Non-Vegan Soy Cheese…Seriously?

Speaking of vegan pizzas…we ate out with some friends the other night at the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery. Word had it that a person could get a pizza with soy cheese. While the word was correct, the word failed to mention that this was the bogus variety of soy cheese that’s made with…well…cheese. Can someone tell me why this product even exists?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that non-vegan soy cheese must be for either (a) people who want a marginally healthier cheese, or (b) folks who are lactose intolerant (non-vegan soy cheese typically has casein and sometimes even rennet, but not lactose). Unconventional wisdom, however, would suggest that non-vegan soy cheese exists to trick vegans. How many fledgling vegans have picked this up thinking–as any rational person would–that soy cheeseĀ  = vegan cheese? Or more likely, how many kindly friends and family members have picked this up for their vegans (this, I would argue, is probably the lion’s share of the non-vegan soy cheese market)? How many of us have been enticed and/or fooled by pizza with this crap? Now compare those numbers to the number of people how knowingly bought it.

At the very least, it seems reasonable to ask these companies to rename their soy cheese to something like 2% cheese or mostly not cheese (but just a little) or The Ultimate ‘Fuck You’ to Vegans ™. Why not just make it vegan and greatly increase the number of people who can consume it? Vegan cheese keeps getting better–Daiya melts just as well as the non-vegan varieties of faux cheese, tastes just as good–if not better, certainly won’t aggravate anyone’s lactose intolerance, and is probably healthier (at minimum it contains less cholesterol). The answer is probably that it would be either (a) more difficult, (b) more work, or (c) both.

I suppose it’s unreasonable to expect a company that presumably is enjoying some small profit to quit what they’re doing. The cost of changing their recipe may not be commensurate with what they’d get back. But I’d at least like to entreat restaurants who use this stuff to switch to a vegan variety. The minimal addition in cost greatly increases the number of people who can eat it. Additionally, it’s more honest. If we hadn’t made a point of asking, I’m sure the Jolly Pumpkin would have served us their not-quite-vegan pizza. What really burns me is that they’re clearly thinking of folks’ dietary needs; they even have gluten free crust! Why leave out the vegans?

This is what I e-mailed them:

Hello! My wife and I stopped in to the Ann Arbor restaurant last week–first off, let me say that the beer was excellent. The restaurant looks great too. We did have two small concerns, however. You offer a pizza with soy cheese–but this cheese isn’t vegan. This (a) excludes us vegans (and there are quite a few of us around here) and (b) is potentially misleading. If we hadn’t asked specifically (and a major thanks goes to our server for knowing the answer to this question), we may have eaten the pizza, assuming it was vegan. The great thing about vegan cheese is that it caters to the lactose intolerant, health conscious, and vegan alike. The other (very small) issue was that the soy cheese wasn’t on the menu; we learned about it from friends. Why not highlight this? I’d imagine beer and vegan pizza would be very popular with local vegans.

Daiya (http://www.daiyafoods.com/) currently seems to be the most popular brand of faux cheese (it’s soy-free too). Folks would probably be relatively happy with Follow Your Heart (http://www.followyourheart.com/products.php?id=25) as well, which has the advantage of being available in smaller retail quantities.

Thanks so much for your attention to this issue! Keep up the fine beers!

Thus ends my rant.

7 comments ↓

#1 maddog on 01.13.10 at 9:57 am

Agreed. I’ve NEVER understood why this cheese exists either.

#2 Adrienne on 01.15.10 at 11:13 am

It is odd. Why bother having this cheese? If you are lactose intolerant then you could easily enjoy a vegan cheese but it doesn’t work the other way ’round.

I do agree they have scrumptious beers at JP.

#3 mark on 01.27.10 at 12:59 am

Two weeks and no love from the Jolly Pumpkin.

#4 Mary Elise on 02.02.10 at 3:13 am

Mark,

I recently went through the same frustration with soy cheeses. It was around the holidays and I was to make a lasagna for Christmas dinner. I had wanted to put some of the Follow Your Heart soy cheese on top but the local coop was all out. The rest of the selection of soy cheeses they carried were filled with disappointment since they all had whey or what have you in them, including an almond cheese. I ended up making a faux ricotta to go on top instead which actually turned out to be perhaps even better (crumbled tofu, tofutti cream cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, and tons of nutritional yeast!).
I also hear from friends around here in Seattle that a lot of the pizza places claim to offer a vegan pizza with soy cheese, but it is like the one you encounter. There are a lot of vegans in Seattle so I think many restaurants jump to offer a “vegan” option but fail to do their homework on the actual ingredients they utilize. Restaurants should hire a vegan consultant when planning to add vegan dishes to their menu!

#5 mark on 02.02.10 at 11:06 am

No doubt. How do we get that job?

It’s amazing that Seattle wouldn’t be more on top of that, but you’re right–it’s the same everywhere (we had a similar experience in Portland). It’s kind of funny where we’re at. Ann Arbor is supposed to be the “cultural” city and Ypsi more “gritty”. But in truth, AA is much fluffier–lots of vegetarian stuff, but far fewer vegan options (though it’s still pretty easy to find something to eat). Ypsi, on the other hand, actually does have a vegan pizza option.

I guess the best we can do is keep politely bothering them about offering real vegan cheeses until they either (a) get it or (b) alienate their vegan customers.

#6 Mary Elise on 02.02.10 at 2:14 pm

I think I will have some business cards made up as “Mary Elise – Vegan Consultant” and I’ll just hand them out to restaurants when I have a less than stellar vegan meal.

#7 Jeremy Lucido on 03.19.11 at 7:33 pm

OMG I found your link. I’m at a Cafe now because they offer a Vegan Philly steak sandwich and I was all happy till I saw the fine print on back of menu- “our soy cheeses are not vegan” how do you offer a VEGAN Philly cheese steak sandwich with nonvegan cheese!

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