The Plowboy Interview: Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

An interview with Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi whose book, The Book of Tofu, revolutionized the eating habits of the Western world.


| March/April 1977



Shurloff

Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi published their book, The Book of Tofu, after first studying the art of making and cooking tofu in Japan. Now they tour the country teaching people about the benefits of tofu and soy milk.

PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Bill Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi are astonishing people. For while our political and economic and agricultural "leaders" weep and wail and gnash their teeth about the world's food "crisis," Bill and Akiko are quietly sure that there really isn't any food crisis at all.

"The world does have a growing population problem," say Akiko and Bill, "but it's still no worse than the population problems faced for hundredsofyears by large parts of Asia. And if we'll just use the simple food ideas that Asia has used for those same centuries, we'll find it quite easy to feed several times the current population of the world... withoutresorting to all the energy-intensive chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fuels, and machinery with which the agribusiness corporations now rape the planet." 

Big talk? Maybe. Except that Bill and Akiko can back every word they say with cold, hard scientific analysis...their own personal experiencesofthe past five years... and the successful history of at least one-quarter of the world's population over the past 2,000 years. The evidence for their case, in other words, is a little hard to ignore.  

Who are these two people? How have they been able — in the inflationary 1970's — to feed themselves for years at a time on less than 30 cents a day each ... and still enjoy perfect health while working 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week? Why were they able to stumble onto such an easy, age-old answer to today's worsening food problem ... when all the money spent by all the world's governmentsonly seems to intensify that problem and make it bigger?  

Bill Shurtleff was born in Oakland, California in 1941 and he grew up on a two-and-a-half-acre mini-farm on the edgeofLa-fayette, California. Upon his graduation from Stanford University in 1963 Bill joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching high school physics in Nigeria. He also worked two months with Dr. Albert Schweitzer before leaving Africa to travel through France on his way back to the United States,  

"The cultural environment here in the States was entirely different when I returned," Shurtleff says. "I found myself living in one of the communities that started what became known as The Resistance. I lived with David Harris — who later married Joan Baez — and I began practicing meditation and doing draft resistance work. Then I went to Japan for a summer and met Gary Snyder, who made it possible for me to continue my meditation with an established group in a Japanese temple.  

"After that I came back to the U.S., ran an Esalen program in human awareness for a year, and lived for two and a half years at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California as a student of Suzuki Roshi. I then went to Japan ... where I eventually met Akiko and began the work that my earlier life had prepared me to do."  





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