Betty crocker goes vegan - Macleans.ca
 

Betty crocker goes vegan

Taking the meat out of classics like rack of lamb proves challenging


 

Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

Annie and Dan Shannon knew “vegan-izing” every recipe in The Betty Crocker Cookbook wasn’t going to be a piece of dairy-and egg-free cake. Six months later, and one-third of the way through the “Betty Crocker Project” chronicled on their website, meethe­shannons.net, the couple have faced big challenges. Devising “bones” for “spareribs with three different types of glazes” was tricky, says Annie from their home in Norfolk, Va. —popsicle sticks saved the day. There have been triumphs: a poached “egg” with runny “yolk” (tofu and a “flavour injector” were required). Now Dan’s ramping up for “rack of lamb.” “It’s going to require blueprints,” he jokes.

If the Shannons’ venture appears a tempeh-ish twist on Julie Powell’s cooking and blogging through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, there’s a reason: Julie & Julia, the movie based on Powell’s book, is their inspiration. Nor are they pioneers in “vegan-izing” an unlikely source: one blogger has recast recipes from the carnivorous, vegan-bashing chef Anthony Bourdain.

Betty Crocker, a corporate creation invented in 1921, is a daunting adversary. Cookbooks using the brand name were rolled out in the 1930s to showcase “convenience” products like Bisquick and “Bac-Os,” an item so synthetic it’s actually vegan. The 2005 edition the Shannons are using is an anachronistic paean to meat and dairy, featuring culinary grotesqueries like “Cheeseburger Pie.”

It was precisely that retro, middle-American sensibility that appealed to the fun-loving couple, who met through their work in animal-rights advocacy. “One of our goals is to show you can make anything vegan,” says Annie, a vegan for 22 of her 35 years (30-year-old Dan has been vegan 15 years). Another goal is to show how to use “vegan” products and flavorants, like Braggs Liquid Aminos, Liquid Smoke and Ener-G Egg Replacer.

The venture offers a lens into the complexities of adhering to a vegan diet, a regime  increasingly mainstream and driven by dietary and health concerns as much as by ethics. While going vegan can focus on organic, natural fare, it can also lead to a new industry of “virtuous” processed food, including fake cheeses that make Cheez Whiz seem organic. The Shannons eschew artificial ingredients, but admit it’s a trade-off. “Vegan cheeses are processed but they don’t have saturated fats or cholesterol,” says Dan.

The “Betty Crocker Project” also showcases  the “tofurky paradox” that wends through veganism—the impulse to replicate animals and animal by-products, right down to making tofu “hard-boiled eggs” for a spinach salad. It raises the question: if you won’t eat animals literally, why eat them symbolically? But as Annie explains, it isn’t the taste of meat, eggs or dairy they object to, but rather inhumane factory farming practices. They’re providing a bridge, she says: “By finding ways to recreate and substitute the meaty and cheesy dishes most people grew up with, it’ll help make the transition into veganism a little easier.” Replacing an animal-based product with a protein substitute isn’t enough, she says. It’s necessary to duplicate the flavour of the fats and salt that come off meat while cooking. The idea is “to have things that taste ‘meaty’ but that don’t have the ethical problems that go along with it,” she says.

Dishes like vegan “osso bucco” test that theory. The Shannons replace veal shanks braised for hours with soy-protein “beef-less tips” flavoured with Braggs, apple juice and wine prepared in less than 15 minutes. Its mealy texture and chemical aftertaste is unlikely to win over fans of the original. As one taster of a home-tested runthrough put it: “This food would starve my spirit.”

Such diehard omnivores are not the Shannons’ target audience, as enthusiastic comments on the site attest. Betty Crocker, the brand, also approves, providing links to the project on its Facebook page. The couple, predictably, has been approached by literary agents but has yet to sign a book deal. “We’re doing it for fun,” says Dan. “If a book emerged it would be cool but we’re not working toward it.” Anything beyond that is “gravy,” he says—vegan gravy, of course, finished with a dash of Liquid Smoke.


 

Betty crocker goes vegan

  1. I love this blog! There are some great ideas for both the long time vegan, those who are considering the step to veganism, or people who just want to try a new, healthy recipe!

  2. Love the Betty Crocker Project! I'm a new Vegan and the recipes are absolutely scrumptious looking! Can't wait to make some. Thanks for this helpful feature.

  3. I am all for vegan diets. But replacing meat with MSG loaded down stuff like Liquid Smoke is not the answer. People who think they are doing the right thing by not eating meat and are going to be healthier is not true. You cannot be healthy if you are loading your body down with toxins. If a person really wants to go vegan, as I did a year ago, you won't crave the meat therefor eliminating the need for something to be meaty tasting.

    • Hi amanda,

      did you know that there are no actually definitive studies that show that MSG is harmful to a person? Are you also aware that ever since gourmet (and beyond) cooking has existed, so has MSG..?

      It's nothing new.. and its clear that whatever adverse effect it may have is clearly far better than that of processed factory farmed meats. so what you're is splitting hairs. Please stop it. The point is going vegan, not being a health guru.

      • To Scott. There actually IS much documentation and definitive studies on the harmful effects of MSG, how could you not know this? I have personally interviewed Dr Christopher Shaw, professor at UBC on this topic and MSG is highly dangerous, especially for children and I didn't read anything from Amanda regarding factory farmed meat. As well, the difference between factory farmed meat and grass fed ethically raised meat, and the effects of MSG is not splitting hairs…it's a landslide. Amanda had a really good point about toxins and it shouldn't be ignored because you want to fight for you beliefs.
        Please stick to facts, do some of your own research…and more importantly unsponsored research and take out the emotionalism.

      • And one more thing Scott, pointing out that something isn't very healthy should not make you upset. Thank you Amanda for sharing some wisdom.

    • Thanks Amanda for sharing that, you're quite right and I agree that if you're going to go to all that trouble to change recipes and make some delicious recipes, which I'm sure these are, why not take the toxins into consideration? I love all kinds of food, but let's not ignore the harmful effects some of these 'substitute' products are having. Toxins are the only common theme in all foods that make them harmful. If you don't want to eat meat, that's perfectly fine, and feedlot factory meat is horrible. But has everybody forgotten that small farms that don't use steroids, hormones or even vaccinate still exist? Or that meat has been eaten around the world for thousands of years with no adverse effects? Until processed food, imported and packaged processed food came onto the scene we were a much healthier world. Why not focus on taking out the toxins??

  4. I love this couple!! Meet the Shannons are the coolest thing since deep fried tofu. I didn't go vegan for health reasons, so I appreciate the fake meat laden comfort food. :D

  5. <<It raises the question: if you won't eat animals literally, why eat them symbolically?>>

    Diversity of flavour and texture has always been of high interest in cooking, whether vegan or non-vegan, so this should come as no surprise. In fact, Chinese-Buddhist vegetarian cuisine has been refined for millennia, and recent western mock meats owe much to those early pioneers. It seeks, as Chef Asha Khatau says of her own cooking, to "dazzle the eye, excite the mind, [and] delight the palate".

    The truth is, if/when in vitro meat becomes commercially available, many vegans – those who are vegan for ethical reasons – will eat it and cease to be vegans even though they remain committed to reducing non-human animal suffering.

    A new name will be required to distinguish them from true vegans and animal-eaters, as they'll be eating animal flesh literally, but not from a slaughtered animal. Digest that one if you can!

  6. I used to love my Betty Crocker cook book when I was a meat-eater. Now that I 'm vegan, I can love her again!

  7. The Betty Crocker Project is full of delicious vegan inspiration! Love it!!

  8. I love Meet the Shannons! As a former meat and cheese lover, I'm all for enjoying the vegan versions. Maybe it isn't always the healthiest option, but it's great for transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. A little indulgence now and then certainly doesn't hurt (as long as it's vegan, of course!)

  9. Such a great thing. The Shannons are amazing. So happy Maclean's shined the light on this website and project!

  10. Liquid Smoke — there are a variety of brands and most of the them do not include MSG in their ingredients.

  11. Excellent recipes. Easy to prepare and delicious.

  12. Yum. How much do I heart the Shannons? If everyone could dine with them each night the myth of tasteless vegan food would be vanquished, and the sky would be all rainbows and cherubs singing. Oh, and right, we'd save our health and the planet and prevent a bunch of needless suffering, too. Can I get a Win, Win, Win?

  13. Wonderful concept! As a strict vegetarian for 20 years, I have found myself in creative food ruts occasionally. The Shannons offer a whole new way of cooking with vegan foods. Of course, fresh fruits and veggies never go out of style for health or veganism :)

  14. I love the Shannons. Their blog is always positive and fun, and the recipes are great. They do so many amazing things with their time (animal rights by day, video games and veganizing classics by night), I can only dream to be that successful!

  15. I am a huge fan of their blog. The recipes are fun, their posts are hilarious, and it definitely appeals to someone like me who grew up eating meatloaf, Hamburger Helper, and other middle American fare, but who made the choice to go vegan for both health and ethical reasons. They prove that vegan food can be delicious and fun too.

  16. I didn't even know about this project until now!
    I'm not vegan, but am interested in learning more about vegan/vegetarian dishes for health reasons & for when vegan friends come for dinner!
    This seems like quite a challenge but I'm very supportive of their efforts!