Jan Jolly :: The Tofurkey Type ::


My Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in the Landmark community in Arkansas (not big enough to be called a “town,” mind you) down the road from Singley Dairy. When we had to move to town, my mother tried to pack a bucket of fresh Guernsey cow manure so the air would smell more like home when she woke up in the morning. My father intervened, Praise the Lord. I now live in the metropolis of Little Rock where I raise an urban garden sans fresh manure. I call my parent’s sister’s “Aint,” (Aint Mimi, Aint Ophelia, Aint Peggy, Aint Jean, etc.) which, I am told, means I’m from so deep in the south, I need to come up for air.

The Tofurkey Type

Today at Whole Foods, I committed an act that went against every bit of my Arkansas culinary upbringing. Today, I bought a tofurky.

I furtively looked around as I perused the assorted brands and sizes. Had I been at Kroger or my local Food Giant, I would have feared being confronted by a cousin or two or an old friend from high school. “What in heaven’s name is THAT?” “Uh…well…I thought I might try one out, you know…for Jim.”  “Oh yeah, shug. I forgot. He’s one of those vegetarians, isn’t he? Well, bless your heart for taking such good care of him.” 

I imagined this conversation—heart racing, hands sweating— then I remembered where I was. Whole Foods. Certainly, none of my Saline County kin would be skulking around in Whole Foods. I was safe. I made sure the tofurky was safely hidden at the bottom of my recyclable grocery sack as I walked back to my car.

This is the first time I have purchased a tofurky. Both my husband and my daughter are vegetarians, and I want to please them both with meals they can enjoy and don’t have to pick at or skip the entrée. The tofurky will take center stage at our next feast. 

Now, as I understand it, a tofurky is made from soybeans—a respectable Arkansas crop grown on farms across the state—and is touted as tasting “just like turkey.” They say it is more nutritious than the animal version and lacks the chemicals and hormones used to inflate the actual turkey breasts to gargantuan sizes that American consumers demand. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I read it on a website so it must be true. And—I self-righteously told myself—I was supporting hundreds of poverty-stricken Arkansas farmers.

People of the vegetarian or vegan persuasion are the only ones who normally purchase a tofurky. People who shun leather shoes and cheeseburgers. Not mainstream Arkansas rednecks whose grocery lists are more likely to include a side of beef, a twelve-pack of Bud, a five-pound block of Velveeta, and a case of Rotel. Not kale. Not quinoa. Certainly not tofurky.

Tofurky types are more socially conscious than us common omnivores. They take reusable bags to the grocery store and remember to take them in from the backseat of the car, unlike me. My reusable bag has been in my backseat for so long it is stuck to the vinyl seat. I leave it there out of fear that, if I try to move it, I will have to repair the remaining large gash in my seat with duct tape. I’ve never remembered to take it inside the store. Not once.

Tofurky types recycle. Some call their eating habits “plant based,” but even my vegan friends find those people are a bit too cultish. 

I don’t mean to be cruel to the tofurky types. Not at all. They display a multitude of fine Southern values. A person who regularly purchases tofurky is one you can trust to water your plants when you are away on vacation. They walk to the liquor store. They wear Birkenstock sandals with socks. They pretend to like kale (although we all know they are lying about that one). They have many plaid shirts in their closets.

Tofurky types ride bicycles to the local farmer’s market and drive hybrid cars. They never waste resources watering their grass but—and I have witnessed this with my own eyes—will spend hours digging up a hard-packed clay lawn to plant tomatoes or squash that never seem to grow like the pictures in their organic gardening books. They try to grow broccoli. In Arkansas. Bless their hearts.

Tofurky types make good neighbors. They will don latex gloves and an N95 face mask to pick up the Chick-fil-A sacks tossed from the homophobic windows of passing cars. They have the litter hotline on speed dial.

Tofurky types go camping and hiking. They attend fundraisers for the humane society and adopt blocks of busy streets to keep litter free. They own rescue dogs. Many rescue dogs. Many. And rescue cats. Many rescue cats. Many. Many.

Tofurky types never go to bar-b-ques or chili cookoffs. You are more likely to run into them at a Save the Turkey Buzzard rally or a Pink Tomato Festival. 

And, not to get political, but they always always vote for the Green Party candidate, even ones who are octogenarians with questionable personal hygiene habits, signs of dementia, and criminal records.

When I got home from Whole Foods, I quickly consulted Professor Google to find out how to cook the tofurky. Does it even need to be cooked? Apparently, it does. Olive oil (check). Soy sauce (nope). Maple syrup (surely my Aunt Jemima’s will work). Remove the plastic cover (even a redneck from Saline County could figure that one out without being told). Roast in oven at 350 degrees for one hour and twenty minutes (just enough time to squeeze in two episodes of True Blood). I was confident. And, if all else failed, I had plenty of Rotel and Velveeta. 

I have to admit, the tofurky was delicious. Maybe my perceived need for animal protein is not so well founded. I was a skeptic. I didn’t think I fit in with the tofurky crowd. Even my vegetarian husband usually draws the line at faux meat of any kind. “If I wanted something to taste like turkey, I’d just eat some damn turkey!” 

I think my newly found taste for tofurky opens up a whole new world of culinary interest and widens my circle of friends. Maybe it will help me be less of a snob and more tolerant of others. Even those on “plant-based” diets (but I’ll still just say NO when they offer me a cup of suspicious Kool-Aid). Maybe I can embrace my inner tofurky type. 

Our meal included grits, a kale salad, fried okra, and sweet potatoes covered with an entire bag of Sta-Puft marshmallows. I did enjoy every bite of that tofurky, swimming in its warm bath of Arkansas cheese dip.

I’m sure the Budweiser helped.

But the kale still sucked.