Pass the Tofurky

Most Americans have turkey on their brains come November, but consuming mass-produced turkey often comes with unfavorable side effects. Founder of Tofurky Seth Tibbott spoke of the benefits of veganism in a meat-centric society.

Consider some of the following points: Regular consumption of meat causes constipation; Continual dosing of livestock with antibiotics—which accounts for 80 percent of antibiotic use, according to Science magazine—to ensure a predictable return on investment has unleashed generations of virulent and antibiotic-resistant microbes. Even seemingly innocuous bovine emissions—cow farts—account for a significant percentage of gasses that contribute to global warming.

There are, however, a variety of savory meat alternatives available. Companies such as Tofurky and Field Roast make soy and textured vegetable protein-based foods that resemble meat in texture and taste, but are kinder to the environment and to animals.

Instead of turkey, how about Tofurky for a change?

Seth Tibbott started Tofurky in 1980 in Forest Grove. He began with a single refrigerator, living and operating out of a treehouse for a time; Tofurky named its “Treehouse Tempeh” in honor of this part of the company’s history.

40 years later, Tibbott moved the company into much bigger headquarters in Hood River, named his stepson Jaime Athos CEO and masterminded expansion of the company to global proportions, all while advocating for veganism and animal rights. Today, Tibbott works mainly in this capacity as advocate, educator and visionary by traveling to expos and trade shows around the world. Tibbott attended Portland’s VegFest on Oct. 20. Tibbott explained although he is more vocal about the immediate ethical and environmental concerns over meat consumption, there is a spiritual side to it as well. “The concept of sentience is a spiritual concept,” he said, “of not wanting to harm any sentient beings.”

In the 1970s, Tibbott learned about “pure vegetarianism”—the term vegan was not widely used then. Years later, while traveling around the world to promote Tofurky and veganism, he observed the influence of religious traditions on vegetarianism in Asia and Israel.

In Asia, he said most vegetarians are Buddhists abiding by injunctions against harming living beings. The vegetarians of Israel read the Torah, in particular the Book of Genesis, in a way that emphasizes stewardship of and care for animals rather than lordship or dominion. “Even when you look at the United States, there’s a spiritual root to vegetarianism with [regard to] Seventh Day Adventists and Bible Christians, who were also behind things like suffrage and abolition.”

However, these attitudes are not universally held. Tibotts mentioned China’s recently-acquired “meat consciousness.”

“Everybody is trying to be Western and get rid of their healthy grain-based lifestyles. Hong Kong, India and Indonesia, too,” he said, citing the mass export of goods like cigarettes and the purchase of pork-producer Smithfield by Chinese investors.

“I don’t think that plant-based foods are growing in all of those countries, either,” he added. “We can only grow meat because there is a sense of having infinite space and being able to afford the inefficiency.”

Tibbott predicts a near future with a meat tax, which he compared to current taxes on tobacco, alcohol and other goods deemed adverse to public health. As these so-called sin taxes fund alcohol education and anti-smoking ads, the predicted meat tax would “provide money to educate people on health and dieting because the impact of animal agriculture on climate change is indisputable,” Tibbott said.

Having stepped down from day-to-day management of the company, Tibbott now focuses his research and talks on the potential impact of a global vegan paradigm.

“Would it be enough to slow down or eliminate climate change?” Tibbott asked. “What would a vegan world look like? What does it look like in the future? I’m pretty obsessed with the future.”

Practice mindfulness in eating choices, especially during the coming meat-centric holiday season. When making food decisions, think of the far-reaching global effects. Remember the leveled rain forests and the enormous expenditure of resources bringing meat to market. Big changes, such as ones to the earth’s climate, are a gradual accumulation of many small actions by individuals—like you. Consider the turkey, the pig, the cow, and consider the alternatives. Consider the future; it’s coming right at us.

As Seth Tibbott said, “The future will be here tomorrow.”

Or is it happening right now? Either way, pass the Tofurky, please.