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How tofu got me into college: my Common App essay

December 17, 2010

Eli Goldberg ’12

Today is an exciting day for me, for two reasons. Not only is it the last day of term here in London -- which means all of my papers, exams, and lab reports are due, what fun -- but it's also my third getting-into-Oberlin-versary!

Luckily for you, the former has prevented me from writing a long, sappy post about the latter. (I guess I've already done that before, anyway.) To mark the occasion, I figured I'd throw out something a little more entertaining: my Common App essay -- completely unedited, in all its original glory. I don't remember what the prompt was, but man, did I have fun writing it.

So, if you applied Early Decision for the class of 2015, here's a small distraction from the long, painful wait by the mailbox! And if you're working frenetically on your Regular Decision essays, hopefully this will serve as inspiration ... or maybe a model of what not to do ...

Tofu robots on display



Since becoming a vegetarian seven years ago, I've come out many times and faced an almost universal reaction. People hesitate, subtly eye me as though searching for missed tip-offs ("Birkenstocks! How could I have been so blind?") and then venture, "Well . . . but you don't eat tofu, right?!"

Yes. Let the record show, once and for all, horrifying as the truth may be: I eat tofu. I recognize that this may shatter my good social standing and destroy any chance of college admission, but please! - let me explain.

According to my father, tofu was my first solid food (allowing for a generous definition of "solid food"). A vegetarian himself, he found that cubes of raw tofu were a highly effective means of quieting a wailing, toothless infant. This somewhat unorthodox diet brought me to the wonderful world of food politics at a young age. As a precocious if confused three-year-old, I declared my intention to become a vegetarian - the kind of vegetarian that ate chicken. Seven years later, morals met willpower, and I gave up meat for good. Since then, tofu has been my constant companion.

Blocks of tofu with smiley faces float in a bowl

But a diet of Tofurkey sandwiches, stir-fried tofu and vegetables, and tofu tetrazzini has awoken me to the vast injustices that tofu faces in our society. Why tofu, of all things? What about this simple coagulated soybean product inspires such passionate disgust?

I believe that tofu holds countless lessons for America. Consider, for example, its texture. An old proverb advises us that it is wiser to bend like the willow than to break like the oak. Better to aspire toward tofu's gentle malleability - its squishiness, if you will - than the unyielding, fibrous firmness of its culinary comrades such as the apple or the carrot. Tofu inspires us to greet life with flexibility and remain open to new experiences that can transform our lives. (Food processors, for example.)

A beanbag pillow looks like tofu with a face and limbs.

Those who remain skeptical will wish to consider tofu's versatility. By itself, tofu is admittedly bland and unappetizing, yet it combines with any other spice, sauce, or flavor to create a delicious and nutritious recipe. It is eminently suited to all types of cuisine. Imagine if, just as tofu fuses with its fellow ingredients to create a delicious and nutritious whole, the whole spectrum of humanity could unite to make the world a better place. Clearly tofu is a model of global harmony.

I have dedicated myself to combating tofu's social stigma because I believe it embodies the values that will guide us into a shining future. Make no mistake - tofu-eaters will be the leaders of the 21st century.

Tofu character plush toys stacked in a pyramid

Responses to this Entry

You beat me to it! I definitely wanted to try to dig up my common app essay and post it for the world to see. I still have to find it, though. Yours is wonderful!

Posted by: Patrick on December 21, 2010 11:20 PM

Two very important notes:

I, too, wrote about food in one of my applications essays, which means that I truly love your essay as well!

The first word I ever wrote was tofu. Tofu is delicious and versatile and wonderful. People that say they don't like tofu haven't had well-prepared tofu yet.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on December 22, 2010 12:23 AM

Damn you, now I'm hungry. Excellent post!

Posted by: David on December 26, 2010 9:02 AM

mmm! this is a wonderful post! I am trying to understand more on the application process and what they like to see from common app essays. this is funny and YES! tofu is wonderful :) props!

Posted by: Dorothy Klement on December 31, 2010 7:24 PM

I'm a vegan and have met so much outrage also when I "come out;" I actually get more criticism for this than when I tell people I'm bi. And for the record tofu is delicious.

Posted by: Marie on January 6, 2011 4:07 PM

I'm so in love with this article. I always try to put off "coming out" as a vegetarian for as long as possible, since I've been judged for it so many times. Especially the tofu part... The same way chicken can be too dry, tofu can be prepared incorrectly! People just don't want to open their minds to it (generally speaking).

Posted by: Melissa on February 19, 2011 11:25 PM

Great essay, Eli! Agreed, tofu is superb. In my commonapp essay I recall metaphorically comparing myself to a washing machine (don't ask me in what way because I frankly don't remember), which is substantially lamer than your homage to tofu. I do so wish that Oberlin would post its accepted students' application essays online--anonymously, of course--so the world can see what a creative and ridiculous bunch we are.

Posted by: Cindy on August 24, 2011 12:51 PM

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