Tofu Curtain

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A map of the U.S. state of Massachusetts highlighting two of its counties in the Pioneer Valley; Hampshire County appears in green, Hampden County in red, with the Tofu Curtain tracing the line between them.

The Tofu Curtain is a cultural or socioeconomic divide between two geographic regions and the people who reside in them, using tofu as a symbol of lifestyle and political leanings. The term was coined to identify trends on either side of a county line in the Pioneer Valley along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, and has also been widely used similarly with regards to gentrifying neighborhoods in Melbourne, Australia.[1] While the Tofu Curtain most often refers to these regions of Victoria and Western Massachusetts, other tofu curtains have been named along similar socioeconomic, educational, and/or ethno-racial divides in various locations around the globe[2]

The term derives from the political and ideological Iron Curtain that separated communist Eastern Bloc countries from Western Europe during the Cold War. "Tofu" implies a high proportion of vegetarians reside on one side of the divide, and associates left wing politics with vegetarianism.[3]


Western Massachusetts[edit]

View of the Holyoke Range from Bare Mountain

The line of the Tofu Curtain runs roughly east-west along the Holyoke Range.[4][5] To the north is wealthier Hampshire County, home to the Five College Consortium of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts.[6] To the south is Hampden County, comprising the mostly working class cities of Holyoke and Springfield, and their surrounding towns.[7] While this southern part of the Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley is the second largest metropolitan region in the state, areas of it are economically depressed, with a deficit of available jobs and average household incomes ranging from $14,000 to $24,000 annually.[8] Meanwhile, the more rural and collegiate areas to the north are home to a preponderance of worker cooperatives and small businesses that often manufacture and sell natural products (such as tofu) to a more affluent population.[9][10]

2015-2016 SAT scores by town with the clear contrast between the north and west of the Metacomet Ridge and the Greater Springfield area

While the Tofu Curtain's distinction is based on U.S. Census data and the repute of the two counties on either side of the Holyoke Range, their demographics are not absolute. Hampshire County being framed as "more collegiate" than Hampden either ignores the presence of the nine additional colleges and universities in the Springfield metropolitan area's Knowledge Corridor[11] or regards these educational institutions as inferior to those of the Five College Consortium.[12] In addition to being populated by affluent residents and college students, economic disparities exist within Northampton, resulting in neighborhood rifts on that side of the Tofu Curtain. Despite the presence of a wealthy college and huge university, 2016 data showed that 50% of Amherst children received free or reduced lunches at public school on the criterion of living in low-income households.[13] Likewise, Hampden county's large working class and Puerto Rican populations have been active in community organizing and progressive politics, activities often associated with the culture of the college towns to the north.[14] The assertion that there is a Tofu Curtain has also been a rallying point for people living and working on both sides of the county line to create equitable systems of food sovereignty, workplace democracy, and environmental justice as means to destratify the region economically while uniting it politically.[9][15][16]

Elsewhere in the United States[edit]

People use the term "tofu curtain" to describe a similar sociopolitical phenomenon outside of Western Massachusetts. Those residing in other politically or ecologically progressive regions of New England, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, or the entire state of Vermont, are sometimes posited as living "behind the Tofu Curtain." Likewise, the term is used pejoratively by those wanting to deplore what they see as a liberal agenda, and posts referring to California as being "behind the tofu curtain" proliferate online forums that support expanding freedoms for civilian gun use.[17][18][19][20][21]

Tofu curtain can also be used to describe an ideological situation, not specific to the geographies of neighborhood or county lines. In a 2003 essay, Paul Gilroy described a political speak-out on a university campus and used the term "tofu curtain" as a metaphor for petty factionalizations among different strains of student activism:

As peace rallies proliferate, the campus left will have to tear down the tofu curtain and dig itself out from underneath the wreckage of identity politics so narcissistic and short-sighted that it reproduces the political solipsism and imperialistic indifference that are usually associated with power and privilege.[22]

Similarly the Inter-Cooperative Council at the University of Michigan has named a dietary split between vegetarians and meat-eaters within its membership "The Tofu Curtain." At one point an agreement among the co-ops made the split geographical, marked by a particular corner in Ann Arbor with all co-op houses on one side having "veggie" and on the other side "carnie" kitchens. The Ann Arbor co-ops were using the term as early as 1984.[3]


In Australia's 2016 federal election, voters south of Bell Street in Melbourne's northern suburb of Brunswick voted overwhelmingly for the Green Party and those to the north went for the Labor Party. While the neighborhoods that voted Labor still lean left politically, they tend to be more working class, and the gentrified neighborhoods of Brunswick and North Melbourne went Green. The split helped nickname Bell Street the Tofu Curtain, and other nicknames proliferated, including "The Corduroy Line," "The Latte Line," "The Great Wall of Quinoa," and "The Hipster-Proof Fence", evoking Australia's famed "rabbit-proof fence" of the early 20th century.[23][24][25][26][27] In 2018 the term was used pejoratively by Australia's fossil fuel industry to divide Green Party and Labor activists from organizing together against expansion of coal mining and gas drilling.[28][29]


Because tofu originated in China, Japan, Korea, and other regions of East Asia, the term "tofu curtain" has also described differences between eastern and western culture.[30] A 2007 study conducted by the United Nations's Food and Agriculture Organization showed that in one year China consumed nearly 100 times the amount of soybeans per person over the United States, while the Japan-to-U.S. per capita rate of consumption was more than 200-to-1.[31] and that same year the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database revealed that Korea's soy consumption rate fell about midway between Japan's and China's.[31] 2013 data showed these proportions to be about the same, with Taiwan consuming the highest amount of soyfoods per capita at a rate 15% higher than that of Japan's.[32] While ethnicity and diet are considerations in this particular usage, political leanings are a lessor factor on the Asian side of the curtain, as tofu is a dietary staple in Asia and therefore not associated with particular political parties, movements, or factions.[33]

In other media[edit]

In September 2016 Western Massachusetts residents launched, a site for "Satire and Commentary in the Pioneer Valley." Among the site's earliest stories were "Recent Graduate Will Shave, Cut Hair After Finding Job," "WikiLeaks Release Reveals Town of Hadley Extremely Boring," "Hampshire College Replaces American Flag with 'For Sale' Sign," and "New Privilege Checkpoint at Coolidge Bridge raises Traffic Concerns. By the end of 2018, the website no longer existed."[34]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Toensmeier, Eric; Bates, Jonathan (2013). Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 9781603583992.
  2. ^ Dávila, Arlene; Rivero, Yeidy M. (2014). Contemporary Latina/o Media: Production, Circulation, Politics. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 9781479848119.
  3. ^ a b Campeau, Lisa (2010–2011). "Remembering the Tofu Curtain" (PDF). The Alumni Cooperator. Inter-Cooperative Council. p. 19. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  4. ^ Breitbart, Myrna Margulies (2016). Creative Economies in Post-Industrial Cities: Manufacturing a (Different) Scene. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781317158325.
  5. ^ Matthews, Luke (21 May 2013). "Parting the Tofu Curtain" (Radio). WHMP. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  6. ^ Peters, Bill (8 October 2009). "The latest 'worst of' list to involve Springfield". Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  7. ^ Nathan, Marty (25 March 2014). "A bus commuter hopes for change". Daily Hampshire Gazette. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  8. ^ Meraji, Shereen Marisol (1 March 2017). "In Search of Puerto Rican Identity in Small-Town America" (Radio). NPR. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  9. ^ a b Cassano, Jay (18 April 2014). "A Worker Cooperative That Proves Alternative Economic Systems Aren't Only For The Privileged". Co.Exist. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  10. ^ "Five Things to Love About Hadley". Valley Advocate. 19 September 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  11. ^ Siefer, Ted (7 October 2016). "A Springfield revival? – CommonWealth Magazine". CommonWealth Magazine. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  12. ^ "Impacts". Five College Consortium. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  13. ^ O"Brien, George (26 January 2016). "Big Brothers Big Sisters". BusinessWest. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  14. ^ Szafranski, Matt (12 February 2017). "Progressive Moves To the Left and a Bit to the West... – Western Mass Politics & Insight". Western Mass Politics & Insight. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  15. ^ Drane, Amanda (30 November 2015). "What Are You Going to Do About It? Monte's March and people fighting for food access". Valley Advocate. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  16. ^ O’Rourke, Dineen (5 June 2016). "Climate Justice a Spotlight on Springfield TV". Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Greetings From behing The Tofu Curtain". Northwest Firearms – Oregon, Washington, and Idaho Gun Owners. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  18. ^ "'Sons of Guns' star arrested for..." The Leading Glock Forum and Community - Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  19. ^ "What kind of guns can I get in Nevada? [Archive] – The Firing Line Forums". The Firing Line. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  20. ^ "New Walther PPK/S in .22LR -". CalGuns. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  21. ^ "New member ~ expectant H&K owner". HK Pro. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  22. ^ Moore, Donald S.; Kosek, Jake; Pandian, Anand; Gilroy, Paul (2003). "1. After the Great White Error". Race, Nature, and the Politics of Difference. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822330911.
  23. ^ Johnston, Chris (7 July 2016). "Bell tolls for Greens beyond hipster proof fence". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  24. ^ Gordon, Josh (3 August 2016). "Greens struggling to cross Melbourne's hipster-proof fence". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  25. ^ Donelly, Beau (8 July 2016). "The Greens march across Melbourne". The Age. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  26. ^ Potter, Ben (2 February 2018). "South of Tofu Curtain, Shorten has to take a stand on the Adani mine". Financial Review. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  27. ^ Hutchinson, Samantha (March 17, 2018). "Greens confident of Batman win, rubbishing talk of 'Tofu Curtain'". Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  28. ^ Smith, Chris. "Greenies behind 'tofu curtain' blamed for suffocating mining industry". 2GB 873AM. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  29. ^ "'Lying' greenies accused of killing Queensland mining industry". Courier Mail. June 14, 2018. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  30. ^ Krummert, Bob (May 2004). "Lifting The Tofu Curtain". Restaurant Hospitality. 88 (5): 22.
  31. ^ a b "Soybean consumption | Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd". Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  32. ^ "FAOSTAT". The United NAtions. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  33. ^ Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (2013). History of Tofu and Tofu Products (965 CE to 2013). Lafayette, CA: Soyinfo Center. ISBN 9781928914556.
  34. ^ "Tofu Curtain". Tofu Curtain. Retrieved 2 March 2017.