Stinky cheese: Parting is such sweet sorrow

May 25, 2016

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by Rachel Biggerstaff

Rachel Biggerstaff
Rachel Biggerstaff

I am a big fan of cheese. Not just cheese in general, but good cheese. Stinky, crumbly, aged cheese from mammals of all kinds. I actually have a Pinterest board entitled, “Goat Cheese is My Love Language.” If I were on death row and had to choose my last meal, you can bet your big bippy that it would include some cheesy covered pasta and big ol’ ribeye just bathing in butter.

So I can assure you that it came as quite a shock to many, including myself, when I decided to dramatically change my diet three months ago and become a vegetarian. It started out as a bit of a test. I was gauging my own self-control and ability to make a big change in my life without losing my ever-loving mind. I decided to start on Ash Wednesday, the first day in the Christian season of Lent when followers customarily give up something precious in their lives in hopes of self-betterment and a deepened relationship with the Divine. I used this as my excuse for giving up meat, as I had been successful for many years at giving up something for the 40 days then slurping down a gallon of coffee on Easter morning or spending five hours straight on Facebook to catch up with everything I had missed. I would give myself a pat on the back for a job well done and then go back to my life as usual.

Cheese plates. Gorgeous, stinky cheese plates. Image from http://www.bonappetit.com/
Cheese plates. Gorgeous, stinky cheese plates. Image from www.bonappetit.com.

I knew from the beginning that becoming a vegetarian was a goal that I wanted to adopt long-term, and, over time, continue to transform my eating habits until I had eliminated all animal products from my diet. That’s right – no more cheese. No more greasy chips and melty queso. Forget the crisp Pinot Grigio and buttery gruyere. And the goat cheese. Oh, the goat cheese.

Why would I do a thing like become a vegan when it seemed like the most torturous deprivation I could possibly inflict upon myself?

In years past, I wouldn’t have been able to make this change successfully. But my motivation has changed in ways I never thought imaginable. You see, I have two beautiful daughters and a dear and loving husband who have made me realize that I want to live for as long as I can so that I can spend every possible second with them (whether they like it or not). What greater act is there than giving up cheese in the name of love?

My father died when he was in his fifties after many years of struggling with heart disease and stroke. He was too young to die and I was too young to realize every choice I made about what I put in my body could lead me to a similar fate. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I truly understood the responsibility of taking care of my own body not only for my own health, but for the well-being of those I love the most.

So here I am, 36 years-old and I finally get it. I know now that I have the opportunity

Here I am, dancing with my dad. This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us, and I miss him terribly.
Here I am, dancing with my dad. This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us, and I miss him terribly.

to change what I put in my stomach and turn back the clock on the years of careless eating. I like to envision all of the veggies I’m eating traveling through my body straight to my heart and clearing the plaque out of those arteries like scraping gum off the bottom of a park bench, making my insides shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

I’m three months into my journey.  I started out by giving up meat, though I still have fish once a month or so. I’ve also made a deal with myself that when I’m visiting someone’s house for a special meal, I’ll enjoy small amounts of meat and/or cheese so as not to receive eye rolls from my host when I proclaim with righteous indignation that I can’t partake in the chicken piccata that my host slaved over for hours. Ditto when I’m on vacation. When in Rome, right?

I am moving into Phase 2 of my diet, and I am beginning to eliminate dairy. I’m dedicating the first two weeks of this stage solely to the elimination and proper mourning of the glory that is cheese. We are saying good-bye like star-crossed lovers. Letting go is the best thing for both of us, but the final farewell is painful.  And yet, a relief.

So I’ll wear my ugly fitness tracker and be that obnoxious person who spends way too much time in the produce section of the grocery store, squeezing and smelling fruit for freshness. Hell, I’ll even go down that terrifying bulk foods aisle and scoop nuts and grains into baggies and press my own unsalted peanut butter. But if you see me sniffing around the cheese counter, don’t be concerned. I’m just there to enjoy the smell.

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