Cheese is addictive, and how guilty should I feel?
By Carolyn Dale - January 2016
The headline almost made me choke on my morning granola. “Study: Cheese is as addictive as drugs.” Holy cow! Think of what I’ve done to myself, and the kids, over the years. How guilty should I feel about routinely feeding them an addictive substance?
A University of Michigan study looked at what a lot of college kids are addicted to eating, and it isolated cheese, which has casein in it. According to the report published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, that protein produces casomorphins as we digest it. I’ve never heard of these guys, but apparently they are opiates.
No wonder cheese is so satisfying. This means that back in the day, we were hooking the kids with their first taste of the gooey, orange stuff that oozed around their macaroni. Before my son could pronounce the three magic syllables—mac’n’cheese—he made do with “Noooodles!” I got the message and dished up the next fix.
And all those years while they grew up, I was a terrible role model, as I ate my hits of toast and cheese every day at breakfast—right in front of the entire family. What should I do about this finding, now that the kids are grown? Do they need to know how they were fed addictive substances? Should I alert them, and “fess up”?
The edge of the newspaper slid into my soggy granola while I considered the implications. Maybe I should I write them a letter and apologize. This explains why, as the teenage years hit, they moved on to the harder stuff: aged cheddar, then extra sharp, the expensive kind with black on the wrapper, or better yet, cloaked in black wax.
By high school, cheese was the go-to food for pangs of hunger at any time of day. I had just restocked the refrigerator to bursting one day when I happened by my son and a friend bent over, scanning the shelves, the open door wafting cold air for long minutes. “You’re right, the friend pronounced. “There’s no food here. There’s lot of stuff to make food out of, but no food.”
Cheese was the choice, or probably the only real option. Wrapped in plastic, it just needed to be whacked with a knife. I recall a friend’s college roommate who would dispense with the knife. Of course, no one else wanted cheese once it had teethmarks in it, and I’m sure it was part of his plan to hoard his stash.
Still digesting my guilt, I head upstairs to the home office, sit at the computer, and get ready to let the kids know that any sign of cheese addiction in their lives is not just imaginary, but that they came by this affliction innocently.
I begin, “We’re sorry, we didn’t know what we were doing …" But, as I llook at that line on the screen, I know it’s what they’ve been waiting to hear all these years, and, deep in their hearts, already believe. About many subjects apart from cheese. Will they quit reading and just supply their own endings?
Hmm. The result could be dangerously unpredictable. We are dealing with addiction, after all. Just look at how they’re raising the grandkids. I recall how those little children line up silently, empty plates in hand, and stare worshipfully at the microwave while it melts their shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack onto some white-bread surface. And this is while I am setting a good example, in my bathrobe over at the table, slurping granola with skim milk. Okay, I confess it took me years to break the cheese habit at breakfast.
Their parents ask us ahead of time to stock up on—not just cheese in different colors, but shredded cheese—to ensure getting it more quickly into their systems. Concern with speed of delivery is definitely a warning sign.
Oh, it’s not the parents’ fault, and I still know I’m to blame. I try a new approach in my letter: “Some countries probably have known about cheese addiction for a while, but think it’s OK because it’s deeply engrained in their cultural practices.” As a semi-Scandinavian, that idea cheers me up.
After all, taking cheese can be a very social experience. At our house, we’ve tried to confine our cheese consumption to cocktail hour, actually just half an hour or so beginning at 5 p.m. Well, maybe 4:50 p.m., and maybe lasting longer, especially if we’re entertaining. Friends know about our ritual, and they seem to enjoy having wine and cheese with us. After all, they’re only eating it socially, and if they eat just a small amount, they can still drive home safely. I regret all the years I wasted worrying about the wine!
When I visit my son in Colorado, we’ve fallen into the habit of stopping right away at the local imported cheese shop. It is very fine, very French, and very expensive. We put on warm jackets to go into the cold, vast, tasting room, where I select the stinkiest, most exotic varieties that we haven’t tried yet. Then we take them home to enjoy with wine at 5 p.m., which arrives an hour sooner because it’s Mountain Time.
His Significant Other enjoys just a bit of cheese, and once I’ve had a few bites, heaved a sigh, and started to relax, she comments, “You know, we only do this when you’re here.” The look she gives me is compassionate as well as thoughtful. And I don’t mind; I know I can quit anytime.
Canada is another country that accepts its relationship with cheese. We were in British Columbia recently, purportedly to dip in hot springs, but also to stock up on French-style goat cheeses. We returned home with a bagful of our favorite B. C. chevre, and even declared it at the border; it’s wonderful that we can bring in as much as we want.
I’ve now reached the third good point for the confessional letter to the kids. The first proclaims innocence, and the second passes off cheese consumption as a cultural value. The third dishes up regret: “Still, I am sorry I fed you so much of it, and we probably should have had more meat items instead, like sausage, or hot dogs, or bacon.”
Oh, wait. Something just came out about processed meats, but I refuse to feel guilty about that, too. After all, we couldn’t afford to serve carcinogenic products except at the most special of occasions, like Easter and Christmas.
Now that we know a continuing appetite for cheese expresses an addiction, will there be treatment? Why has it taken me hours even to consider the question? However, the idea doesn’t sound remotely attractive, and there’s no way Obamacare will cover it.
We’ll just have to carry on until there are recovery programs, like Brie-eaters Anonymous and Children of Cheese-aholics. I’ll wait till then and finish my letter when society at large has recognized this newly discovered addiction and comes face-to-face with what must be done, on a societal level. By then, it won’t be my fault, and my own personal guilt will be dissolved away in shared group angst.
And maybe society at large never will get around to dealing with cheese addiction as a social issue. Maybe we won’t have to have treatment programs, or ask presidential candidates to come clean about their cheese-eating college days. Maybe we can relax with the idea that those little casomorphins will swim in our bloodstreams and help us feel especially satisfied and content after that grilled sandwich with its soft, warm blobs of cheese greasing up our fingertips. And with our desire to have yet more cheese again, and soon.
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