Friday, May 01, 2009

David Mintz: The Man Behind Tofutti

While looking around for tempeh recipes online earlier this morning, I ended up stumbling upon an article about David Mintz, the creator of Tofutti dairy-free products. Now the company's CEO and director (and supposedly earning somewhere around $800,000 a year), Mintz has definitely come far from his more simple beginnings as a delicatessen owner. Curiously enough, what drove Mintz to create the line was anything but a concern for animal sentience:

Recognizing a needy market. An observant Jew, Mintz was aware that many Jews would dearly love to eat ice cream (milchig) for dessert after a meal that includes meat (fleishig) — something forbidden by Jewish law. Good-tasting pseudo-ice cream without milk would do nicely. Besides, a great many people (30 to 60 million Americans, according to various estimates) are allergic to milk products. Their stomachs cannot break down the lactose in milk, so they get bellyaches and other abdominal problems. Indeed, many people, as they grow older, become somewhat lactose intolerant — including Mintz himself.
In fact, the article pretty much limits itself to focusing on the religious reasons surrounding Mintz's creation of Tofutti, as well as on how the products benefit those who are lactose-intolerant. There's not a single mention of vegetarianism or veganism. What's even more interesting is that Mintz himself admits in the article that fish is his favourite food and that one of his hobbies is raising Japanese koi.

I hopped over to the Tofutti website to read its origins story there
and pretty much found more of the same, as it was explained how Mintz initially sought to provide dairy-free substitutes for his New York delicatessen for his customers who kept kosher. Although veganism is mentioned in passing in the company website's FAQs, the focus on the website is kept on the religious reasons the products are dairy-free (as well as on the fact that they're cholesterol-free -- a health bonus). Furthermore, it's explained that many Tofutti products aren't, in fact, vegan. All of their frozen food entrées and all of their cookies contain eggs, plus one of their Better Than Cream Cheese varieties isn't even vegetarian, but contains smoked salmon.

It was interesting for me to read about this since, aside from their more straightforward dairy substitutes, Tofutti products aren't widely available in stores in my area. Plus, I don't generally seek them out since I avoid soy products that aren't organic, since most soy produced in North America is GMO unless labelled otherwise. It's funny that a company that provides foods widely-enjoyed by so many vegans and vegetarians came to do so more or less accidentally in a way that had nothing to do with animal ethics.

8 comments:

Edanator said...

Very interesting! Thanks for posting this.

Mylène of the Maritimes said...

It was my pleasure! I love it when I come across an article and end up digging up more than anticipated.

kelly g. said...

That's too bad. I'm lactose intolerant and grew up on Tofutti desserts as a kid in the '80s - so I'll always have a soft spot for them. But the ice creams and cookies are almost impossible to find in Whole Foods nowadays, anyway.

Shiananda said...

I love Tofutti a whole lot less knowing it was made to help people eat meat, rather than helping people to become Vegan. Sad :(

Mylène Ouellet said...

Shiananda, I know what you mean. :-/

veganwrites said...

Wasn't a fan to begin with so I'm glad I don't have to give this up!

veganwrites said...

I'm glad I wasn't much of a fan to begin with so I dont have to find an alternative.

Abolitionist What? said...

This doesn't actually surprise me. I grew up in a very Jewish neighbourhood, and so tofutti has always been associated in my mind with keeping kosher, not with veganism.

Like you, I don't really go out of my way for the stuff, though I will enjoy some on occasion, usually when I am out in my old haunts.