As this Thanksgiving holiday rapidly approaches, hanging over the festivities is the “turkeygate” scandal. Recent U.S. Vice President contender and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin was conducting the annual turkey pardon where she gave an interview to a local TV station, whilst in the background hapless turkeys were being slaughtered – all caught on film. The juxtaposition of her discussing how fun it was coming to the farm, nonchalantly holding her coffee while animals were being put to death behind her, regardless of personal politics, has spurned an often uncomfortable conversation about the origin of food, and the fact that millions of turkeys are killed annually for one of the biggest holidays centered around eating in the United States. Seth hopes that if this story turns off even a few from eating turkey or ham this holiday, he has been successful.
57 year-old Seth Tibbott, CEO and Founder of Turtle Island Foods in Hood River, Oregon, plans to spend Thanksgiving 2008 with friends in Wasilla, AK. But the trip down “Tryptophan Lane” will not accompany this day filled with the usual traditions of festive consumptions (typically suited for a Viking victory feast) as they will be enjoying a vegetarian cuisine.
Seth’s veggie ventures began in 1972 when he began his lifelong journey as a vegetarian and naturalist, although his early days in the vegetarian lifestyle did exemplify life with an absence of meat consumption, his introduction to vegetarianism was more of what he termed: “The Vanilla Wafer Vegetarian Diet,” and was perhaps not the healthiest.
With an Elementary Education Degree, Seth began his eight year career teaching Natural History. As a Naturalist, things went very well until the Reagan Administration era caused his career to wilt. Determined to succeed despite no formal business training, knowledge, or experience, Seth believed that the Republican ideology, now a driving force in Government, included moving ahead with business ventures. This was his cue to put his Datsun in high gear.
Inspired by Frances Moore Lappe’s ‘Diet for a Small Planet’, Seth was convinced that his own contribution towards saving the planet would include producing natural foods; thus 1980 launched the awakening of the dream of Turtle Island Foods, which is then, as now, a family owned, independent company. The now seemingly meager investment of his $2,500 life savings saved from his stint as a teacher began what was to become a great American success story.
Seth had been making Tempeh for past few years for friends out of a Christmas tree light heated refrigerator, and delivering the 100 pound batches that he had been producing in this refrigerator/incubator out of the back of his Datsun station wagon. Believing there to be a future in the United States for this product, Seth completely quit his day job as a teacher and rented 160 acres for an outdoor school and facility 75 miles east of Portland in Husum, WA. Thus was born the original home of the business. However, this soon stressed the population-of-50 town of Husum and their water supply, motivating the 1992 move to the current location in Hood, OR, just across the Columbia River.
Seth is pictured here, circa 1980, with his first
Tempeh incubator in Forest Grove, Oregon.
The fifteen years from 1980 to 1995 were more or less years of trial and error. Seth and his family/ partners experimented with a number of products in addition to the Tempeh in its original 3 flavors: Soy, Five Grain and Tempehroni (a spiced log which is no longer made). There was a gluten free roast that was uncuttable, and a variety of other products that were eventually discarded. It was in 1995 when they launched a new product to the natural foods industry which studied its introduction with a jaundiced eye: the Tofurky Vegetarian Feast. It rapidly took the industry by storm and now is being sold in supermarkets as far as Florida.
Today, Turtle Island produces several Tofurky products especially for Thanksgiving revelers who prefer celebrating family and togetherness but without the sacrifice of animals. The company offers food alternatives including an entire holiday feast that will sit proudly alongside a typical meal as easily as the vegetarian sits alongside the carnivores at the traditional holiday table. Seth and his company provide a meal that you do not have to go hunt down, whether it be in the woods or the grocery store. A bonus is that one does not have to go through all of the prepping processes to get a bird ready for the oven, or even stuffing the carcass of the turkey. The Tofurky is a meal ready for your healthy pleasure.
Seth and his family’s company, Turtle Island, have come a long way in 28 years, from the 160 acre facility with Tempeh incubated in a refrigerator in 100 pound batches and hand delivered from the back of a car to the now 8,000 acre facility that they are in today, as the second largest Tempeh producer in the country, and the highly successful line of Tofurky.
From the days struggling and wondering if the monumental investment, that now seems miniscule in comparison, was worth the pursuit of the dream to having to put The Washington Post on hold to take a call from The L.A. Times.
Seth has taken his college days of ‘Vanilla Wafer Vegetarianism’ and expanded it into an enterprise of health-food consciousness delighting the fellowship and union of vegetarians and non-vegetarians at Thanksgiving dinner table, as well as meals for every day [sales of Tofurky products at the Holidays only encompass a small percentage of total sales].
Seth runs the company with Bob Tibbott, along with Seth’s wife Sue Tibbott and her son Jamie Athos. Until her death in 2002, Seth and Bob’s mother, Ruth Elizabeth Tibbott, was involved in the company as well. They have developed a company and atmosphere exemplifying the successful pursuit of the American Dream - from a tiny financial starting point to a line of products that are sold from coast to coast in grocery stores nationwide, providing healthy food products that are alternatives or mainstay staples for the vegetarian and vegan menus and lifestyles.
Turtle Island Foods, Board of Directors
Matronly wisdom continues to provide the basis for an atmosphere to both live and run a business by, even though Seth’s mother Ruth is no longer here to offer up advice or words by which to live. Ruth guided him into a place where food and fun mix, even though she always admonished him to not play with his food! It is a good thing for those of us who prefer to benefit from the fun they are having and the healthy benefits of Tofurky and other Turtle Island products in our diets and on our breakfast, lunch and dinner tables as we have the option of avoiding the tryptophan narcolepsy and instead want a healthy alternative to be able to enjoy our families and remember what it is really all about: Thanksgiving, not Turkey Day.
Learn more about the Turtle Island Food Company here: http://www.tofurky.com/aboutus/background.htm
You can buy TOFURKY at your local grocery store!
Try your local Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's!
Or find your store here:
Thank you Seth, for sharing your Story with us.
Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2008 by Jason Bradford and Story of My Life®
Tofurky Truck in the Rocky Mountains
Tubas of "Turkey"