Plant-based diets are gaining in popularity. However, while attempting to eat a more plant-based diet, many people often find they end up eating a lot of soy. From soy milk to tofu to tempeh, it can seem like soy is the only option, but not everyone wants to consume that much soy. That’s where Jon Westdahl, who’d worked in the Portland, OR, food industry for a while, saw a market opportunity for fresh soy-free tempeh — and Squirrel and Crow was born.
In March 2018, Bon Appétit General Manager at Reed College Matthew Talavera discovered Squirrel and Crow tempeh at the Woodstock farmers’ market. He fell in love with it and brought Jon on as a Farm to Fork vendor. Jon was impressed that Bon Appétit gave Matt the freedom to sign him up. He said a lot of chefs come to him wanting to buy his product, but since he doesn’t use a large distributor they are unable to do so. Now the Bon Appétit teams at University of Portland, Willamette University, and Airbnb also buy Squirrel and Crow tempeh!
Jon is the owner, operator, and single employee of Squirrel and Crow. He does all the work himself including sales, cooking the tempeh (more an art than a science, he says), packaging, and delivery. Instead of soy, he uses different legumes, seeds, and grains including lentils, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and pumpkin seeds: “Here at Squirrel and Crow we often joke ‘Will it tempeh?’” The fungus Jon uses to inoculate his beans comes all the way from Indonesia, but the beans come from much closer to home, including Washington, California, and Canada. Jon described how in Indonesia and Java, where tempeh originated, fresh tempeh is like fresh bread: Eating it fresh improves both the taste and texture of the product, just like a fresh baguette.
Where did the name Squirrel and Crow come from? Jon laughs when asked and simply points out the window of his house. “I bet you can see them both out there right now!” He talked about how these two creatures are Portlandians shared urban wildlife and local ecology. He also referenced an indigenous story about the squirrel and the crow representing the dualism of food: The squirrel collects and saves food, whereas the crow eats whatever it can find in the moment.
Squirrel and Crow tempeh is a welcome addition to the quirky Portland food scene, and a treat for meat eaters and vegetarians alike.