Interview Series #12: Annie and Dan Shannon of The Betty Crocker Project!
The duo I'm about to introduce is who I wish had been featured in the film Julie and Julia.
Well, had that been the case, the title of the 2009 film starring Meryl Streep would have read more like: Betty and Annie... and Dan.
Annie and Dan Shannon, otherwise known in cyberspace as "The Shannons", are creators of The Betty Crocker Project, a refreshing and inspired take on the trials and tests of Julie Powell's own year-long project tackling the work of cookbook legend Julia Child. Instead of taking 365 days to master the recipes of an icon, they are taking all the time they need. Instead of Julia Child, the subject of interest is Betty Crocker, an American classic. And instead of killing animals to reach a culinary deadline, the Shannons have opted to take a non-traditional route by completely - and humanely - veganizing every single recipe in the Betty Crocker Cookbook.
As Annie states in her description of how the project was started:
" I recently saw the movie Julie & Julia... I was charmed at first. I mean here was a devoted vintage-clothing-wearing amateur foodie - who wore pearls in the kitchen (one of my own personal dreams - though my dream pearls would be fake ). I admit I was charmed by finding someone so like myself in so many ways. . . but as you can imagine - she lost me at the Lobster Killer scene. . . and I never really bounced back. See, the Lobster Killer scene planted a little seed in my brain. I kept waiting for her to have a change of heart and save them . . . but she never did. . . and that is just not okay. THERE NEEDS TO BE A HUMANE ALTERNATIVE TO LOBSTER KILLER."
With humor, candor, and excitement in their hearts, Annie and her husband Dan have set out to prove what dedicated and enthusiastic foodies vegans really can be. And if the pictures of their veganized Betty Crocker recipes are any indication, The Shannons have also set out to prove that vegan food can be delicious, satisfying, and shall I say, traditional? I shall, and I will!
You better check out their website now before they become big cookbook stars, folks. Without further adieu, please welcome, Annie and Dan Shannon!
Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your lives that led you both to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you?
Annie: My mom is Sicilian - like super cliche food-equals-love Sicilian - and she raised us kids to really take pride in eating good food. "You are what you eat" was a way of life in our house. But even as Sicilian as she is, she never allowed any of us to eat veal, because it was "just mean to eat babies." Years later, I was skateboarding on a college campus, and some random guy was talking about veal calves and being vegan. I chimed in what little I knew and validated his thoughts on the numerous evils that are the veal industry. That's when he pointed out that if I was eating cheese, I was still supporting systematic cruelty. It took about three hours of learning about factory farms and laboratories to change my life. Not really understanding exactly what I was getting into, but armed with an adamant hatred of bullies and a stubbornness that can really only be genetic and inherited from Sicilians, I went vegan that day. My destiny was sealed - I became an animal rights activist.
Dan: Funny story actually... In high school I was aware of veganism from some bands I listened to, and it made sense to me and seemed like a good thing to do for the world. I just hadn't pulled the trigger on it yet. One day, randomly, this guy on the track team with me gave me an "organic" sticker from a piece of fruit or something (not a super-common thing in 1995), and I stuck it on my locker in the varsity locker room. This apparently ticked off one of the dudes on the football team, who proceeded to write "VEGETARIAN F&$%!T" in big letters on my locker. I have to admit that was what pushed me over the edge to becoming vegetarian. I figured if I could save animals and the planet and piss off the guys on the football team at the same time, I was really on to something here.
KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? What have been the greatest challenges?
Annie: This is an easy one... meeting Dan. We met about six years ago (Is it bad we keep going back and forth about how long we have known each other? Today we have agreed on six, but I think it might be more like eight...) doing campaign work in the animal rights movement, and we just clicked. We loved experimental food, comic books, and he would let me beat him at video games on a regular basis. I should have known that the love of my life and best friend would be as passionate as I am about sticking up for those who can't stick up for themselves. He really is my very favorite person ever.
I also like thinking about the thousands of animals who weren't eaten over the years because I refused to eat them, and the money that never went to those heartless jerks that profit from their exploitation, because my money went to vegan products. Every time I think about all the money Tyson chicken will never see, I smile - every time.
The greatest challenge? I guess I would say dealing with the disappointment when a company decides to add an animal-sourced ingredient to a product that was vegan. It kinda breaks my heart a little, like I was betrayed by a friend.
Dan: Okay, so now that Annie said me, I HAVE to say her. But it’s true, because it was. We never would have met if it wasn't for us both being involved in the AR movement, and she's brought so much joy into my life over the years. And obviously lots of good food. I honestly can't think of a lot of challenges. Aside from marrying Annie, going vegan has been the single best thing I ever did in my entire life. It's been pretty smooth sailing. I guess coping with the fact that I do have a few life-long friends, who I love and respect, who just haven't come around on the vegan thing yet. It's hard to understand sometimes.
KMIV: What inspired you to create the Better Crocker Project? What kind of influence are you hoping to have with this project?
Annie: The Betty Crocker brand has a well deserved reputation as being the very best at teaching American amateur chefs how to use products and ingredients to their full potential. When we were putting together this project, we really wanted to help people see how easy it is to be vegan, and that you really can make anything vegan once you know the tricks. I do have to admit that the little girl in me who still worships Laverne & Shirley is enchanted by everything Betty. This project not only encourages me to make some outrageous casseroles and use all these crazy kitchen gadgets, but also gives me an opportunity to share with other people how easy this lifestyle can be.
Dan: Mostly I just like to eat a lot.
KMIV: I love your simplicity, Dan. Alright, what advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?
Annie: I think it is all about doing the best you can when you can. We make choices everyday. What should I have for lunch? What kind of dish soap should I get? If you just try to make kind choices whenever you can - you are making a difference. We live in a consumer-based society and we "vote" everyday with our purchases. I think a lot of people would also be surprised how easy it really is and how often they already are eating vegan and making cruelty-free choices.
Dan: Try it out one day a week. See how that goes, experiment with some foods you like, and find a couple of vegan things you enjoy eating. Then bump it up to two days a week. Etc. Sometimes you gotta ease into things, and that's okay.
Annie: Jars and jars of olives, garlic bread, and artichokes... What? I told you I'm REALLY Italian.
Dan: Falafel, french fries, and coffee. I know coffee isn't a "food" per se... but if I can't have coffee, my third item is hemlock for self-termination.
The food photos above are courtesy of Annie and Dan Shannon. They include The Shannon's veganized versions of Betty Crocker's Caramel Sticky Rolls and "Beef" and Artichoke Pasta.
A yummy round of thanks to Annie and Dan Shannon for taking time out to do this delicious interview. To follow the Shannons' culinary adventures, please visit www.meettheshannons.net.
P.S. --> Don't think I forgot about the super special giveaway contest I'll be holding for two FREE copies of No Voice Unheard's new book Ninety-Five! I'll be announcing this, as well as a bunch of other awesome KMIV blog news, on Friday!