Betty Crocker Gets a Greener Makeover

Betty Goes Vegan cover

Ever since she was first dreamed up, Betty Crocker—patron saint of American kitchens and brainchild of General Mills’ marketers—has had numerous facial updates to render her more culturally relevant.

But nobody has given Crocker’s cookbook recipes a makeover like Annie (Judah) Shannon ’98 and her husband Dan.

Longtime vegans and animal advocates, the Shannons worked their way through the popular Betty Crocker Cook Book, “veganizing” the dishes and sharing them on their blog, “Meet the Shannons.” Their audience grew, the media took notice and before they knew it, they had a publishing deal.

In their debut work, Betty Goes Vegan, the Shannons recreated 500 recipes with a meat-and-dairy-free twist, making entrees like eggless omelets, beefless stew, and macaroni and Sheese. The 480-page tome, with its catchy kitschy cover, covers every category from breakfast to dinner, appetizers to desserts—even special holidays. As Shannon writes in the couple’s blog, the instructions are “for chefs of all skill levels—from the amateur can-opener to the gourmet food architect—sprinkled among helpful tips, anecdotes from the three-year adventure through Betty’s Big Red as well as Betty Crocker history and analysis. The result is a delightful (if we do say so ourselves) and accessible compendium with long lost loves, reliable go-tos and not so guilty pleasures.

Shannon, who focused on political science at Evergreen, has been a vegan since she was 14. She attributes the lobster-boiling scene in Julie and Julia, the 2009 movie homage to chef Julia Child, as the inspiration for the couple’s culinary escapade. “It came to the scene where Julie has to boil the lobsters and you can tell she's really conflicted about it but she does it anyways—apologizing to the lobsters the whole time,” she says. “The whole scene was set up in this way that you're suppose to be proud of her for over coming her fears and boiling those poor lobsters but we didn’t see it that way. We saw it as someone overcoming their conscience and that’s never something to be celebrated.”

So she says they “set off to make our own project…that would show that anything could be made vegan and no one ever has to overcome that little voice in their head that says, ‘This is wrong’ ever again.” When they began, Shannon was doing online marketing and online cruelty casework for the animal advocacy group In Defense of Animals. Prior to that, she worked in the campaigns departments for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.

The Shannons’ cookbook project took two years of creating, testing and retesting recipes in their “incredibly small galley kitchen with a stove with only two burners in Norfolk, Va.,” and later, in their “only slightly larger kitchen in Brooklyn, N.Y.,” where they now reside. Then came a year of writing. In February, Betty Goes Vegan was published by Grand Central Publishing (an imprint of the Hachette Book Group). To get the word out, the couple’s been traveling the book-publicity trail, appearing in bookstores and vegan havens around the country. Right before the book was released, they did a cooking demonstration on “The Today Show,” which Shannon reports was a bit “surreal…our 15-minute segment turned into seven, then five and eventually three. We got a quarter of the way through sweet potato risotto before they had to wrap it up, but I have to admit it was pretty fun to joke around with Hoda [Kotb] and see Kathie Lee [Gifford] eat one of our vegan whoopie pies and rave about how much she loved it.”

Shannon says, “The time I spent at Evergreen and living in the Olympia area are some of the best years of my life thus far. It was during those years that I really began to challenge my political and spiritual beliefs and understand the importance of being inclusive while advocating your message. This is really hard and I don't think I would have been able to do that without meeting and working with the faculty I did.”

Now at work on a second book, Shannon says, “When I think about how this little project went from something I wrote every morning at around 6 a.m. while I tried to wake up to ‘The Today Show’ and, well I kinda feel like the luckiest gal in the world to be honest.”