Who Cut the Cheese?!

To the shock of many, a vegan diet does not include dairy, which means we don't eat cheese! Removing cheese from the diet proves to be one of the most daunting tasks for those transitioning to a plant-based diet. However, it is not completely correct to attribute the urge to consume cheese to lack of will-power. There are biological factors at play when we consume cheese. Prepare for some science ahead!


Cheese consists of a protein called casein, which is typically found in dairy products with a substantial protein content. Within casein, there is a peptide sequence known as B-casomorphin-7 (BCM7). Interestingly enough, BCM7 codes for an opioid peptide. Opioid receptors on nerve cells interact with opioids to produce an ephemeral, euphoric effect.

The temporary euphoria and pain-relief are obvious reasons as to why drugs like heroin and Oxycontin are abused. However, do not be too alarmed! Casomorphins must go through a series of many events that lower their biological activity before reaching the blood-brain barrier. Cheese is certainly not a Schedule I drug, but it may increase one's susceptibility to food addiction.


Taking more of a macro look at cheese, it is not only a calorically-dense food, but also contains a significant amount of saturated fat. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, excess saturated fat consumption of any kind puts one at risk for heart disease. 

Moreover, cheese is packed with sodium. The Journal of Dairy Science conducted a study in which researchers examined sodium levels in commercially available cheese. The study found that manufacturers under-reported the amount of sodium on the nutrition label compared to the actual value in the cheese. Long-term consumption of excess sodium can contribute to hypertension and water-weight gain. 


Of course we wouldn't bombard you with these unsettling facts about dairy cheese without providing you with alternatives!

  1. One of the best brands for cream cheese alternatives is Kite Hill. Cultured and oil-free, these dairy-reminiscent spreads are at the top of our list.
  2. Treeline Cheese is a must for your wine and artisan cheese tastings. 
  3. The reward of devouring something you hand-crafted rivals the dopamine-induced happiness of those darn casomorphins. Check out this inexpensive, gluten-free baked mac and cheese recipe by frommybowl.com!


Spotlighting a Penn Vegan


In light of Penn Vegan Society Mentorship Program, we present a Q&A with José, a junior in the School of Nursing. He talks about his experience as a vegan coming from our mentorship program a year and a half ago.  He became a board member of PVS and was compelled to organize this Veganuary event to bring inspiration to go vegan at Penn.


Why are you vegan?

It’s hard to pinpoint it to one thing. The strongest reason is that being vegan helps me make the food choices that allow me to help with the environment and the accessibility of healthy foods to others by voting with my dollar to create a demand for more of these foods. It brings me comfort knowing that the choices that I’m making are helping others as well as myself.


When did you decide to go vegan?

November of 2016. After going to a couple of PVS events, I found that Veganism was actually pretty cool. It was innovative and was something I could do. At first, I found that I could simply be more plant-based while continuing to have my lunch meats on a daily basis. It wasn't until I went to a fraternity retreat with my brothers that I had the time to sit with my thoughts to make a decision for the rest of my life. At that time, I decided that I wanted to eat foods that brought me life, foods that were living in the sense that they were inherently fresh.


How did the mentorship program help?

Without the help of my mentor, I wouldn’t have been able to make the full transition. It was nice to hear of the challenges my mentor went through in addition to what she ate on a day to day basis. It brought more comfort that she had already overcome the issues I feared were ahead of me. She had emotionally ground herself when it came to family and made it feel like it was something I could do as well-- she made it feel okay to be questioned by family members and overcoming that feeling of peer pressure. she made what i initially thought of as extremist something very real. She showed me that I was not changing my whole life, that I was not putting a label on myself that I had to live by but it was simply bringing more to my individuality through my life choices. 


Most positive result from veganism?

Definitely my ability to run. Waking up with enough energy and to go out and run at 5 am before my clinical is a blessing I will forever be grateful for. I don't feel like I have to force myself to stay in shape because it feels as if my body is naturally keeping itself in shape. It feels as if my body was running at 80% before a plant-based diet and that it is now at a solid 95% day in and day out. Low-key, I feel as if my skin is glowing most days as it has definitely helped with the acne I had before.


Have you slipped up?

In the past, yes. During the first couple of months of my transition, I found myself conforming to social norms in the moment but felt some ounce of regret a couple hours later. I didn't identify with living by the vegan label, but I did want to live by my own integrity. I found that sometimes we regret the decisions that we make, but that it is really okay to accept what the past has given us, and I have grown to accept what I couldn't change.


How do you think veganism impacted your fitness?

Like I said before, I have been able to run faster than ever before, and now, without any sort of injury. I somehow managed to run the Philadelphia marathon last semester in under 3 hours with sub 7 minutes miles and the longest I had run before those 26.2 was a mere 13-- I don't understand. I’ve been able to make stronger gains in the gym. Overall, I feel like this is the bio-hack of the twenty first century and it's only now that the pro athletes are picking up on it, shoutout to Tom Brady. But on the real, Go Eagles.


What is the best way to convince someone to go vegan?

The best way to convince people is to share more meals! Invite people over or let them share a bite of your food. The idea of vegans I get in the mainstream media is a skinny dude eating fruits and vegetables. There are a lot more foods that we live off of than the internet shows. Living by example and inspiring others to enjoy what you love is the best way to it. You truly don’t know of the health you miss out on until you have it. 


How do you manage to be vegan and gluten-free in college? Is it hard?

At first it was difficult to go out and eat at restaurants. I never actually knew what places included gluten. I found a lot of comfort in making food at home and living of off the same 5 staple meals. Making a routine out of my safe set of foods was what made it easy, at restaurants and at home. 


What was the hardest part about going vegan?

Keeping my mouth shut, honestly. Not telling everyone else about how I was feeling. Knowing how much I love my friends and family, I would want them to feel the same way that I did. Given how human beings are designed for a plant-based diet, I felt that truly everyone can do it, and that the only thing stopping them was misconceptions and accessibility. I felt frustration at times not being able to convey what I had to say in the best way possible with respect to the myths and societal norms at hand.


As a guy, how do you try to explain to other guys that eating meat is not an essential part of manhood?

The main idea of manhood and masculinity to me is the idea of being able to best work at and improve on your functional capacity. Knowing how a plant-based diet can bring you the most gains, it is a no-brainer as to why you shouldn't use this to your advantage. Eating your proteins in the most clean manner can help you outperform your competition. Truly, theres nothing manly in dirty bulking.


How will veganism impact your plans for the future if it does at all?

It aligns with my career goals. It aligns with my nursing career and my battle against the nation's chronic diseases. The future of medicine is preventative, we just have to inspire our people to make a change before it is too late. I would like to keep up with my athleticism and maybe run an ultra marathon or Iron Man in the future, maybe even back-to-back. This Fall, I'll be running the Philadelphia marathon again but this time I'll also be running the Half the day before. I hope to one day become a father, I think it would be amazing to bring the best health I can into my family's life. Additionally, it is important to go plant-based if we aim to sustain our species and the health of our people. I want to help others along this path. I see myself as an early-adopter of this movement, and with the revolution in food technology going on right now, I believe it will only be a matter of a couple decades before it's more than half of us following this way of life.

Articles on Food Justice & Veganism

Today we spotlight “Food Justice & Veganism,” our discussion-based event taking place at the Penn’s Women’s Center on Monday, January 22 at 6 pm.

To supplement its discourse on our food system and accessibility to veganism, we feature the following articles.

Written by consultant, researcher, and lecturer on the topics of food choice and sustainability, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, the topic of animal agriculture and its impact on hunger and the growing global population is brought into question.

Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Humanity & Society, Greenebaum argues that the concept of “vegan privilege” is vague and that it is rather the ability to make food choices that is ultimately the privilege. Regardless of the cost of a carnist diet, the article encourages vegans and carnists alike to understand the human costs of the complex capitalist food industry.

Dottie's Donuts will be served. Check out the link below:



Cheap, Fast, Plant-Foods On-Campus

There are many restaurants on campus, each offering their own sides and selections of plant-based options.

Today we feature recommendations for on-campus, quick and easy, go-to plant foods:


Chipotle Mexican Grill ($7.15)

Burrito Bowl: Side of corn (or flour) tortillas, double servings of beans and rice, sofritas, tomato, salsa, and lettuce. 

SweetGreen ($6.95)

Create your own bowl: Free bases of kale, arugula, rice, and quinoa; as the four toppings: chickpeas, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and beets. Dressing of your choice, up to two pieces of courtesy bread if desired.

HipCityVeg ($9-14)

Prices vary per entree, but the whole store is plant-based; check it out. 

The Fresh Grocer ($6.49)

Avocado Sushi, brown rice or white rice options.

Eight-point-two pounds of bananas at seventy-nine cents per lb. Can be used immediately or stored later for tasty smoothies.

Houston Hall ($5.49)

Spicy bowl with tofu and avocado, brown rice if the heart desires.

Magic Carpet ($5.50)

Veggies over rice. At a $1 premium, you can add a variety of vegan and gluten-free options; or you can use it to buy a delicious cookie.

Ramen Bar ($11)

Veggie miso ramen, with all the extra veggies you can ask for. For even more bang for your buck, add an extra serving of noodles for only $2.



Why Vegan?

There are many reasons why one may decide to go vegan. The two facets the Penn Vegan Society aims to promote are the environmental and health implications of adopting a plant-based lifestyle.

This week, we spotlight the work of vegan Youtube writer Mic the Vegan who delivers quick bites of scientific literature, opinion, and occasional humor involving a plant-based diet.

How Your Body Transforms On A Vegan Diet

Looking at 8 clinical trials and a dozen of other studies on vegans, Mic reviews the timeline as to what changes one can expect and when as well as some hurdles and myths.


Cowspiracy is Bull

Adopting a critical eye to the controversial documentary Cowspiracy, Mic the Vegan fact checks the statistics of the environmental film.


How to Go Vegan: First 3 Meals

A guide to one's first day of vegan cooking using easy yet healthy recipes with widely available ingredients and tips/hacks.