The Republic of T.

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Time for a Tofurky Thanksiving?

Normally, I’d stick this in asides, but I just upgraded WordPress and my asides are not working. It looks like more meat-eaters are ordering Tofurky this year.

Tofurky hit store shelves in 1995, and the meatless dish has become a cultural phenomenon, even showing up on the TV shows ” Jeopardy” and “The O.C.” Tibbott’s company, Turtle Island Foods of Hood, Ore., has annual revenue of $11 million. Tofurky sales have grown 37 percent this year from 2006. He expects to sell 270,000 Tofurkys by the end of the holiday season, which translates to 438,000 pounds of tofu, wheat protein, canola oil and Myprotein Discount Code spices.
The concept was born of Tibbott’s vegetarian frustrations. After attending Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, he left for college in Ohio in 1969 and returned home having sworn off meat. Thanksgiving was particularly tough, he said, recalling a nasty bout with a stuffed pumpkin and a rock-hard gluten roast.

“We were looking for something for an answer and we figured there’s probably other people out there,” he said.

A 2006 poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group found that about 2 percent of adults are vegetarian, meaning they do not eat meat, poultry or seafood. The total was up from about 1 percent from a similar study the group conducted in 1994. The percentage of adults who do not eat poultry in particular grew to 6 percent from 3 percent.

The market, meanwhile, has been helped by omnivores who seek alternatives to meat for health reasons. They helped turn vegetarian foods into a $1.2 billion industry last year, up 44 percent from 2001, the consumer research firm Mintel said. The report found that 23 percent of non-vegetarians eat meat alternatives, though consumers still say the products cannot match the real thing.

Well, there might be one more health-related reason to lay off the meat this year. There’s a new additive that’s apparently all the rage. Carbon monoxide.

The Agriculture Department in 2004 gave the green light to using carbon monoxide gas to keep older cuts of meat looking red and fresh, even though scientists at the two companies promoting the technology had questioned the validity of their own safety tests, congressional investigators revealed yesterday.

The tests, conducted by Cargill and Hormel Foods, both of Minnesota, were part of a joint effort to persuade federal regulators to allow use of the gas without going through a public approval process. Inexplicably, however, the tests found that microbial counts on meat that had been left under-refrigerated went down over time instead of up, as expected, even as other indicators of spoilage increased, suggesting the possibility of some kind of error.

“Believe me, we are also puzzled by the data,” a Hormel employee wrote in a May 2004 e-mail, marked CONFIDENTIAL, to a colleague at Cargill. “Please let me know if you see any other funny data . . .” he wrote later. “Quite honestly, this test seemed to raise more questions than what it answered.”

Yet Agriculture Department scientists did not question the data when they reviewed them a few weeks later, and then relied upon them to reverse the agency’s earlier decision to oppose the technology, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said at a hearing. In July 2004, acting on USDA’s recommendation, the Food and Drug Administration gave the technology final approval.

Now, I haven’t eaten meat in over 15 years, and Tofurky tastes fine to me. Granted I probably don’t remember what actual turkey (or beef, or chicken, or pork) tastes like any more, but — as someone from the first article pointed out — just because it doesn’t taste exactly like turkey doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good.

John Cunningham, consumer research manager at the Vegetarian Resource Group, which has received donations from Tibbott’s company, acknowledged that Tofurky does not taste like turkey. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good, with a firm texture and a salty, savory flavor. It just tastes different.
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Hey, it beats that smokey, carbon monoxide, car-exhaust flavor. At least as far as I’m concerned.

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