Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Eating tofu can
go to your head

I knew I should have trusted my gut instinct. The first time I saw tofu, that gelatinous blob of jiggling soy stuff, I sensed that it was not good for you.

I based that observation on solid scientific evidence, at least the kind of solid scientific evidence employed by most 15-year-olds: Food that is good for you tastes good and food that is bad for you tastes bad. Therefore, potato chips, tacos, Coke, cheeseburgers, Milk Duds and pizza were obviously very good for your body while liver, mayonnaise, squash, beets, fried okra, marinated artichoke hearts, cod liver oil, canned peas and beer were bad for your body. (I've since come to my senses about beer.)

Tofu was a little harder to apply the scientific good-taste test to because it had no taste at all. That was one of the insidious things about tofu: It seemed to have mass, to occupy space, to be made up of physical matter and, yet, it was the only element on Earth that had no flavor of any kind. Dirt had flavor. Tree bark had flavor. Even plastic paper clips had flavor. But tofu had no flavor. It was like eating emulsified air.

So, because it had no taste, no definite physical structure (it could appear as a cube one day and in the shape of a turkey the next) and no real reason for being, I instinctively classified it as an evil food that could not possibly be good for you.

This, of course, went against all of the pro-tofu propaganda that had begun to spread across the mainland United States, mostly by hippies (See: "A Groovy History of Tofu," by Io Rainbow Spring).

How hippies glommed onto tofu, the book didn't say. I suspect it was because preparing tofu could be done even under the influence of some fairly heavy drugs, seeing as how any type of presentation at all, from throwing it against a wall to forming it into a bust of Hubert Humphrey would be considered "preparation." (Unlike canned Spam, there also were no sharp metal edges to worry about. Had Spam come in a harmless plastic tray of water like tofu, most hippies would not have become vegetarians.)

By the time I got to college, tofu had developed a reputation as a really cool food. Luckily, it could generally be avoided if one kept to hamburger stands and pool taverns. Unluckily, I became enamored of a young lady with tight jeans and a fairly lax co-habitation policy. She was a tofu-eater and our relationship was going to go nowhere unless I passed myself off as rabid tofu fan. So in order to keep her in my life for the next several hours -- a lengthy relationship by standards of the day -- I ate the stuff. What can I say? Men are pigs.

As I grew older, I caved in and became a tofu consumer. Never a bad word had been written about it. It seemed culinarily innocuous. And if you poured enough shoyu on it, it at least tasted like shoyu.

Now, a Hawaii research institute has found that tofu might cause premature brain aging. More than two servings a week could lead to Alzheimer's disease.

This is stunning news, especially to aging hippies who may be about to go on the longest trip of their lives. "Groovy, man, check out the ... who are you again?"

I have no one to blame but myself (and that Oregon chick in the tight jeans). I KNEW that tofu couldn't be good for you. I assumed it was, at least, inert; incapable of doing harm.

I blew it on tofu. I might be hiding my own Easter eggs by age 60. But I'm sticking to my guns on mayo, liver and squash. I suggest you do the same, whoever you are.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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