Companies in the region produce fresh, responsibly made
The average American consumes nearly 200 pounds of meat in a year. While we can’t say for certain that vegetarians put away an equal amount of tofu and seitan, the meat-eschewing set is still eating an impressive amount of animal-free proteins on an annual basis: in 2011, sales of tofu reached $255 million and sales of meat alternatives totaled $622 million, reports the Soyfoods Association of North America.
We frequently tout the importance of locally and responsibly raised meats, but what about mock meat? Are vegetarians and vegans doomed to buying blocks of tofu shipped across the continent? As it turns out, there are a number of companies in the region producing fresh, cruelty-free and responsibly made meat substitutes.
Fresh Tofu, Inc., based in Allentown, Pa., has been making organic, GMO-free tofu since 1984. Back then, owner Gary Abramowitz says, “Tofu was a joke—it was like yogurt was in the 70s—it was for serious health food fanatics. But over the years it’s become more and more mainstream.”
The cultural acceptance of tofu has been good for business; at their start, Fresh Tofu was producing approximately 750 pounds of tofu per week, and now they make 6,000 pounds per day (that’s the combined weight of seven Jersey cows!). Fresh Tofu only ships within a 100-mile radius of their factory, to co-ops, natural food stores and restaurants, such as Vedge and Govinda’s, in Philadelphia. Because they’ve kept their distribution local, Abramowitz says that every block of their tofu for sale is no more than a few days old. In addition to plain tofu, Fresh Tofu produces packaged foods such as tofu egg salad, baked tofu, meatless meatballs and Tofu Turkey.
Seitan, a fake meat made from vital wheat gluten, is a favorite among vegetarians for its meat-esque toothsomeness. Michael’s Savory Seitan, founded by Michael Cassidy in 2009, is a one-man operation out of Levittown, PA. Cassidy says that it’s the high-quality flour, organic and non-GMO ingredients, spice blends and small batch quality control that sets his products apart from other seitans. Rachel Klein, chef owner of Miss Rachel’s Pantry, a vegan catering company and restaurant in South Philadelphia, uses Michael’s Savory Seitan in many of her dishes. She says that while she prefers to make most things from scratch, making seitan is a laborious, time-consuming process.
“I think it is better left to the experts,” she says. “Michael has the texture down pat and that’s something that is hard to achieve.” Containers of Michael’s Savory Seitan are sold in Philadelphia-area Whole Foods,Greensgrow Farms and sourced by a number of restaurants, including Sketch Burger and Interstate Draft House.
Neat, a natural meat alternative, was created two years ago by Phil and Laura Lapp, who were looking for a healthy, animal-free protein to satisfy their two vegetarian daughters. Turned off by the chemicals and additives in many commercial mock meats, the Lapps set out to develop their own and came up with a recipe made from pecans, chickpeas, oats, cornmeal and spices. Now marketed and sold as a shelf-stable dry mix (the Wynnewood, Pa., Whole Foods carries it, as does Arrowroot Natural Foods in Bryn Mawr), Neat is packaged by Vision Corps, a food facility in Lancaster, Pa., that provides employment opportunities and services for the blind and vision-impaired.
Declan Murphy, Neat’s Director of Marketing and Social Media, says they’ve been finding that more and more people are searching for healthier options, especially in the meat market. This all adds up to an expanding market for Neat: their products are carried in 500 independent grocery stores throughout the country, and distribution has been steadily on the rise. “We’re thrilled every time we enter new markets and retailers,” Murphy says. “It never gets old to us.”