In my transition from vegetarian to vegan I also wanted to focus on myself as well. In doing that I began to become more aware of my nutrient intake. I found that necessary protein intake, though in a lot of vegetables, was difficult to achieve. I looked into other sources of protein and found that tofu is a good protein alternative. What is the history of tofu though and how did it come to be? Also, is it good for the environment and those consuming it? First I will begin with the history of tofu. In the history I will discuss both the pros and cons of tofu and the causes of them. I will also begin to discuss the differences in production of tofu while comparing western and eastern culture and the cultural assumptions along with these differences. The first lens discussed is in regards to the cons of the tofu and there causes being due to over consumption and meatless diet assumptions made by Americans. In lens two I discuss the shift from local to a global economy as well as how we can shift back to a local economy with innovation so that it is still a step forward rather thanks seen as a step backwards.
When looking at the article Tofu in the New World Encyclopedia, I actually found that tofu originated and China and the more I searched for it I found that to simplify it, tofu is kinda like the cheese of soy milk. Coagulating soy milk is how tofu is made. The curds produced are then pressed. In turn now I’m wondering what exactly is coagulating? Coagulating is the shift from a liquid to a solid and it can be done through salts, acids, and/or enzymes (New World Encyclopedia). There are also different forms of pressing which usually differs per region due to different preferences. There is a greater contrast when comparing western and eastern markets. There is asian firm tofu which drains and presses the tofu but doesn’t contain that much moisture. It is more like raw meat. The western firm/dried tofu is a little more firm and contains almost to no moisture and relates to a more cooked meat feeling (New World Encyclopedia). Is that because western culture is using it primarily as a meat substitute to wean off our meat dominant culture? Vegetarianism and veganism is still relatively new to western culture.
There are different kinds of tofu like fresh, processed, and preserved. Tofu is primarily made by soy but also can be “made by processing non-soy products” like almonds or black beans. It originated in China but moved to Japan in the late 18th century which was the beginning go its transition to other parts of East Asia who made it a primary ingredient in their traditional dishes (New World Encyclopedia). When I think of tofu I actually didn’t think of China but of Thailand. As a vegetarian, I always loved going to Thai food places because they gave the tofu alternative for almost all of their meals from fresh rolls, curries, to pad Thai.
Pros of tofu is that it is low in calories but contains an abundance of nutrients including iron which at the time was very important for women who approached child bearing age. It also contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Depending on how its made it also contains calcium and magnesium. It does also consist of isoflavones which can be both harmful and beneficial depending on the quantity. Soy alleviates menopause symptoms, reduces osteoporosis risks, lowers bad cholesterol, and prevents certain forms of cancers. The Why Soy is Bad for You article discusses how soy has a high estrogen prenatally. This actually is what assists in the pro of helping women develop during child bearing age and relieve menopause symptoms. Is this natural though? What is natural? If it is assisting women as an estrogen supplement in moderation is it so bad? What are the other causes though? In men though it is a little more obvious that estrogen will have more prevalent causes including: physical maturation delay, underdeveloped gonads, sperm count falling, etc.. Can these cons be avoided by moderation though?
There are three different theories of Tofu’s origination. One in which is that it began during the Han dynasty in northern China where well known figures invented it but this is an unpopular theory because though they may have had made it more known these popular figures aren’t believed to invented it. The other theory is that tofu was first accidentally created when ground soybean was mixed with an impure sea salt which already had calcium and magnesium in it. This thus made the soy curdle and thus make a gel-like tofu. The third theory mentioned was that in ancient china they intentionally replicated the milk process of curdling with soy milk. This curdling of milk hasn’t been practiced in Ancient China before this time though, and believed they replicated it from East Indians or Mongolians (New World Encyclopedia).
The technique of making tofu was already standardized in the second century B.C.E.. There are more variations of it today, like stated above, but the general method had already been achieved. The Nara period is when this technique was brought to Japan (New World Encyclopedia). As Buddhism required a vegetarian diet, it became very famous with those in that specific faith because of how it was a good alternative form of protein than meat.
From one lens, I can look at tofu as western culture making another consumer choice rather than facing the problem that is disguised with this tofu solution. Like mentioned before, western tofu texture is more resemblant to meat and in turn it reflects their choice to eating it. In the article, Why Soy is Bad for You and the Planet, the author discusses how in eastern countries that soy is still recognized as a super food but in moderation. The article does claim that if the fermentation process is longer, more toxins are destroyed. The article also states that “Soy has never been considered a substitute for animal protein in Asia” though they do recognize the protein nutrients it provides especially for vegetarians. There is a warped view of vegetarians in American culture that they are protein deficient, from my personal experience, though I could achieve it through many different vegetables. I was just tempted by tofu and all its nutrients. With this though, I stick to the serving amount and record it in my food planner app to confirm I’ve met my nutrients for the day. Many Americans today have found themselves thinking they need so much protein especially from assumptions made. They find themselves eating soy bars, tofu, soy milk, and veggie burgers all in one day. You can argue though, that any food/nutrient can be bad for you with too much. The article continues to discuss how we unknowingly already consume an abundance of soy through our vitamins, soups, breads, and other products which is hidden through misguided labels. Again though, I don’t see as soy as the problem but the industries producing it and these products which is a main source of many of our problems here in the United States so why are we allowing ourselves to blame something else? Why blame the genetically modified product rather than the person genetically modifying it? Why blame the negative effects, when it really needs to just be consumed less? Why consume so much of one plant? Why not encourage diversity? These all seem like solvable issues but will require a shift in consciousness to see them. One can not solve the problem without seeing it and I believe many are choosing to be oblivious.
From another lens, I wish to regard is tofu’s direct and indirect impact on the economy. As tofu is becoming more prevalent and popular in western culture it is become mass produced. Much of tofu’s economic dependence is on the soybean. With that, there is a greater demand for the soybean itself and mono cropping has been the main form of producing many of grains produced in the United States. The United States, as well as Brazil and Argentia, are the dominant soy producers in the global economy according to Soy Agrigulture. There article discusses how 270 million tonnes annually are produced. It is fed to both livestock and humans as well as used as a biomass fuel. In demand, it has grew in production by 123% from 1196 to 2004. As the soybean is in more demand, deforestation, and genetic modification has followed. In the United States much of our grasslands have converted towards soy production which has caused environmental degradation, industrial soy farms competing with local rural farms, and indigenous communities as well as exploitation of labor, soil erosion, and water pollution. Many of those are problems stemmed from mono-cropping. In the article Deep Seawater Business To Develop Local Economies, Manabu Akaike discusses the pros of deep seawater agriculture. Deep seawater’s pros include: low temperature, nutrient-rich, contamination free from bacteria, chemicals, and particles. Akaike discusses the potential of seawater farming and how this was recognized in 1999 when the Aqua Farm research facility was created. This facility was focused on developing existing local economies that are maintained through fishing and agriculture. They were able to produce many products including: sake, tofu, mineral water, salt making, cosmetics, medicine and more. Ultimately, I believe the possibilities are endless with the technology and innovation we have today. Specifically with tofu, Akaike states that the salt water contributes to the tofu’s sweetness. In a book by Edward P. Glenn and others, Irrigating Crops with Seawater, discusses how the soybean flourishes in soils that are more salty. Glenn’s main sense is that as freshwater becomes more scarce, “looking to the sea for the water to irrigate selected crops” (76) is more sustainable. Water and land is the greatest determinant factor on food production. Glenn’s approach is to domestically salt-tolerant plants for food, forage, and oilseed crops. Though I do this as a more sustainable approach I don’t necessarily think it is 100% foolproof because it is still implementing mono-cropping. Replacing one plant with another. Tofu, will have less of an impact though when it comes to water scarcity and land. Ultimately this is an indication of not necessarily the harmful effects of the soybean but of industry’s use of it. Industry can warp almost any product into a negative one as it is fueled by greed and corruption.
In conclusion, I do still see tofu as a good source of protein but believe I should be more aware of where I get it and the issues attached to it. Eating locally will not only help in terms of tofu but in all products. Not only be focused on my nutrient intake but also of the part I play in our global economy as the consumer and try to reduce my impact. I will continue to be aware of not only my soy consumption through tofu but other food products. Tofu isn’t necessarily bad for the environment nor those consuming it but the industries who are mass producing it and encouraging consumerism. Though I do believe we should approach agriculture with innovation, we still have a lot to learn from our past and fellow Earthlings as well by adopting a human culture rather than an American focused one. That way we are taking a step forward but not making the same mistakes as the past. We need to not just focus on ourselves but the community as a whole. An entire community working together both biotic and abiotic is true sustainability which I inspire to see growth towards in my lifetime.
Akaike, Manabu. “Deep Seawater Business To Develop Local Economies｜JFS Japan for
Sustainability.” JFS Japan for Sustainability,
Glenn, Edward Perry, et al. Irrigating Crops with Seawater y Edward P. Glenn, J. Jed Brown and
James W. O'Leary. 1998.
“Tofu.” Tofu - New World Encyclopedia, 10 Dec. 2015,
“Why Soy Is Bad for You and the Planet.” Small Footprint Family, 4 Dec. 2017,
“Yale University.” Soy Agriculture | Global Forest Atlas, 2017, globalforestatlas.yale.edu/land-