Cravings can originate from a physical need (such as caloric insufficiency) or from a psychological one, like comfort and habit.

We often develop cravings for foods that we associate with familiarity and safety (hence the phrase “comfort food”). These foods are strongly associated with security, coziness, love, and togetherness – all of which fulfil important psychological needs.

It’s not surprising that food often becomes a way of experiencing these positive states. From birth, nourishment has been synonymous with comfort, safety, and nurturance. It’s only natural that we gravitate towards foods that are associated with these states, especially during times of stress and hardship. The problem, of course, is when the foods that comfort us also cause harm to another. 

Dealing with cravings for animal products isn’t simply about willpower. If we break habits without replacing them, or without addressing the psychological need that underlies that habit, then our willpower will wear thin and we’ll find ourselves quickly sliding back into old habits. 

Thanks to food technology, which has created plant-based products that are eerily similar to animal meat, dairy, and eggs, dealing with cravings may be as simple as swapping an animal-meat hot dog with a plant-meat one, or using soy cream rather than cow milk cream in our spaghetti carbonara.

Beyond the food itself, is the experience around it that elicits comfort. Perhaps when we enjoy the biscuits our grandmother used to make, we’re reminded of the warm, cozy feeling in her kitchen, watching her mix dough, and then sitting down at her table with a plate of freshly baked biscuits and hot cups of tea. The experience of sharing biscuits, and the memory, hold just as much value as the ingredients.

If we choose not to replace the animal product with a plant-based alternative, opting instead for a non-food activity, then it’s important we find alternative ways of fulfilling the underlying need behind that craving. If we are craving coziness, for example, then we might think about ways of changing our routine or environment to feel more cozy. If we’re looking to fulfil our need for togetherness, then strengthening our social hinds or finding a new social circle of like-minded people may help meet this need.

Dr. Ash Nayate

Dr Ash Nayate is a vegan neuropsychologist, activist, writer, speaker, and mum. She made the shift from meat-eater to vegan overnight after watching the documentary Earthlings in 2008. Ash helps vegans, activists, and young people to improve their mental health and wellbeing. For over a decade she has been working in private practice as well as in major hospitals across Melbourne. Ash initially became vegan for ethical reasons, and quickly became immersed in the mental health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, and she is a strong advocate for brain health. In 2018 she released her first book on mental health for activists and change agents , titled "Staying Positive in a F*cked Up World".

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