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Water, Soybeans, Gluconolactone and Sunshine: One Afternoon at Carleton's Fourth Annual Tofu Festival

May 13, 2001

Four years ago, a group of Carleton students were so overcome with adoration for tofu that they set aside a late May Sunday to dance around and praise it. The festival has now grown to include an all-gender tofu princess contest, an art show where one can view photographs like "Toe-Fu" (which exhibits tofu sprinkled lightly across a foot), an eating contest and a bake-off, and is sponsored by a major tofu distributor. Writer Jill Golden '04 gives her take on this year's Tofu Fest.

This year, the Tofu Princess Pageant was running late. Scheduled to begin at 4:30, the contest is stalled for about 10 minutes until sophomore Molly Bruder steps out from behind a pine tree in a bikini-top and skirt made from flattened white Mari-Nu tofu boxes. After a moment of applause for her costume, Bruder launches into a speech on her duties as delegate from the "Republic of Tofu."

The pageant judges, including the 1999 Tofu Princess and biology professor Phil Camill, then direct their attention to the next contestant, junior Will Myers, who arrives on a bike wearing a tie-dyed outfit and a hat made from duct tape and tofu boxes. Myers launches into an interpretive dance that appears to combine elements of soft-shoe, Martha Graham, and Madonna's early '80s "Borderline" video. The piece ends with Myers' limbs slowly relaxing until he pauses, picks up a book that's on the stage before him, opens it, and walks off stage. The crowd, clad in sandals and white t-shirts with slogans like "Tofu: The Other White Meat," cheers and whistles with pleasure.

Myers is followed by a didgeridoo solo and the pageant finishes with the fourth entry, a poetry duo featuring junior Katie Devine who recites an ode to tofu: "White. Firm. Silky. I want to use youas a meat substitute."

The princess pageant is one of many events in the annual Tofu Festival, which is organized by Carleton students and sponsored by the Mori-Nu tofu company through its donation of two cases of tofu. In addition to the princess pageant, bean curd revelers participated in a tofu toss, an art show and baking and eating contests. The festival also featured a number of musical acts including a somewhat makeshift band called the Tofu Tumblers. While the pageant is the most staged event at the festival, there were several other crowd-pleasers.

"I like the tofu toss. It's like an egg toss where you throw to your partner and take steps back. The problem with tofu is that it breaks apart. As the tofu toss went on, it eventually developed into people throwing tofu at their friends," said sophomore C.J. Boswell who was selling tofu cookbooks behind a metal folding table.

Senior Laura Clise prefers the dinner that is held at the end of the festival, which is a potluck of all the baking contest items. "I have some friends that spend a lot of time cooking really innovative things with tofu," she said. Baking contest entries included soy smoothies and tofu peanut butter pie.

The tofu-eating contest is also quite popular; this year's winning time for a single block of tofu was 34 seconds. "It's impressive how few bites it takes to eat a block of tofu," commented a viewer. Myers, of the tofu interpretive dance, won both the tofu eating contest and, later, the crown of tofu princess.

While some attendees had a favorite event at the festival, first-year student Jessica Deutsch was pleased with the philosophy behind the festival itself. She enjoyed the festival's celebration of "the versatility of bean curd and the variety of uses that one can find in the bean and its curdand the fact that the Tofu Tumblers can make music in honor of it."

Written by Jill Golden '04