I'm thinking of something white, squishy, and versatile...
Where in the World Did this Weird Stuff Come From?
There you go. Tofu was developed in the process of looking for the potion that will allow the consumer to live forever. That just says loads of good stuff about tofu. I especially like that last sentence, as it connects to vegetarianism/veganism. If you're an omnivore and you're reading this, you're either curious, interested in exotic foods, or health conscious. Kudos to you!
Advantages Over Meat
Yes, smile. Smile as I do, in blissful ignorance of what I'm going to do to your circulatory system.
Let's start with the most commonly known dangers of eating meat: saturated fats and cholesterol. There's one thing you should understand about cholesterol before we move on. Cholesterol is very important. Cholesterol is the building block of cell walls. But, just like fat, there's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Moving on. There are two MAIN groups of fats, saturated (bad) and unsaturated (good). There's also subcategories of unsaturated fats, consisting of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and all that other stuff, but we won't be getting into that. Saturated fat increases the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDLs), also known as bad cholesterol. This cholesterol is bad because it sticks to the walls of your arteries, causing atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. Unsaturated fats increase the amount of high density lipoproteins (HDLs), also known as good cholesterol. HDLs actually remove LDLs from the cell walls and bring them to the liver where they are eliminated in the bile. Saturated fat is found almost exclusively in meat and dairy. Plant-based sources are tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Other than those, plants contain only unsaturated fats. *Note* Recently people have started debating on how "bad" saturated fats actually are for you. Feel free to look this up on your own time. For now, I'm just going with what I was taught in anatomy/physiology class last year.
"Meat and dairy products supply half of the total fat, all of the cholesterol and 75 percent of the saturated fatty acids of the standard American diet [...] Meat contributes about 35 percent of the saturated fat to the typical American diet. In particular, red meat contributes about 49 grams of fat per person per day and accounts for about 30 percent of total fat consumption. Excessive fat is associated with an increased risk of obesity, elevated blood cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease and of cancer." (Ronzio, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health. Second Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc. , 2003. Print. 422.)
Health professionals are more concerned about the overabundance of protein in the standard American diet than lack of protein, which is linked to calcium loss leading to osteoporosis.
Bet you didn't know you were eating these!
Europe, 1990's. People started getting symptoms similar to that of a devastating neurological disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The symptoms were relatively minor at first, but they progressed until the victims were completely incapacitated, confined to a wheelchair, mute, and reliant on others to feed them. Within two years they were dead. Autopsies revealed that their brain tissue had disintegrated, taking on the consistency of a sponge. This was eerily similar to the brains of cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). It is suspected that those who contracted vCDJ got it from the meat of BSE-infected cattle.
Although the amounts are low, traces of pesticides are not uncommonly found in beef and pork. Cow milk does not escape this contamination. These pesticides find their way into the flesh of animals when these animals graze on land sprayed with pesticides. From time to time meat is not properly trimmed, and thyroid glands are left in it, causing insomnia, diarrhea, and nervousness. Some drugs that are fed to animals to prevent disease are possibly linked to cancer. A chemical substance called gentian violet causes cancer, but it is still used in animal feed to prevent molding.
Have You Pressed Your Tofu Lately?
I have no problem making tofu taste good, and I'm not exactly a culinary master. If your tofu creations end up tasting bad, then... you suck at cooking, I guess.
One thing you can do to help your tofu absorb more flavor is to press it. If you're rich, you can buy a tofu presser. If you're like me and don't have one, it's as simple as putting it between two plates and putting a heavy book or whatever on top for 15-20 minutes. This squeezes out some of the excess moisture, allowing more flavor to seep in. You might even want to freeze your tofu afterwards. This further removes moisture. Just make sure you press it THEN freeze it to prevent the formation of ice. Now, you're ready to put it in some tupperware with marinade and let it soak up the flavor. Or you can just do whatever.
Note that pressing is only necessary for firm or extra firm tofu. Soft or silken tofu is generally used for liquid and semi-liquid things such as smoothies and pudding. The tofu is mostly present to thicken watery things. Makes pudding more gelatinous, makes smoothies less juicy, etc. Firm and extra firm tofu is the only tofu meant to add flavor.
There's Good News and Bad News: Dangers of Eating Too Much Soy
Actually, there's just bad news.
Soy beans naturally contain many toxins that are detrimental to human health. These can be eliminated, however, through a very long process of fermentation. Soy producers think that this takes too long, so instead their soy products undergo chemical processes to replace fermentation. Does this work? Not really! Many toxins are left in the soy. Some health effects associated with a high soy diet are thyroid problems, breast cancer, and hormonal imbalances (specifically estrogen). But don't fret! You don't have to give up soy completely. Just make sure to eat only whole soy foods like tofu and edamame, and avoid chemically processed ones, such as soy sausages. I love vanilla soy milk as much as the next person, but there are plenty of other milk substitutes. There's almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, hazelnut milk, and probably some others that I'm not aware of. Rice is my favorite as far as similarity to dairy milk goes.
*UPDATE* Amy's now has soy-free vegan macaroni and cheese! Hallelujah!