Annie and Dan Shannon live in Brooklyn, NY. Annie has worked at the animal advocacy organization In Defense of Animals and as the Fashion Industry Liaison for the Humane Society of the United States. She does most of the cooking. Dan was previously the Director of Youth Outreach & Campaigns for PETA and is now a Senior Strategist for the social movement strategy consulting company Purpose. He does the dishes.
Following this interview on the Progressive Radio Network, I met Annie and Dan Shannon at the Betty Goes Vegan Launch Party at Moo Shoes in Manhattan.
|Caryn Hartglass, Annie and Dan Shannon|
|Awesome turnout||Jennie Steinhagen
with Betty Goes Vegan
|A great crowd!||Mooshoes
Hi, I’m back! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Here we are on the 5th of February 2013. Thank you for joining me. I want to bring on my next guests. This is going to be so much fun. Annie and Dan Shannon live in Brooklyn, NY. Annie has worked at the Animal Advocacy Organization and Defense of Animals and as the fashion industry liaison for The Humane Society of the United States. She does most of the cooking. Dan was previously the director of youth outreach and campaigns for PETA and is now senior strategist for the social movement strategy consulting company, Purpose. He does the dishes. Please welcome to It’s All About Food Annie and Dan Shannon.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello.
Annie Shannon: Hi.
Caryn Hartglass: How are you today?
Dan Shannon: Thank you so much for having us.
Caryn Hartglass: Well you guys are so amazing. Now I just want to start the show off by talking about yesterday’s Today Show. Congratulations.
Annie Shannon: Thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: That was really fun to watch but I want to say that the three minutes and twenty-six seconds were not enough.
Annie Shannon: I know, unfortunately.
Caryn Hartglass: You deserved a lot more. What I don’t understand is why those two women host that show and why people watch it because they did not seem to be the brightest lights in the room.
Annie Shannon: I actually think they were really nice.
Caryn Hartglass: They were probably nice but I don’t know. I don’t get those women. So first I want to remind people that we pronounce the term for people who don’t eat any animal foods and abstain from all products, we call ourselves “vegan.” Vegan. It’s not vaygan. It’s vegan. Maybe in other languages…
Dan Shannon: A “vaygan” is someone from Las Vegas.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. No, we are vegan. We are the aliens from the planet Vega. Or maybe that’s what the vaygans are. OK, anyway. You have just come out with an amazing cookbook, Betty Goes Vegan. And I’m so glad Betty is going vegan. I am so glad because she represents so much of what America is all about and if Betty’s going vegan, than it won’t take long for everybody else to follow along, will it?
Annie Shannon: I have to admit that when we first started doing this, the goal was really…we wanted to take on a project where we could use vegan products and show really how to help them reach their full potential. And Betty Crocker has such a long-standing great reputation for showing American chefs how to do that with Bisquick and things like that. It seemed like such a natural fit. It’s been great, though, because the Betty Crocker company has actually been really supportive. It’s been pretty great actually to see that happen.
Caryn Hartglass: You probably didn’t hear at the beginning of the show when I introduced my other guest I told a little story about John Robbins and Julia Child. I’m not sure if you know that story but he brought her to a veal farm and after she saw what was going on she said, “No more veal.” Now this is when she was quite old and you don’t hear about this much in mainstream media but Julia Child had a tremendous influence on so many of us. I know reading from your blogs that the movie Julie and Julia influenced you to start this Betty Crocker project.
Annie Shannon: Yeah. It’s frustrating. I went into it…I was so…I was actually really excited about the movie. I was like, “Woah, this is a heroine that I can definitely relate to.” And then I got to the scene where she has this sort of moral dilemma about boiling lobsters and she did it and how people could talk about how she overcame it, her bravery for overcoming her fear of boiling lobsters alive, and I did not like that movie.
Caryn Hartglass: Annie, I don’t know if you could move to another place but it’s breaking up a little bit.
Annie Shannon: Oh no.
Caryn Hartglass: We want to hear everything that you have to say.
Annie Shannon: Oh no. Can you hear me better now?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Much better.
Annie Shannon: OK. Good.
Caryn Hartglass: I think when the Julie and Julia project came out, a lot of us thought, “Oh my god. We need to have something like that that’s vegan.” And I enjoyed reading at the beginning of your cookbook that you dedicated it to the lobsters because I know many of us had that same reaction in watching that movie, seeing all of these wonderful recipes and then watching her boil the lobster.
Dan Shannon: Yeah. It was really sort of a negative I feel. Like Annie was saying, it’s very discouraging to see almost like the message that you should be encouraged to overcome your conscience. I think part of why we wanted to write this book and to work on this project is to encourage more people to think more about their conscience when making food choices, whether it’s choosing vegan food or choosing local or organic produce or whatever. We should be thinking more critically about the food that we eat. We should be listening to that voice in our head that says, “Maybe this isn’t OK. Maybe this isn’t something I should be a part of.” So I think that was part of what inspired us—and what inspired Annie really—to undertake this project.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I said a little earlier in the first part of the show is I absolutely believe—and know—that food can be not only delicious and good for you and good and gentle on the planet but 100% vegan. There’s absolutely no reason why all the food we eat can’t be made from plants. I know everyone can be satisfied with them. We just need the time to show people and put really good food in their mouths.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, we agree. It’s just that. Dan and I kind of live this life with this motto that anything can be vegan. Give us something and we can make a vegan version. That was what we really hope this book proves.
Caryn Hartglass: When I was reading a little bit about you and how you were picking out what cookbook to ultimately veganize and you had thought about the Joy of Cooking, I had a very similar experience when I was a teenager. I had gotten a Joy of Cooking cookbook and I carried it with me all over the place until the cover was gone and it was in shreds. What I was doing basically with it was veganizing everything I found in it. And then it disappeared and I don’t know what happened to it and I’m sorry it’s gone. But we don’t need that anymore, anyway. I don’t need it anymore. Now we have Betty Goes Vegan.
Annie Shannon: The thing about the Joy of Cooking book was that it’s a great book. It’s like a bible. One of the things when we were reading through it was it had pages and pages and pages on how to cut your pork. We went with Betty instead because it seemed like it could translate a little bit better on what it was we actually wanted to do.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, the Joy of Cooking had every recipe in it. Everything was in there.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, it’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, let’s talk about your beautiful book. Number one: it’s big. Five hundred classic recipes. There’s everything in here. It’s really, really amazing. So the first recipe you have in here: fried eggs. Now I have to say this is genius. Really genius.
Annie Shannon: Aww, thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: Can you talk about your fried egg recipe?
Annie Shannon: Yeah, pretty much…the Betty Crocker book has a lot of recipes that require a fried egg or a poached egg or something so it was going to be one of the biggest challenges. Dan and I made these jokes about how it was like our Moby Dick like it was going to be the thing that was going to take us down. We figured out how to use this thing called the “flavor injector.” It’s like this crazy, big syringe thing that Paula Dean uses to inject sauces into meat and we kind of re-appropriated this barbeque tool to inject a nutritional yeast cheesy sauce into a piece of tofu to make that liquid center that you would find in a fried egg.
Caryn Hartglass: I was really smiling when I saw it because so many of us…I’ve been vegan for 25 years and I’ve made many, many, many tofu scrambles. They’re really easy. Some of them are more sophisticated than others. A lot of non-vegans will happily eat it and some of them will even be fooled. I have made a hard-boiled “egg” recipe a few years ago and it was…it’s not the same as your hard-boiled “egg” recipe. I ended up blending silken tofu with a little agar and remolding it like an egg shape. But it’s so much fun to serve deviled “eggs” that really look like deviled eggs and have all these people’s eyes pop out like, “Woah, that’s not an egg?”
Dan Shannon: Well, that’s the whole idea, the proof of concept of what Annie was saying. You can make literally a vegan version of anything that you could imagine. I think once you can sort of show people that—that you can’t stump us, there’s nothing you can come up with that we can’t find a way to do—it opens their eyes to the fact that a vegan lifestyle really is a sustainable choice for anybody. Anybody can be satisfied on it as you were saying earlier. Anybody can be excited about the food. There’s always going to be new foods to try. You’re certainly not just going to be eating quinoa and lentils for the rest of your life. And don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa and lentils and we eat that a lot but there’s all kinds of other food out there. So I think that’s part of what we were trying to do is to show absolutely anything, this is how you can do it. So there’s really no argument. There’s no case to be made. You can eat happily and healthfully on a vegan diet.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, let’s talk about meat. Now, there are so many meat analogs out there today and you promote a lot of them. This certainly makes things a lot easier for so many people. I have to say a disclaimer: some of these are not the healthiest foods on the planet but for those that are moving from meat, they are definitely a fabulous alternative for those people that are having a craving and just have to have their meat fix. Some of these are really amazing and will really satisfy you so I think they’re really wonderful, wonderful products.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, it’s one of those things too that there’s also…there’s some people out there that it’s about convenience. They grew up learning how to cook by, “I just fry up my ground meat or my hamburger and I use Hamburger Helper and that’s dinner.” So for a lot of these mock meats, they give you the convenience oftentimes that you would find using actual animal meat. It’s one of those things where it takes a lot of the “do it yourself” elements out so if you’re not someone who’s really even excited about cooking, you can still be vegan and make really great things at home. It’s just as convenient as if you’re using dairy cheeses and whatever. So that’s one of the things that we really like about it. You don’t have to be a foodie in orderto be vegan. The other thing is too that mock meats have come so far. A lot of times what we had when Dan and I first went vegan back in the ’80s, the things we had for mock meat were not great.
Caryn Hartglass: No, they were pretty not great.
Annie Shannon: They were terrible. Dan and I joke about this all the time about how they’ve come so far and you’re able to do so much more with them and these new products that we really wanted to kind of reintroduce these things to some people who maybe have written off mock meat in the past. We really want people to enjoy being vegan. If one of the things that’s taking away from your enjoyment of being vegan is that you really miss meat like Beef Stroganoff, well, we have a Beefless Stroganof. We’re hoping that makes a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s 2013. We’re talking about enlightened eating and we really want to encourage people to move away from all of the food that is related to cruelty, pain, and suffering, and damage to the environment. But, you know, some of these foods that all of us happening vegans are eating were created thousands of years ago some of them by Asians and Buddhist monks. We have this wonderful store in New York, May Wah, and you mention some of their products in your book but some of their products come from Taiwan and they use these ancient recipes to make some of these mock meats that are so close to meat it’s scary but really, really tasty.
Dan Shannon: It’s funny you mention May Wah. I’m actually literally about 100 feet from the May Wah store right now. My office happens to be around the corner from there. But you’re right. A lot of times when people will talk about veganism or talk about meat replacement, they’ll think about it as being this kind of fad diet or something sort of new but like you said, this is a philosophy, for lack of a better word, that’s been around for many thousands of years. You talk about Ancient China and India, Buddhist cultures, even in Ancient Greece there were vegans. It’s not necessarily some sort of a “new age-y whatever” thing that some people may try to paint it as. Again, I think that’s part of what we’re trying to show: that it’s a compatible philosophy and a compatible lifestyle with people who think about sort of maybe more “traditional” values or think, “Oh, I don’t want to be necessarily a part of the latest trend or fad.” That isn’t what this is. It’s more of…I like the term you use: it’s an enlightened way to think about eating and think about food.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a couple recipes for “chicken wings” in your book and of course you need the “chicken wing” that you can get at May Wah and some other places. I remember the first time I had one of these things. It was indescribable. These things are so delicious and we can be so creative as you’ve been. You’ve got the Cherry Cola Vegan Chicken Wings and the Spicy Thai Vegan Chicken Wings. Delicious.
Annie Shannon: If you have a chance to make those Spicy Thai Wings, I would definitely recommend those ones. Those are one of my favorite recipes in there.
Caryn Hartglass: And then of course the comfort foods. You talked about this in your book, how vegans are really crazy about food. We love food. We’re so passionate about food. We want it to taste great. We’re not…I mean there might be a small handful that are not interested in food and are happy with steamed vegetables and brown rice and I am happy with steamed vegetables and brown rice from time to time but I love variety and sometimes comfort foods are so important. I’m looking at your Mini Pot Roast Pies, bringing back my memory of the Swanson Pot Pie that I grew up with.
Annie Shannon: It’s funny because those are actually so easy to make. It’s one of those things that if you can just toss something in a bowl and use a cookie cutter, then you can make your own pot pies. They are so easy. They are like…they use puffed pastry and things that aren’t really ingredients that people have never heard of before; it’s not that foreign. We’re hoping how to show maybe if you just use them a little differently.
Dan Shannon: I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that the Pot Pie is my personal favorite recipe in the entire cookbook. If anyone is wondering where to start, that’s my strong recommendation.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. OK, we’ll make that tonight. Let’s just talk about some of the products that you use in your recipes that make vegan cooking so accessible and easy. We talked about the faux meats but there are so many other products that are out there.
Annie Shannon: Oh yeah. I don’t know, let’s see. There’s…we really love Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids. That’s something when we were veganizing the recipes, we really tried to use Bragg’s when we could to replace the salt in recipes so you could still get that savory flavor or beefy flavor with a little less sodium and make it a tiny bit healthier. It’s not really a health cookbook but we try to do that.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s plenty of sodium in that product but it does have a meaty flavor and I guess that’s the amino acids that they but in there but it has that—I don’t know—that sweaty, meaty flavor.
Annie Shannon: I like to think of it as beefy.
Caryn Hartglass: Juicy. It’s a really great product. It’s been around for a long time.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, and it’s a product too that I think a lot of people use it instead of soy sauce and they may not have thought of, “Oh, hey, I could cook my veggie burger with that and maybe make my veggie burger a little bit juicier or something.” It’s a pretty great product that I think maybe isn’t always used to its full potential.
Caryn Hartglass: Another one that I like is the vegan mayonnaise products and you mention…I always say it wrong…so it’s “Vegenaise.” I’m all about pronunciation. Vegenaise. I always want to call it “Ve(e)ganaise” but it’s Vegenaise.
Dan Shannon: Well, you know what’s funny about that is…before I went vegan a long time ago I had never enjoyed mayonnaise. I always thought it was disgusting. I still think it’s disgusting. But Vegenaise, and you’re right, that’s the appropriate pronunciation, I love it. I think it’s delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s better than mayonnaise.
Dan Shanno, because it’s one of those things that a lot people have strong opinions about—but do enjoy Vegenaise. They’ll actually use that because you’re right, it’s better. It’s tastier. It doesn’t have that kind of weird, slimy…it doesn’t have that stickiness that mayonnaise has that I never really enjoyed.
Caryn Hartglass: And no added E-coli or Salmonella poisoning.
Dan Shannon: That’s always a nice touch too.
Caryn Hartglass: I appreciate you mentioning Earth Balance and talking a little bit about palm oil in their introduction. I think people, whenever they can, look for opportunities to point the finger at vegans for doing something bad. They can do it with products that have palm oil. And then they can do it with quinoa. I’m very sad to hear that the people in Bolivia where quinoa is grown are eating less quinoa because America is eating more of it and there’s that issue. So many point the finger that it’s the vegans’ fault but there are so many things wrong with our food system. I think we’re helping; we’re not hurting.
Dan Shannon: I think that’s right. Listen, you can look at any product that’s created through any kind of industrialized system and you’re going to be able to find some kind of an ethical concern with it and that’s valid. We should look for any opportunity that we can to reduce the impact that our consumer choices are making or having in a negative way. But I think when you look holistically at all of the different vegan foods versus all of the different meat- and animal-based foods, there’s no question that when moving from animal-based food production, and factory farming specifically, to vegan foods and a plant-based diet has a huge overwhelmingly net positive impact on the world even if, yes, there are things like palm oil or the quinoa situation that you talked about, which I agree is terrible, even if there are certain sort of negative outcomes there. Annie talks a lot about the idea that you sort of do the best that you can as a consumer and as an ethical consumer you make the best choices you can, when you can. None of us are going to be perfect all of the time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to make the best choices that we can. That’s bigger I think at times than just being vegan. Certainly we’re vegan 100% of the time but it’s also about things like fair trade. It’s about buying organic produce when you can. It’s about going to your local farmers’ market and supporting local agriculture as opposed to big, corporate agribusinesses. There’s more than just sort of switching from hamburgers to veggie burgers. We encourage everybody to, and we hope our book will encourage people to, begin exploring all of those different options for reducing the impact that their diet has on the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: So let’s talk about Earth Balance. What I liked, what you mentioned about Earth Balance, is that they’re working…they’re aware of the problem with palm oil and rainforest destruction and they’re doing things to make sure that palm oil ultimately isn’t destructive on the planet and to indigenous cultures. I think we should be working together. They know what we want and we know what is necessary and we should support them and work together on that. I’m just really glad that you mention that in your book.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, it’s one of those things that with really good intentions a lot of people will read a product and see that it has palm oil in it and they’ll just be like, “OK, I need to boycott that.” But the thing is, it’s not quite as black and white as that because people like Earth Balance, they’re really making…they’re putting a financial investment into getting ethically sourced palm oil. They could go for even the cheaper stuff but they’re paying more to work for these co-ops and find places where orangutans don’t live. They’re really putting an effort into it. I think the thing is that every time we spend a dollar, we’re casting a vote and we should really be working towards promoting this sort of attitude like, “Respect what they’re doing,” because that’s how we’re going to encourage other companies to do the same.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I love about it is we can have really wonderful, tasty, delicious, beautiful food—and you’ve got 500 recipes showing us how to that. Dan, I have one question for you before we go. I want to know what kind of dish washing liquid you use when you wash those dishes?
Dan Shannon: That’s a great question. We have a couple of tools in our arsenal. We like the Seventh Generation; it’s actually really good. We also use the Method detergent sometimes. We get different scents to make sure our kitchen smells nice. I’ve got some serious dishpan hands that I’ve been working on the past couple of years. I’ve got to say that both of those products are really good: they’re really easy; they don’t have a lot of harsh chemicals, which is part of why we like them.
Caryn Hartglass: And no animal products.
Dan Shannon: That’s exactly right. They’re not tested on animals either. Method as a company does not test any of their products on animals which we obviously really like a lot as well.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, so not only do we want to eat plant foods but we want to use as many products as possible that don’t contain pain and suffering in them for animals or for human animals too, but that’s a whole other subject. OK, Annie and Dan, best of luck to you and best of luck to Betty going vegan and thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Annie Shannon: Thanks so much for having us.
Dan Shannon: Thanks for having us.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com for more delicious recipes. Next week Dr. Joel Fuhrman will show us how the end of diabetes has arrived. Join me next week and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 2/16/13