Tofurky Day?

HOOD RIVER, Ore., Nov. 21, 2006 — -- There may be no American holiday more closely associated with eating than Thanksgiving. So what to do if you love the holiday and the feast but absolutely refuse to eat the turkey?

Say hello to the Tofurky -- a Thanksgiving "turkey" made entirely of tofu. While the meat-eating portion of society may want to issue a collective yuck, hundreds of thousands of American vegetarians sit down to a Tofurky feast every year, and they couldn't be happier. Not only that, but their numbers are growing.

"We've never had a year where we haven't shown growth in the Tofurky roast," said Seth Tibbott, president of Turtle Island Foods. "As a vegetarian, you're just wanting some great-tasting protein that has some of the fun and magic of turkey associated with it, because turkey is pretty fun to eat."

So ABC News visited his Tofurky headquarters, in Hood River, Ore., to find out exactly what this dish is -- and more important -- why anyone would want to eat a simulated turkey.

Amid the conveyer belts, ovens and vats of tofu at this production plant, Thanksgiving begins with a plop of goo that will be transformed into thousands of turkeylike tofu loaves for a holiday feast that would leave the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock scratching their heads.

The bird itself (at least they call it a bird) is made of organic soybeans and comes out looking like an edible Nerf ball injected with stuffing in the middle.

They pump out 1,000 Tofurkys an hour to meet the growing appetite of American consumers looking for a meal that doesn't require a presidential pardon each Thanksgiving.

The day we visited, supply trucks were on the verge of shipping the one-millionth Tofurky, as they are now carried by most major grocery chains and natural foods stores coast to coast.

Fame, Fortune for Tofurky

The Tofurky made at Turtle Island has become a cult favorite, turning up as an answer on "Jeopardy!" and even getting a mention as part of a one-liner joke in the middle of an old "X-Files" episode.

The Tofurky itself tastes surprisingly like turkey, and even looks like poultry. But why make an artificial turkey? It turns out the real trick here isn't about imitating turkey so much as finding a place at the table for a group of people who've felt left out until now.

Heather, a vegetarian who works at the plant, made it clear when asked what she ate for Thanksgiving before the Tofurky.

"Nothing," she said. "It was a sad and lonely day for me. I just sat around and ate a salad … and vegetables. But Tofurky really changed my life, I have to say."

Tibbott said vegetarians have tried to fit in through the years, fumbling through odd recipes like stuffed pumpkin.

"One thing we learned early on when we started marketing Tofurky was that there was a segment of the population that was really left out like Heather … and when you went to someone's house as a vegetarian it was like 'here's your peas, your mashed potatoes and salad. Just shut up and be happy,'" Tibbott said.

He calls Tofurky the height of the evolutionary chain for a vegetarian Thanksgiving. It even comes with a simulated wishbone made with what they call smoked tofu-jerky. Leftovers come in the form of Tofurky deli slices, sold separately.

Vegetarians, of course, cannot live by Tofurky alone. Tibbott said his research and development people are busy working on new products all the time. He won't hint at what might be coming next, but one has to wonder. Could "Tofuna" be far behind?