By Tommy Andres, CNN
(CNN) - American holidays are rooted in carnivorous tradition. Turkey is so synonymous with Thanksgiving that just about every child in the U.S. has at one time traced a hand to make a colorful rendition of the bird. But for vegans and vegetarians, Thanksgiving dinner can be an isolating experience, spent pawing at carrots and poking green beans while the rest of the family feasts on birds and beasts.
Seth Tibbott knew that feeling well. As a die-hard vegan, he’d tried stuffed pumpkins and gluten roasts that took a whole day to cook and couldn’t be cut with a chainsaw. He knew there had to be something better:
[2:11] “I had the need to find something I could take to my primarily meat-eating table of friends that would gather on Thanksgiving.”
Thirty years ago, Tibbott quit his job and cashed in his life-savings to buy all of the equipment needed to make his own tempeh, a patty made from fermented soybeans.
[1:41] "For the first 15 years I was living the dream but losing my shirt. I wasn’t making a lot of money so I built a tree house in a neighbor’s trees. I rented the trees for $25."
It was in the fall of 1995 that Tibbott and a friend stumbled on the recipe that would turn his life around. They came up with a tofu burger patty that didn’t taste like a burger, it tasted like Thanksgiving. They pressed some “drummettes” and made a roast out of it and called it Tofurky.
[2:39] "A lot of people said that I was crazy, you know, especially on the name. But the name turned out to be one that really resonated with consumers and they got it right away."
Tibbott talked a few stores in Portland, Oregon into carrying the meat substitute and it took off. They’d touched a nerve. It seemed there were countless vegetarians out there who were tired of going hungry on food’s biggest day. That first Thanksgiving he sold 500, and that number has steadily risen each year. Tofurkys by Tibbott’s company, Turtle Island Foods, can now be found on dinner tables across the globe, and the product has become a pop culture gem.