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Let’s talk about DAIRY, which in my experience is the hardest thing to give up to go vegan! I hope this post will serve as inspiration for those who are wanting to go vegan, but dairy is holding them back. It’s no secret that dairy is cruel and associated with many health problems. I survived as a newbie vegan thanks to some amazing vegan alternatives and learning a few tricks, which I’ll share below. I was a vegetarian for many years before going vegan, and was pretty much addicted to all dairy, the main feature of my every meal. I’ve happily been dairy free for more than 5 years now; if I can do it, so can you! Feel welcome to share your tips in the comments for going dairy-free too please!earthgiven-kitchen-dairyfree

How to go dairy-free as painlessly as possible:

1) START WITH GROCERIES: Find vegan dairy alternatives in grocery stores for all the dairy products that you are hooked on. For grilled cheese and cold cheese slices, my family likes Earth Island (called Follow Your Heart in the US) coconut-based cheese slices, as well as Fieldroast’s vegan cheese called Chao. For rich ice cream, we are all obsessed with So Delicious Salted Caramel Cashew ice cream. On pizza, we use Daiya shreds, but I’ve noticed many long-time vegans don’t care for Daiya cheese, so if your palate has moved beyond Daiya, you can try avocado on pizza which I prefer now to vegan shreds. For milk in cereal and smoothies, our favourite is Silk Almond Coconut milk but I like anything except for rice milk which I find too thin. For milk in coffees and tea, my husband and I are both hooked on chocolate soy milk and most often by Natura brand. For whipped cream, we like So Delicious whipped topping, found in the natural frozen section. Gaylea also has a coconut whipped cream in a can. For boxed mac and cheese, you can find Daiya which comes with ready-made creamy sauce. It’s a favourite with my kids but it’s fake-cheese taste is a bit too much for me to enjoy; I prefer Namaste Say Cheez brand which makes a milder and more authentic tasting boxed mac and cheese in my opinion. Butter is an easy switch: Earth Balance Butter and Becel vegan margarine are options, though you may want to look into palm oil and ethical sourcing but that’s a whole other conversation.

What about chocolate you say?? Many brands of dark chocolate bars are vegan, such as Endangered Species; for a milder milk chocolate alternative, companies like Zazubean make chocolate bars out of coconut milk! Sassy by Zazubean is my personal favourite. For chocolate chips, I choose Cuisine Camino. No matter which brand of chocolate you buy, please be sure that it’s fair trade certified!earthgiven-kitchen-chocolate

2) EATING OUT: Learn which local restaurants offer vegandairy alternatives. In my area of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria offers Daiya, Pizza Nova delivers with dairy-free cheese, and Panago Pizza in The Boardwalk offers both Daiya shreds and vegan pepperoni. Cafe Pyrus has Daiya as well as other vegan dairy alternatives like Caesar salads and creamy soups, all delicious.Cadence Guelph Sept 2015 (9)

Ce Food Experience & The Bakery makes decadent chocolate cookies and other buttery vegan baked goods. Thrive Energy Lab has amazing smoothies with vegan coconut gelato and non-dairy milks.  In Guelph, Boon Burger has great vegan cheese for their burgers and Cadence has amazing home-made vegan cheddar. If you can get to Burlington, Ontario, eating at Lettuce Love cafe and their sister bakery Kelly’s Bake Shoppe is a real treat! No sacrificing decadent desserts when you’re dairy-free!

Kelly's Bake Shoppe collage Sarina JW

3) EATING IN: Learn to make your own dairy alternatives. Books like DIY Vegan has recipes for cheese balls, almond milk and more. A great tip from a KW Vegan Society member is that cow cheese is salty as well as creamy, so adding salty foods like olives, capers and sun-dried tomatoes to your dishes where you’ve cut out cow cheese can help add the cheesy flavour back in. Make friends with nutritional yeast (nooch), a natural plant-food that has a cheesy/nutty flavour as well as often being nutritionally fortified; I sprinkle nooch on pasta, popcorn, pizza, rice, etc.

Want to get down with DIY and learn to make your own vegan cheese? You’re in luck if you’re in southern Ontario, there are several vegan cheese making classes running early 2017 hosted by Vegfest Guelph in Waterloo and Burlington! Stay tuned to their Events page for more vegan classes.

Cheeseless lasagne

Awesome dairy-free recipes, as recommended by the KW Vegan Society:

Earthgiven Kitchen: Tofu Ricotta and Vegetable Lasagne
Earthgiven Kitchen: Creamy Avocado Chickpea Pasta
Earthgiven Kitchen: Homemade Almond Milk
Oh She Glows: Life Affirming Nacho Dip
Oh She Glows: Low Fat Vegan Cheese Sauce
Chef Chloe: Cookie Dough Truffles
Vegan Culinary Crusade: Vegan White Chocolate
Daily Rebecca: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Fried Dandelions: Perfect Brownies
Fork and Beans: Vegan Butter Substitute
Coconut and Berries: Baked Cashew Cheese

4) GET ADVENTUROUS: Explore different cuisines with new spices, herbs and flavours to grow your palate beyond the craving for dairy. Thai, Indian, and Middle Eastern foods often don’t include dairy. Try new foods! Before I went vegan I had never eaten hemp seeds, lentils, nutritional yeast, or quinoa, and now eat them regularly.

Classic Indian Earthgiven (4)

5) EDUCATE YOURSELF: Give yourself 2-4 weeks to stop craving dairy, especially cheese. Learn why cheese and its casomorphins are addictive. It’s not your fault that giving up dairy is hard! Go easy on yourself; if you can give up everything but cow milk in your morning coffee, then start with that and wean yourself off it slowly. You probably won’t stop craving it, or see magical health benefits until you cut it all out though!

Earthgiven Kitchen Chocolate Almond Milk

6) GET HEALTHY: See what health benefits you notice after a month off dairy. Common reports are better digestion, clearer complexion, less rashes, and clearer breathing. I used to sniff frequently, completely unaware that I was experiencing more mucous until I gave up dairy and finally was breathing clearer than I ever had before. I also effortlessly lost a few pounds when I gave dairy the boot. It makes sense that we regain health when we cut out food we were not designed to eat. As Dr. Hyman said “dairy is nature’s perfect food but only if you’re a calf!”

aug-2016-froghollow-1

7) REMEMBER THAT DAIRY IS CRUEL: If your dedication to staying dairy-free wanes, visit a farm sanctuary where you can see rescued cows, like Charlie, who escaped from a dairy farm and is now safe at Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary. Above is a photo of Diana, of FrogHollow Farm Sanctuary, rescued from the meat industry, and is the sweetest animal you could meet, she loves to snuggle just like your pet dog or cat. I’ll refrain from sharing the gory details here, but you can google “why dairy is cruel” and you’ll be shocked at how much animal suffering is found in the the entire dairy industry, from birth to death, for both male and female cows. There is nothing natural about modern commercial dairy farming and nothing you want to support, I promise you. You’ll be proud of yourself for giving up dairy, all while eating deliciously and feeling great!

What tips do you have for going dairy-free?? Any recipe, food product, or restaurant recommendations?

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