Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhamer might help you to better understand the addictive nature of certain foods from a physiological perspective.
• Last, I know this is counter to what I posted earlier about avoiding disturbing videos and content but seeing exactly what happened to dairy cows and their calves in a video was what it took for me to get serious about my commitment and why I made it. There has been no looking back since. If your commitment is vacillating, cravings can become very tempting. Perhaps you’ve been just going through the motions. If so, I recommend dipping into a film – Earthlings seems to do it for a lot of people – as much as is necessary to reconnect with your values and why you want to be vegan.