When I told award-winning author Michael Ruhlman that I was writing a book about tofu, he asked why? “I hate tofu,” he said. That was back in 2010. If you read Michael’s blog, you know that I recently changed his mind. Michael is by far not the average bear but he decided to give tofu a try. He made it, cooked it, and liked it.
Maybe because I’ve been on the tofu trail for the past few years but it seems like more Americans are opening up to the possibilities of having tofu in their diets. I base that not just on food trend stats but cross-reference the numbers with a powerful source: comic strips.
I regularly read them, for social commentary and giggles. The daily comics section is one of the reasons why we hold on to our local so-so newspaper subscription and are ambivalent about getting the New York Times. Well, actually, the comics and horoscopes are primarily why we keep subscribing.
Back to the comics. Most of the tofu-related comic strips that I’ve seen have sarcastic, negative takes on tofu, like the one at the top of this post. Hardy har har. We’ve heard that one before, annoying tofu-loving vegetarians at restaurants. So yesterday, so 2008.
This past month, something changed. Three (3!) syndicated comic strips have had something involving tofu. I kid you not. In fact, two tofu-related comic strips appeared on the same Sunday.
The first one blew my mind away because the artist, Dan Piraro selected four iconic ethnic foods and included tofu, with a nod to Hunan. While Piraro is a vegan, it’s not like he’s making a statement about going meatless. There was a hot dog in this Bizarro cartoon:
It was as if Piraro and fellow cartoonist Wiley Miller were having a tofu duel that Sunday. Wiley took a culinary jab at tofu in this Non Sequitir strip:
His message was something like, “Beware, tofu can be made to look delicious and inviting but at the end of the line, it’s still tofu, a plot by wicked vegans.” Tofu, you’ve come a long way, baby. You can be as tantalizing as candy to kids!
I clipped those two cartoons and looked up where else tofu had been comically portrayed. Since it’s an election year, tofu was attached to the Obama White House:
“Let them eat tofu” is satirically pitched as being similar to Marie Antoinette’s supposed “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche." The message is that First Lady Michelle Obama is oblivious to American reality and is forcing her food whim on the public. (And yes, Marie may have said let them eat buttery leavened bread, not cake.)
I googled “Let them eat tofu” and found out that it’s a phrase used to frame liberals as being out of touch and wanting to create policy based on their points of view. I’m sure there are conservatives who eat tofu (Vietnamese-Americans, due to the war experience, tend to vote Republican) and policy is often made based on personal beliefs. Tofu and brioche as equals? I think not. They are different animals and are special in their own right.
Who would have thunk that tofu would be used for political satire? I realized that I had a tough row to hoe in writing a book about tofu’s delicious potential, but I didn’t think that political acrimony would stand in my way.
Yesterday’s newspaper showered a little love on tofu via this Rhymes with Orange comic strip by Hillary Price:
Her message was that if you’re cutting back on meat eating, work tofu into your diet. You don’t have to quit meat to eat tofu. Just try some. Go rogue and step off the ‘meaten’ path for a spell.
Which brings me back to Ruhlman. What he wrote about in his Asian Tofu post was the idea of eating tofu with a little meat, how making a traditional Asian dish that combined tofu with meat was a great way to get satisfying flavor with less animal protein.
For so long in the West, tofu has been misunderstood as a hippie, vegetarian, vegan, bland, yucky, mystery food loaded with notions of deprivation. It was relegated to the margins, pegged as the butt of jokes, used as a tool of satire.
But with a desire for more healthy and sustainable eating, perhaps tofu can also be an agent of change? Unless you’re allergic to soy, there’s probably a little room for tofu in your diet. It’s mostly a matter of figuring out what you like to do with it.
- Is tofu healthy or harmful?
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