In Betty Goes Vegan, Annie and Dan Shannon have set an admirable goal for themselves and their readers: to create a vegan cookbook full of recipes inspired by the 1950s edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book. Betty Crocker, who was created in 1921 by all-male staff of Gold Medal Flour, has come to represent the all-American wife and mother: a woman who could cook any dish impeccably, with a smile on her face. Maybe it’s a smile of pride for caring for her family; maybe it’s gratitude for her lithium prescription. Yes, Betty Crocker is dated—a white, heteronormative, middle class token of America—but she was the gold standard for cooking and homemaking for many women for decades.
The Shannon’s have used the Betty Crocker cookbook as a springboard for building classic American recipes that can be prepared and eaten by veg-heads with no fear of harming animal friends. Says the introduction, “We wanted to show that you can make anything vegan and that no animal ever needs to be force-fed, confined to a crate or cage, or boiled alive, or to endure any of the other nightmares animals face to satisfy our culinary desires.”
While it’s nice to be able to open a cookbook that features recipes like the “Tofurkey Reuben” or “Linguine and Vegan Clam Sauce”, it’s also a bit of a nutritional gray area. Many of the entrée recipes in Betty Goes Vegan contain mock meats and mock cheeses—vegan deli slices, fake beef crumbles, mock chicken, shrimp, crab, etc. There’s a great deal of comfort to be found in vegan substitutes of non-vegan meals, especially when you’re first making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle. The trade-off here is that the recipes for these vegan counterparts to non-vegan meals often contain processed food-like substances that are high in fat and sodium. For many people who are vegans, the benefit of improved nutrition is an important one. That benefit goes right out the window with many of these recipes. Because I’m gluten free and so many of the recipes have wheat-based fake meats or wheat flours in them, I had a bit of a challenge finding recipes I could safely eat.
If you can get over all the mock meats, this cookbook is full of familiar American recipes that will fill you with comfort, and will probably please your meat-eating friends. I was excited about the Sloppy Joel recipe—the Shannon’s take on Sloppy Joes. I have fond memories of Sloppy Joes when I was a kid, and was really looking forward to a tangy, tasty sandwich with the right texture, flavor and lovely messiness. The Sloppy Joels recipe is okay; it’s a little reminiscent of the high school cafeteria, with a sauce base of ketchup. The onions and peppers are a nice addition, but the sauce lacked a flavorful sophistication that kept it from impressing. On the other hand, the Maple Roasted Almonds were tasty and easy to eat, a wonderful blend of salty and sweet.
Entrees include pizzas, lots of pretend meat main dishes, and casseroles, and even a section full of recipes we’ve come to think of as international—i.e. Beefless Stroganoff, Kung Pao “Pork”, Vegan Chicken in Mole. The Baked Goods section is massive, and if you’re not gluten-free or worried about too much sugar, you’ll have lots of fun here.
All in all, Betty Goes Vegan is a good cookbook for new vegans, established vegans seeking the comfort foods they remember from their meat-eating days or even meat-eaters who are interested in enjoying the same meat-filled dishes they remember without eating animals. But if you’re looking for recipes with sophisticated flavor and a healthy plant-based foundation, you may be disappointed.
Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family by Annie and Dan Shannon, 2013 by Hatchette Book Group