Dealing with 'meat' and dairy addiction

Friday, October 02, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

“I love pets but what makes them more special than pigs, cows, chickens, etc. that the latter’s lives are sacrificed when we can subsist on a diet that doesn’t have to cost their lives, right?"
This was a question posed by my friend Leo on Facebook in 2014. I wasn’t vegan then, nor was he. But he already knew something was wrong with how our society objectified and used animals.

gentlest animals are farmed

Years later, Leo decided to give veganism a try. He knew in his heart that participating in the cycle of violence inherent in animal agriculture was wrong. But while he found quitting pig and cow flesh as relatively easy, dairy was a different matter.

"Meat" addiction: Oppressive to humans and animals

During his visit to Manila, I brought Leo to a pizzeria that served vegan options using cashew-based cheese. We talked about how dairy was addicting because of casomorphins, which attach to the same receptors in the brain as opioids.
He confessed that quitting dairy was even harder than quitting cigarettes. That was something I wanted to remember for a future discussion on veganism — I realized that while I wanted everyone to connect to the ethics of leaving animals alone, I haven’t been providing resources to vegan-curious friends who might be dealing with their own food addiction problems.
To be clear, addiction isn’t a good-enough justification to hurt anyone, may that be animal or human. But addiction is a very real problem, one that might require more than sheer willpower to overcome. This is why we have rehabilitation centers, why we have Alcoholics Anonymous, why we have substitute drugs for those hooked on opiates. And when it comes to the vegan conversation, we can’t just brush addiction under the rug and hope for the best. This problem needs to be acknowledged if we want to successfully manage it.

Pragmatic and ethical approach to ending animal use

I learned in my teens that the first step of the scientific process is stating the problem. Without this first step, we can’t proceed to forming hypotheses, testing them, and coming up with theories that can lead us to the truth.
And when it comes to turning the world vegan, one problem I’m not hearing enough of is the fact that many people do want to do good — they want to go vegan — but they’re hooked on animal flesh and secretions. Unlike those addicted to cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol, however, they have nowhere to turn to.
There isn’t a system in place that manages addiction to animals, because consuming animals isn’t considered a major problem by the healthcare industry yet. Despite the World Health Organization declaring red and processed meat as carcinogens, very few doctors will ever tell their patients to just quit these. So, how can we even expect addiction to these items to be considered a real issue that needs a proper management program in place?

The harsh reality of addiction to animals

When I was in college, we invited a speaker to talk about drug addiction. He himself was a former addict — he was wanted in several states in the US, and he claimed to be better than us in pharmacology because he had all the addicting drugs memorized. I didn’t doubt what he said. He told us he would go to doctors’ clinics to steal prescription pads. He said he had wanted to stop, but to an addict such as himself, the one thing more important than breathing was having the next fix.
He said that initially, he wanted to do drugs to get high. As time passed, things changed: He wanted to get access to drugs because he feared withdrawal.
Withdrawal, he said, was the worst thing you could ever imagine happening to you.
He made us realize that good people, even us, could easily become addicted to drugs if we exposed ourselves to it. And, just like him, we would have been willing to risk everything just to feel “normal” again.
People who have addiction problems sell their cars, their houses — and even empty their children’s bank accounts — just to get their next fix. They do the worst things despite wanting to do good. Given the highly addictive nature of animal flesh and secretions, I have no doubt that there are good people out there who want to go vegan but need a little extra help to manage their addictions, in the same way those who are addicted to drugs need a place to detox and a reliable support system.

Being accountable

One of the first steps of anyone getting over an addiction is admitting there is an addiction problem and owning up to their mistakes. In other words, they acknowledge that they are addicted — and they take steps to ensure they don’t fall back into the cycle of addiction.
During their rehabilitation, they learn that even while addiction is a psychiatric issue that might have been beyond their control, this doesn’t absolve them of the things they’ve done wrong. They have to be accountable for their past errors, and they will also have to be accountable for any decisions they make in the future in relation to their addiction problem.
This approach that acknowledges the role of both individual and community in overcoming an addiction problem is something we can apply to veganism. Someone who keeps consuming animal flesh, eggs, and dairy — despite knowing how these contribute to animal violence, environmental degradation, and health issues — has to be able to admit to themselves that they do have an addiction problem. They have to be able to look in the mirror and say they need help, and that they know that going vegan is the right thing to do.
In other words, the onus is on them to initiate the change, in the same way the onus is now on you to start going vegan and managing your own addictions.

Vegan support

I am fortunate that I was able to kick my food addictions rather easily. Maybe it’s because I have a strong affinity to animals. Maybe it’s because philosophy and ethics are special interests of mine. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have serious addiction problems, unlike others who can’t quit smoking and drinking despite their best efforts (I no longer smoke and I drink alcohol only once to twice a month now).
However, those who have a predisposition to addiction might have it worse than me. Perhaps my friend Leo was one such person whose genes and psychological profile made it hard for him to quit addictions in general. And for people like him who do want to do good, who do want to go vegan, the role of other vegans and healthcare professionals around them can make a difference.
Very few doctors are vegan, which means not all are aware of the term casomorphin, more so the very real possibility of getting addicted to animal flesh and secretions. I know fellow doctors who are addicted to animal flesh themselves, and they don’t think it’s a problem despite their worsening health! (In the US, however, there's a group that deals with animal addiction and they use the same 12 steps used in other addiction programs. We need something like that worldwide, don't you think?)
That’s the thing about addiction. Denial is a favorite defense mechanism that keeps the brain happy while addicted to a substance or process. If someone points out the addiction, the brain uses its intelligence to fight back, perhaps by using other defense mechanisms, such as rationalization.
Many of your loved ones — perhaps even you — might be addicted to “meat”. Let’s do a thought experiment to find out.

Are you addicted to animal consumption?

Imagine being in the supermarket. You were told that all fruits are out of stock and they won’t be available for the rest of the year. While that does lead to a bit of stress, it doesn’t cause you to panic.
But imagine if you were told that all “meat” is out of stock and they won’t be available all year long. Yep, you got that right: No “beef”, no “pork”, no fried chicken, no “seafood”. (I’m using quotes on all these, by the way, because these words stem from an attempt to make animal flesh more palatable language-wise, and it’s time we stopped using these euphemisms to cover up the fact that we are eating animals who wanted to live. But I digress.)
So, no “meat”. For a year. No bacon, no liempo, no lechon, no corned beef, no tapa, no tocino.
How would you have felt if that were to happen?
Now, imagine that you got sick. Maybe it’s heart disease or stroke or diabetes, all of which have been proven to be linked to the consumption of animals. How would you feel if your doctor told you to stay away from “meat” completely? Is it something you can do, or will you be sneaking in the occasional crispy skin of a roast pig once in a while?
If you’re having a hard time saying no to animal flesh and secretions, it’s because they’re addictive. However, this addiction doesn’t exempt you from taking action so that you can overcome the addiction.
The animals need you to stop hurting them. Whenever we enjoy eating them, they suffer. They live in horrible situations, then they scream and fight for their lives as slaughterhouse workers slit their throats for our sake. We pay for this to happen if we don’t do anything with our addiction.
It begs the question, why would we want to pay for their deaths if there’s something we can do about it?

Changing one’s perspective

Different people have different reactions to addictive substances. Some are luckier than others, and they quit addictive substances with ease. Others need the extra help.
If you belong to the latter group, one thing you can do is change how you look at “meat”. No, meat isn’t supposed to look like food. It’s made of cut-up animals — it’s the remains of a creature who used to be alive but was butchered for us.
“Meat" is just chopped up pieces of animal cadavers.
But the brain will refuse to acknowledge this fact without a little bit of assistance. To ensure you don’t think of “meat” as food anymore, you have to change the mindset that made these items seem palatable to begin with.
One thing you can do, which I mentioned in a previous post about how others find it hard to go vegan, is to see for yourself what happens to animals before they end up on your plate. One such video, titled Earthlings, is free to watch here.
The above documentary exposes common, approved practices in animal industries. You will see how your food is made, which is something that just might wake you up from this fake matrix of yummy “meat” where we currently exist.
If you want to manage your addiction, don’t skip watching the video. Pick a night for you to watch it and just take the plunge. Don’t worry about your food addictions; there is a vegan version of things you love to eat. If there’s naltrexone that serves as an opioid replacement for those with opiate addiction, then there’s vegan lechon for those addicted to roast pig, and so on. Name it, there’s a vegan replacement for it.

You will get your fix. You will still eat cakes and ice cream and milk tea and bacon. But you’ll be eating the vegan versions which, to be honest, have made my being a vegan quite wonderful.
Being vegan is the best thing to happen to me. And I want you to feel what I feel. I want you to be liberated from your own addictions. And I want this liberation to extend to the animals we used to oppress unwittingly. It’s time we all clamored for freedom for both humans and animals.


As usual, we won’t end the post without something for you to do during your spare time. This is supposed to be self-directed learning, after all! But instead of simply answering a question, this time around, you’re going to take proactive steps in managing your addiction by doing the following.
1. Admit that you have an addiction problem.
2. Acknowledge that you are acountable for any harm you might cause animals because of your addiction to their flesh and secretions. 
3. Acknowledge that you can be empowered to fight that addiction.
4. List down five specific food items you think you might not be able to quit — and join Manila Vegans to look for alternatives to these items in the search bar. (Even if you don’t live in Manila, this group is quite a treasure trove of vegan alternatives! Even galunggong and aligue have vegan versions, can you imagine?)
5. Subscribe to this website so that you get a daily update via email. (Scroll down and simply type your email address when you see the subscription field. You will then receive an email each day containing the daily post during the 30-day self-directed learning approach to veganism in the Philippines. That way, you don’t have to visit my website every so often because the content goes straight to your inbox!)

I love animals but

Finally, do share your thoughts on social media to make others aware that there is a Pinoy guide to going vegan! Use the hashtag #GustoKoMagingVegan so that we can do this together as an online community.
In case you have questions, slide into my DMs — you can find me on Facebook and Instagram. (I’m also on Twitter but I rarely use the platform.)
This is Day 3 of the one-month online veganism guide for Filipinos. Congrats, and I hope you stay the course until the 30 days are over!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!