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Tofu curtain: Small-Scale Geopolitics in a Massachusetts Valley

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Kamal Saini
Kamal S. has been Journalist and Writer for Business, Hardware and Gadgets at Revyuh.com since 2018. He deals with B2b, Funding, Blockchain, Law, IT security, privacy, surveillance, digital self-defense and network policy. As part of his studies of political science, sociology and law, he researched the impact of technology on human coexistence. Email: kamal (at) revyuh (dot) com

A mountain range and a ‘tofu curtain’ separate two supposed adverse realities that are, in reality, proof that the future is still conditioned by a classist logic

Tofu is one of the most popular foods in recent years in the West. This centuries-old staple of oriental cuisine is already an ally of vegetarianism and veganism. 

A soft thing made from soy, whitish in color and with hardly any odor that generates, at least, curiosity. 

If you know how to cook it, it is a delicacy rich in protein and other nutrients, but not only that: tofu is also a political symbol.

When we talk about geopolitics we tend to think of a framework that spans the entire planet from a few office rooms. 

This spatial incoherence that we contemplate in our minds is the result of the capitalist baggage that has brought us here, but also of a social conscience that is increasingly positioned against this model of life. 

In a context of uncertainty, social demands are growing: feminism, the anti-racist struggle or the movements against climate change have unraveled the language of euphemisms that the world has built-in recent decades (if not in recent centuries) in favor of devastating well-being. 

But accelerationism, as its name suggests, knows how to slip quickly and camouflage itself at the frontiers of thought. That is how tofu speaks to us of progressivism and inequality, and of the disadvantages of an ecological conscience that does not take into account social justice.

A class structural model

To the west of the state of Massachusetts, in the United States, the population of two counties that extend over the so-called ‘Pioneer Valley’ is divided by the mirage of development (as a vestige of the American dream). 

A mountain range separates two supposed adverse realities that are, in reality, proof that the future is still conditioned by the roots of the class structural model. 

North of the Holyoke Mountains is Hampshire, which in the collective imagination is seen as a scene of prosperity and a green idyll.

Its small cities are home to universities and study centers recognized throughout the country, and therefore it is a place for young people and intellectuals and a space for demonstrations. 

But it is not only inhabited by technological millennials, since its population is mostly rural, organized in cooperatives and small companies where natural products are manufactured such as, effectively, tofu, which they sell to the growing vegetarian and vegan population of the area. 

To the south, Hampden County, with large cities inhabited by the working class. Some of its areas such as Springfield or Holyoke are large gentrified and economically depressed cities that have been described in terms of violence, drugs, pollution, and crime.

For the construction of these two worlds, geographical delimitations have not been enough: on the mountains or between them, people say that there is a ‘tofu curtain’ drawn. 

The expression does not have a specific origin and, in fact, neither a specific meaning, but in its most used form in the area, the appropriation of a plural discourse by the wealthy middle class is implicit

The term, about which there is little information on the internet, is included in the ‘Urban dictionary’; And, according to Wikipedia, it’s the country’s census data that backs it up. However, as said page indicates, this same stresses the dynamics of marginalization since they cannot be considered absolute data.

A racist reading that ignores, for example, that there are also colleges and universities in southern county. So much so that in the Springfield metropolitan area it is home to what is known as the “knowledge corridor”, where several higher education centers are brought together, which they consider in any case inferior to those in the north.

The white idyll behind the tofu curtain

The concept of ‘tofu curtain’ thus acts as a badge or a handicap, because living on one side or the other of it is living inside or outside of progress. 

While the north boasts sexual diversity and has become one of the main nuclei of the LGTBIQ community, the south is multicultural, being a space inhabited by the Latino and Afro-American community. 

State statistics show that Hampshire is a white idyll: in Hampden 10.9% of its population is Afro-descendant and up to 26.3% is of Hispanic or Latino origin, compared to 3.4% and 5.9 % respectively for the Hampshire case, according to the latest statistics from the United States Census Bureau.

The same data shows in figures two fundamental aspects: the economic differences between both counties are less and less notable, and despite this poverty is spreading throughout the valley. In this sense, the Wikipedia website points out that “in addition to being populated by wealthy residents and university students, there are also economic disparities within Northampton, causing cracks in the neighborhood on that side of the tofu curtain. 

Despite the presence of a wealthy college and a huge college, 2016 data showed that 50% of Amherst’s children received free or reduced lunches in public school on the basis of living in low-income households.

The question is therefore much more complex than learning to cook tofu. If giving answers to world geopolitics based on the idea of ​​an iron curtain has trivialized the notion that society has of it, talking about social inequality and polarization on a small scale shows the need to remake the discourse, a task that the class Puerto Rican and African American working-class and populations perform overshadowed by the weight of the dominant discourse of the northern protests, but community organizing and progressive politics are also anti-racist, and tofu is not a 21st-century invention.

(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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