All right, tofu production it is. But first, a reflection on cooking dinner.

Dinners at Twin Oaks are a big deal. People have been working all day and when they get to the steamtable at 6:00, they want GOOD food. I rarely do a dinner shift, but this week i got scheduled for one. I realized this morning how nervous about it I was. People are really picky about their food being good, and I want everyone to like me. If the food I cook sucks, people won’t like me. So it’s a big neurotic deal to me to be given a dinner shift.

But I was scheduled to cook with two amazing women, Mele and Julia. Mele is a fantastic cook and very “chill” in the kitchen, so working with her helped me relax about my neurosis. I’ve worked with other cooks here who spend the entire five hours on a nervous edge, rushing and worrying and fretting and planning elaborate meals that could never be finished in 5 hours. I told Mele how much I noticed the difference, and she said “I don’t like to feel that way, so I don’t plan meals where I have to rush.” Smart woman.

side note about gender: having an all woman cooking team tonight was great, but that’s not really standard. Thinking about all the people who cook on a regular basis, it seems about half and half, maybe even slightly more men. Getting away from sexism and gender bias is an intentional part of our culture here, and we have no overtly gender-segregated jobs. We aren’t perfect, and some of the more physical jobs (tofu work, especially) are done mainly by men… but the main thing is that we’re trying to make all work at least AVAILABLE and ACCESSIBLE to everyone. And a key piece of this is that anyone can be trained on any job they’re interested in; it’s not based on whatever background or training I already have.

anyway, back to tofu. The job that I do is actually one of the most gender-segregated on the farm! I’m the only female doing this piece of production, and I have to say that that’s one of the reasons I don’t quit doing tofu — I don’t want to leave the kettle team with only men.

I’ll begin with the basics. Tofu starts out as soybeans. We get organic soybeans from another farm (we can’t grow them ourselves because we don’t have enough farmland) and soak them overnight. Then we grind them up into boiling water in a huge kettle (one of the most physically demanding parts of the job is lifting buckets of soybeans up over your head to pour them into the grinder, while standing on a precarious platform over a steaming kettle). The ground up beans in the water is affectionately called “slurry.” When it boils, we pump the slurry through a centrifuge that catches all the solid bits, and what comes out from the centrifuge is soymilk. HOT and steamy. The solid bean bits that are filtered out are called okara (oh-CAR-ah), and it can be used to make other food stuff, but we mainly use it to bulk up our compost (and some of it goes into our vegetarian sausage, which is delicious, and brilliantly called “soysage”).

We save some soymilk for drinking (add nutmeg, ginger and vanilla and it’s perfect), and then curd the rest with “nigari,” a seawater extract. This is my favorite part of the job: taking a barrell full of soymilk and using a long paddle to stir it into a tornado (where it’s spinning so fast there’s a hole in the middle of the barrell), and then pouring the nigari in from as high as possible (I reach my arm over my head and stand on my tiptoes) so it goes straight down into the center of the tornado. I get excited every time. It’s thrilling.

then the nigari does it’s work, separating the tofu into curds and whey. We scoop out the whey (still crazy HOT) into a big barrell, which we use to pour over the next beans that are going into the grinder, to soften them up even more. The curds go in trays where even more whey is pressed out of them, and they’re squished together into large blocks which are cut into one-pound squares and then vaccum packed and pasturized. And all of this is happening at once in our tiny tofu hut, from 6am until 10pm every production day. We usually do two production days a week, making thousands of pounds each day.

my OTHER favorite part of the job is using the power washer to clean out the filter on the centrifuge. I stand with my feet spread apart and hold the long-handled nozzle and spray out a crazy-pressurized stream of water. If I’m not careful, okara bits shoot back out at me, covering my face and arms with soy. I love it.

Twin Oaks Community Foods

after a wild holiday season full of projects and parties, I really noticed myself in a funk today. My diagnosis is that it’s because I’m suddenly not specifically focused on making something happen. My past month has involved doing the Co-Empowerment workshop and then the New Years Party (always wild), and then immediately facilitating a weekend gathering of festival organizers to talk about the revolutionary power of festivals (more on this later). I was totally focused on these projects and didn’t really pay attention to anything else. Now I’m back to my “daily routine” (though I don’t have much of a routine!), and I’m finding it hard to figure out what to do with myself. So even though I had a full day of work scheduled (two hours of childcare in the morning and then cooking dinner all afternoon), I still felt unfocused and scattered. I need another project… Willy Wonka and the Tofu Factory! We’re choosing the cast next week. No auditions in this egalitarian commune! We sit around a table and talk about what parts we want, and then come to a brilliant compromise that makes everyone happy. Last year we had 4 people who wanted the two leads, so we switched the actors after Act I, and the second set finished out the show.

next time: how going to festivals can make you a revolutionary…