Is meat and dairy an addiction? A group of vegans believe that it is, and like with smoking, harm reduction and gradual cessation may be key to transitioning to this new diet.
People addicted to cigarette smoking have a very difficult time just going "cold turkey," which is why the American Council on Science and Health supports all efforts at both harm reduction and smoking cessation.
This model has now been embraced by vegans, who have adopted the belief that meat and dairy are not part of a biological imperative (like it is with many other animals) but is instead an addiction that can be acquired and thus removed. They even frame the cigarette discussion with vegan terms: going "cold turkey" is a no-no; they urge vegans to use the more transitional "cold tofurky" approach.
But can going cold tofurky work? In some cases, yes, just like with cigarettes, unless it is not actually an addiction as we know it. Their belief that a normal human diet is an acquired craving is based on work by an anti-meat advocacy group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who claim dairy foods contain morphine-like substances which make them addictive. Writing in the Washington Post, journalist Maura Judkis notes that we at the American Council on Science and Health debunked those claims a decade ago. Senior Nutrition Fellow Dr. Ruth Kava found that the same "addictive" substances are in plant-based foods and that the study claiming meat was like morphine was not peer-reviewed by the mainstream health and science community.
That community remains skeptical, but the internal analytics of vegan support groups affirm their belief. They they note that only 16 percent of vegetarians or vegans stick with it--and success is bolstered if people quietly "transition" to the lifestyle rather than go cold tofurky.
If so, the vegan culture might benefit from dairy and meat reduction--and substitution of other foods--rather than just giving it up, much as smokers might have to try e-cigarettes and gum and patches before they succeed. The makers of Velveeta will be pleased to hear it. If people really do want to give up meat and dairy, vegan community support is important, so finding other people also transitioning is key. A support group will also be more inclined to participate in a discussion about the new lifestyle. As the saying goes, no one ever quietly went on a vegan diet.